The Haggadah and Three Key Coping Mechanisms

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01 Apr 2020

This year’s Seder will be different from all other Sedarim.

It will be quieter and lonelier without extended family and friends. It will be a Seder where the words, kol dechfin yatay veyachol/all that are hungry let them come and eat, will ring hollow as the gravity of the COVID-19 situation will force, “no man to leave the door to his home.” (Exodus 12:27)

It feels like Passover is coming at the “wrong” time with many having  asked for a second month of Adar to delay the holiday.

Despite our protests, Passover will shortly arrive in its rightful time and we are left to reflect and prepare. Although COVID-19 is powerful enough to ravage countries, it does not have the strength to postpone the Passover holiday. Like a perfect metaphor for the Jewish people and the plot line of our history; Passover perseveres, and so must we.

Despite all of our challenges and difficulties, we go on. Yet, the question remains how do we celebrate when so much of what brings us happiness is missing? How can we find joy and peace of mind, when life’s challenges are hard to bear?

The Haggadah offers three coping mechanisms to help us during this coronavirus Passover. It explains how perspective, gratitude and joy can carry us through challenging times and live healthier and happier lives.

Vehi Sheamda and Perspective

The section of ‘Vehi Sheamda’ reminds us that we have experienced difficult and almost unfathomable challenges. The mightiest empires have savagely attacked the Jewish people and the roster of our enemies is a list of the most powerful nations of History. Yet, with the help of G-d, we persevered and overcame the Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Nazis and Communist Russians.

Vehi Sheamda teaches us that in order to gain peace of mind, we must develop a balanced view of the past. The Vehi Sheamda Perspective means that while we understand the gravity of present dangers, we develop a cognizance that G-d has continually helped us in both our national lives as Jews, and in our personal lives as well.

The Corona Virus is frightening, but so was 1948, 1967 and 1973. The Vehi Sheamda Perspective, reminds us that the same G-d who helped us to navigate previous situations is present to help us now. Perspective taking can help give confidence, bring peace of mind and embolden faith during uncertain times.

Dayenu and Gratitude

The Dayenu section is an exercise in gratitude that can help us to find equanimity during difficult situations.

Human beings are hardwired for negativity. We too often minimize our blessings and focus on the negative in our lives.

In a 2001 study of negativity bias, University of Pennsylvania Psychologist Dr. Paul Ruzio explained that, “negative events are more salient, potent, dominant in combinations…than positive events.

Dr. John Cacioppo, a behavioral psychologist at the University of Chicago, conducted a study where his team showed subjects a series of positive and negative pictures while recording the electrical activity of the subjects’ brains. The results showed a marked increase in electrical activity when the subjects were shown negative images, as opposed to when they were shown more positive representations.

Furthermore, negativity bias is so built into the human psyche that Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi noted, “with nothing to do, the mind is unable to prevent negative thoughts from elbowing their way to center stage”.

In Dayenu, we isolate every step of the process of redemption. We thank G-d for each component of the journey by saying ‘Dayenu, it would have been enough’, if only that step had taken place.

Incredibly, after reciting the Dayenu section we effectively repeat the Dayenu in the Al Achat Kamah Vekamah section, as we again thank G-d by isolating and reciting each component of redemption.

The Haggadah teaches that to be truly free people and achieve the clarity of mind to be able to deal with trials and tribulations, we must foster gratitude and Dayenu Personalities.

The Dayenu Personality looks at each and every single blessing in life and is thankful for it. Gratitude pushes away negativity bias from the center of the brain by focusing on the good in our lives. Maintaining a consistent awareness and being grateful for our blessings helps us to better confront life’s challenges and live happier lives.

Hallel and Joy

At the conclusion of the Seder, we praise G-d and rejoice with the Hallel prayer. Hallel teaches us that when things are going well, we have to pause, celebrate  and say hodu lashem ki tov/praise G-d, for he is good. The section of Hallel teaches that whenever and wherever we can find joy and “say Hallel” we should, as happiness is a magical emotion. As Rav Noach Weinberg said, “Joy gives the power, motivation and confidence to achieve things that otherwise seem too difficult to attempt.”

This Passover will be like no other, and for many it will be exceedingly difficult to have a joyous and meaningful experience. As challenging as the Seders might be, we have the Haggadah’s lessons of perspective, expressing gratitude and finding joy to help us to celebrate. As Winston Churchill observed, “a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

May G-d have compassion for the world, heal the sick of our nation; and with perspective and gratitude, we will find joy and happiness during this holiday season.