Friday, March 30, 2012

Parashat Tzav: Finding Local Solutions to Internal Problems

When we move away, do our problems move with us? For many of us, when we feel stuck in life, we cultivate fantasies of moving to a new place. If only we were closer to or farther away to our family, if only we could make new friends, if only, if only…. I know that when I go on vacation and experience some place new and exotic (especially if it is sunny), I have dreams of moving to there and escaping the struggles that I am facing. This approach to what troubles us is called “the geographic solution.” We are not responsible for our own unhappiness – rather our location and our neighbors are the sources of our discontent.
On Shabbat HaGadol, the Shabbat before Passover, our haftarah from the Book of Malachi kills those delusions (3: 6-9)

6 For I am the Lord — I have not changed; and you are the children of Jacob — you have not ceased to be. 7 From the very days of your fathers you have turned away from My laws and have not observed them. Turn back to Me, and I will turn back to you — said the Lord of Hosts. But you ask, "How shall we turn back?" 8 Ought man to defraud God? Yet you are defrauding Me. And you ask, "How have we been defrauding You?" In tithe and contribution. 9 You are suffering under a curse, yet you go on defrauding Me — the whole nation of you.

Even though Israel has been mercifully and miraculously returned from exile, living in the Land of Israel after years in Babylon, their ways have not changed. They are still committing the same sins, and are in total denial that they are doing anything wrong. God needs to use strong and clear language to show them that they are indeed falling short, and in the process, injuring themselves.
Sometimes there are legitimate reasons to move to a new place, and we can be happier in certain communities more than in others. However, we cannot escape our internal daemons or pathologies by moving away. If we seek to find a geographic solution to an internal problem, we will be faced with eerily similar struggles in even the most radically different locales.
As we approach Passover, let us take steps toward true liberation. Let us be honest with ourselves about the ways in which we are our own pharaohs, and how we can break free from bad habits and destructive tendencies. If we engage in this work, we may find ourselves freer than ever and celebrating Passover with a truly joyful heart.