March 27, 2021 – “Egypt is not just a geographical place. Egypt is a state of being and a state of mind.” said Rabbi Mendy Lipskier. When we celebrate Passover, there is a commandment for us to see ourselves as if we’re leaving Egypt today. Egypt, or Mitzrayim, means narrow or constricted. “We all have to break out of those boundaries. For some it’s the constraints of addiction. For others it’s fear, anxiety, or depression, but we all have issues that we have to deal with and break free of. Every day we have to leave our own Egypt.”
A blessing is said which thanks G-d for performing miracles for our ancestors in those days at this time. What does that really mean? Rabbi Yosef Lipsker, certified addiction counselor, teacher, and radio host, said this is not just a day to reflect on. “We are repeating and remembering. The actual deeper meaning is it happened then, but it’s also happening now. Right now, we are going through the story and miracle of Passover, and the trials and tribulations that come along with that, and then we move onto the redemption.”
As we live through this energy of moving from slavery to freedom, let’s visit the symbols of Passover through the lens of addiction and recovery.
*Please note throughout this article, “Lipsker” refers to Rabbi Yosef Lipsker of PA, and “Lipskier” refers to Rabbi Mendy Lipskier of AZ.
“What is a slave?” began Lipskier. “Someone who doesn’t have the freedom to do what they want to do. They are beholden to a master. They cannot decide when they want to go to sleep, wake up, what profession to go into, they have to do whatever their master says they must do. That’s what the Jews experienced in Egypt… Any recovering addict will confirm that when in addiction you are a slave to your substance [or behavior] of choice, whether that’s alcohol, pornography, gambling, or drugs. Your entire life is consumed by that addiction.
Tureff said, “Being more present, being in the moment, it’s not easy, and that has nothing to do with addiction. I think for most people it’s difficult to be in the moment. It’s hard not to live in the past or in the future. Being in the moment is the essence of being free.
This relates to an idea taught by Yiscah Smith. “Each person is obligated to see himself (as if he left Egypt). For if he has already come out of Egypt, and he experiences life through the lens of presence, there is no longer the need to be in exile, in order find pieces of his soul. For the state of being in exile is only when a person is not present.”
The Challenge of Freedom
Lipsker said, “Passover is not only talking about the idea of freedom, but the idea of the challenge of freedom. When the Jewish people came out of Egypt, they were free. Then, all of a sudden they get the Torah, all these rules, regulations, and responsibilities. You can’t do this, can’t do that, should go here, shouldn’t go there … but those are actually tools, it’s hard work to be free. Being in recovery is not easy. Every single day you have to get up in the morning, and find yourself again. Every day it’s a new day, one day at a time.
Lipsker said, “Passover is perfect to compare to recovery, it’s going from addictive thinking to otherwise.” The process of the seder represents the process of moving from slavery to freedom, physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.
“There’s not one thing in the 12 steps that doesn’t relate to Judaism, or the seder … Admitting that we were slaves with a slave mentality is a recognition. Recognizing and relying upon a higher power, being willing to transform ourselves, that’s all about recovery” said Lipsker. “Judaism believes everyone has a pathway to recovery. Everyone has a pathway to repentance. If you read the prayers on Yom Kippur, there are so many sins, who gets forgiven for those sins? We do. G-d has room for us all. We need to have room for people as well.”
Telling the Story
Lipskier said, “When we sit down at the seder table hopefully with family and friends we’re not just going to share our shared history as a people, but a personal experience, where G-d took me out of my own Egypt. And when I can be vulnerable at my seder table, that’s the greatest thing I can do for my fellow Jew who may be suffering silently, who doesn’t know that this is something that everyone deals with on some level. But if I’m willing to share my story of liberation from bondage at the seder table, that will allow someone else to find the courage for some humility, and to surrender and find their own redemption … May we find a deeper level of freedom every year.”