t would seem that the Jews left Egypt with mixed emotions. For some people, of course, there was excitement and the joy of liberation. Others may have felt reluctant to leave the only “home” they had ever known. And no matter what their initial reaction to freedom, many people felt a mix of terror, regret, and even indignation once they found themselves wandering through an inhospitable desert.

When we celebrate Pesach we may think that we’re celebrating the happiness our people experienced upon their release from slavery. The truth is, however, it is we who are the happy beneficiaries of that release. We enjoy freedom because our people are no longer enslaved. Our ancestors, on the other hand, may not have “enjoyed” freedom; rather, they simply escaped servitude.

Leaving Egypt entailed tremendous discomfort, confusion, and even suffering. Yes, they were free — but they were not yet happy.

Still Wandering

We, too, are free, but not yet happy. We ‘re also wandering, lost, and confused. We’re still experiencing hardship and pain and we are still awaiting redemption. The festival of Pesach highlights this reality for us. None of us experience perfect bliss.

Making Pesach engenders the inevitable feelings of overwhelm and exhaustion arising out of all that must be done before, during, and after the festival. Even if we travel to join others, there can be expense and discomfort as we crowd into corners that are not our own, mitigating the happiness. Even packing up for a “destination” Pesach can involve stress.

If we have family, there may be some conflict, and if we don’t have family, there may be loneliness. If we’re dealing with relationship, health, money, or parenting problems, Pesach can intensify those difficulties and their accompanying emotions, even as it celebrates our greatest blessing and opportunity. Things are never perfect. Pesach reflects our journeying in This World.

A Painful Lack

For the great majority of us Pesach is a celebration of family and warmth, but for others, Pesach is a reminder of what they lack.

I dread Pesach every year. My older siblings are happily married and the younger singles are fine as they are. But I feel completely out of place. I have no husband by my side and I’m too old to be single. I don’t fit anywhere and I feel awkward for the entire week.

Pesach is a “social” holiday with many family gatherings. Some people simply don’t feel like socializing. Some feel uncomfortable because they are “supposed” to be somehow different than they are. We are a mixed bag of people with different situations, personalities, and sensitivities. We don’t all “fit in” comfortably around a table.

I try so hard to keep the peace on Pesach but it never works. My husband inevitably blows up at my oldest son for any minor infraction. That son is our most challenging child, who needs to be handled with kid gloves, so of course, my husband’s behavior creates a disaster as all my relatives look on and my other children are mortified. My mother doesn’t help matters because she tells my husband off. And then I feel so guilty about everything. I want it to be a beautiful Yontif and I can’t make it happen.

Some people feel guilty that they don’t have the right kind of Pesach or the right kind of feelings about the festival. And yet, like the rest of life, it is what it is — full of challenges and opportunities.

Pesach Is Us

Many people will have a wonderful chag, enjoying every minute of it, as they most likely enjoy the rest of their lives. But some people will judge themselves harshly, finding themselves failing “the Pesach test,” just as they tend to find themselves failing in other areas. Some people will be dissatisfied with the people, the food, the clothes, and whatever else can be assessed — just as they tend to notice what is wrong in every part of life. In other words, Pesach is us. It’s where we are in our personal journey to freedom. We see what we are capable of seeing. We ingest the mahn — the product of our own imaginations, the flavor that we ourselves create.

But the freedom of Pesach is about opportunity. It is about changing our perspective so that we see all that life can be — and use that information to further our journeys to freedom.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 586)