In psychology, there is a concept called Problem Solving Fixation. It means that although there are an almost infinite number of ways to solve any given problem, once we approach a problem from a certain perspective, we continue to tackle it from the same perspective even if we know that we cannot solve the problem that way. Pesach, Passover, which we will be celebrating shortly, can be thought of as a kind of hard reset.
Pesach is a way of helping us gain a new perspective on our lives and our problems. Each year, as we sit at the Pesach Seder table, we are given the opportunity to see ourselves as if we, each and every one of us, had been slaves in Egypt.
Most of us like to think that we are in control of our lives and what happens to us. When we have a problem, we try to control it and, through that effort, solve the problem. However, there are problems that no matter how hard we try, we cannot solve by exerting more control. Some situations are beyond our control. In fact, trying to be controlling, to force our will on the situation, just makes it worse. Like the “Chinese Finger Traps”, once you put your finger inside, the harder you pull, the more solidly you finger is trapped. It is only by going along with it, by giving in, as it were, that this problem can be solved. Once you push your finger deeper inside the “Finger Trap” and hold it compressed, then you can take your finger out.
There is a Jewish approach that is similar. The Talmud (Berachot 33b) articulates this in one line: “Ha’Kol bi’yidei Shamayim chutz me’yirat Shamayim”. Everything is in the hands of Heaven, except for the fear of Heaven (also piety or reverence). In other words, we have only so much control. The rest is beyond us. We need help and support to solve some of the problems and challenges in our lives. Becoming slaves, even if it only through the ritual of the Seder, is a reminder of what it is like to be powerless. To know that we are wholly reliant on others not only for direction and our basic needs, but in many cases, for direction. Slaves have nothing, not even themselves. That reset of attitude and approach can be curative. How arrogant can we be if we do not own even ourselves? How can we lose patience with others and their problems if we cannot even meet our own basic needs? Knowing what it is like not to be in control of our lives should make us compassionate, encouraging us to help and support addicts. If we live in a state where all our initiative is owned by someone else, we cannot in good conscience ignore the depressed and emotionally troubled who are similarly plagued.
While we think of 12 Step programs, made famous by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) as being only for addicts, it can be a help to us all. There are a number of steps where a person has to recognize that their problems are beyond their own powers to control, that their lives have become unmanageable. Many of us have at one point or another found ourselves in a place where our lives have become unmanageable. In some cases through substance abuse and in others through addictions of other kinds – even to work, money, pride, glory, anger, status, success, you name it. Things or emotions that became so important to us that they took over our lives.
Pesach is an invitation to give up control, to try and become more by being less. To go even deeper, to stop pushing and trying to control in order to find a way free of the things that plague us. May we find the courage and strength to take advantage of our annual opportunity to become free.
Chag sameach. A happy, meaningful and inspiring Passover to all.