Why are we shocked when a beautiful young woman takes back her abusive boyfriend? Or when someone refuses to leave a horrible marriage? From the outside looking in, it is impossible to comprehend choosing to remain in an unhealthy environment. It is so easy to feel that the person should simply get out! And no doubt, one should. But it is far from simple.
Fortunately, the majority of relationships are not abusive. And because of that, it is somewhat easier to differentiate a dangerous situation from a livable one. But what happens if everyone is stuck in the same situation?
When we are all in unhealthy environments, it becomes much harder to see things for what they are. It becomes much harder to recognize that we shouldn't be there.
We are about to celebrate Passover. And each year, we are commanded to tell the story again. We tell it to remember what we endured, what we left, and to recognize the difference between slavery and freedom.
However, this isn't merely a historical replay of events. This is not simply tradition. Egypt, or "Mitzraim," means "constriction"; each and every one of us are constricted in different ways and need to break free.
Change is hard. No matter how much we say we want it, making it happen takes a lot of guts and a lot of risk. Yet without change, there can be no optimism, no hope. To move in a new direction, to take a leap, means that at least for a moment, one foot — if not both — will be in the air. Until your feet hit the ground again, you cannot be sure of where or how you will land.
This is why people stay in situations that are unhealthy for them. It's not that a woman likes to be hit by her husband, or that a man enjoys being berated by his egomaniacal boss. But we often choose the situations that we know — no matter how devastatingly difficult — over those that we don't know.
Picking a Direction
When the Jewish people were commanded to leave Egypt, we should have gone out running, thrilled for the opportunity of freedom. But leaving wasn't so simple. For starters, our slave masters weren't happy to see us go. Not only were we being chased by our enemy, but as we headed toward freedom, we faced another obstacle: the Red Sea.
The Midrash teaches us that when the Jewish people reached the water, there was total confusion. We had seemingly hit a dead end and had a serious choice to make.
The Jewish people were divided. One group wanted to give up, return to Egypt and head straight back into slavery. Another group decided that there was no way they were returning to a life of slavery and wanted to fight the Egyptians to their death.
A third group felt that going back wasn't an option, so they decided to try to escape into the desert a different way. They knew they would never make it to the Land of Israel since they were heading in the wrong direction. But there was a fourth group. They knew that a change was necessary. As seemingly impossible as it was, there was only one decision to make. They kept moving forward.
This group was led by Nachshon ben Aminadav from the tribe of Yehuda. Without a second thought, he jumped into the water and moved forward. First, the water reached his knees, then his waist, then his chest. A few more steps, and it appeared he would drown. But he had faith. When the water hit his neck, the miracle happened, and the sea split.
Every Passover, when we tell the story of the Haggadah, we recall what happened. We need to be reminded that change — all positive change — requires risk and requires strength. Passover is during the Hebrew month of Nisan. The root of the word is the same as the word for "challenge": nisayon. And the root of both of these words is nes, or "miracle." This teaches us that at the root of every challenge, of every difficulty, lies a miraculous opportunity for a new beginning.
This Passover, as we once again recite the story of our Exodus from Egypt, let's make it personal. Let's look at our lives and see where we are enslaved, where we are constricted and what we can change. It will be hard. It will be risky. But that is the cost of freedom. Passover teaches us that if we are headed in the right direction, eventually, our sea will split.
Sara Esther Crispe is the creator and editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She and her family live in Merion Station.