Urchatz – a Reminder to Sanctify Our Actions

We wash our hands before dipping the karpas into salt water as was the custom in earlier times to ritually wash the hands before eating bread or any food that would be dipped into liquid. Why did the rabbis enact a law that requires washing of the hands and not any other part of the body? They were very clear to tell us that it is not for physical cleanliness as we are already expected to take measures to ensure that our bodies are clean and healthy.

One explanation is that the hands represent “action” and “doing.” In fact, the Torah tells us “הַקֹל קוֹל יַֽעֲקֹב וְהַיָדַיִם יְדֵי עֵשָׂו” “the voice is the voice of Jacob but the hands are the hands of Esau.” Esau’s name in Hebrew is the same as the word “to do” and hands are synonymous with doing and action. Most of the actions that we take or things that we do involve our hands in some capacity. Therefore, the rabbis required each person to wash their hands prior to eating these types of food so that it would remind us that we need to use our hands in holy and correct ways and that we should strive to have actions that bring us closer to God.

Questions for Thought or Discussion
What actions do you take for your recovery or self improvement?
What actions do you find resistance in taking?
What tools could you use to help you when you encounter resistance?
What actions do you take to become closer to God or to feel more spiritual?

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Why do we use wine for so many things????

So many rituals in Judaism happen over a cup of wine. Every Shabbat and holiday begins with the Kiddush over the wine and concludes with a prayer called havdallah which is also recited over wine. The Seder has four cups of wine. Many recite the Grace after Meals over a cup of wine. The prayers at a baby boy’s bris are recited over wine as is a wedding ceremony.

Ok, ok. We get it. Wine is a BIG deal!
That’s no surprise! To many of us wine and alcohol took on an even bigger deal!
Why did rabbis make so many Jewish rituals revolve around wine?

Two lessons about wine contain everything that Judaism wants to teach us.

First, there is nothing wrong with wine.

It’s a liquid. That’s all. Sometimes it’s sweet. Sometimes it’s dry. Sometimes it’s in a nice bottle. Sometimes it comes in a box.
Sometimes it’s on sale at Shoprite for $8.99.

What matters is HOW we use the wine.
Wine can be used to drink in excess, get drunk, remove inhibitions and lead to acting in a way that is of a lower nature.
Wine can be used for a spiritual purpose, a mitzvah. It can be used while reciting a prayer or at a special life cycle occasion.

This is one of the essential messages of Judaism. Wine and many other objects are neither good nor bad. Our mission in life is what we do with them.

Wine and alcohol can be used for a mitzvah, a higher spiritual purpose or we can use it to lose our inhibitions and act in a lower, base way.

Money can be used for good causes such as supporting our family, helping others, giving charity or it can be used as a way to control people, buy frivolous things, or hoard.

Sex can be used as a way to become close, intimate, loving, to feel good and at times to create a new life. Or it can be used in a way which is selfish, dishonest, self-destructive, and using others.

Food can be used as a way of nourishment to have a healthy body and energy for each day. It can be a way to experience gratitude for
the abundance that most of us have in our lives. Or it can be used as a way to be gluttonous and even lead to an unhealthy body with physical illness.

Exercise and working out can be used to improve one’s health, decrease stress, maintain a healthy weight and even bond with others when done together in a group setting. Or it can be done to perpetuate an unhealthy body image, create an hyper-focus on looks, and take away time from family when done to excess.

Observing what others need and how we can help them can is a way to be thoughtful and kind, giving and loving. However, when done in a co-dependent way, it can be controlling and manipulating and a way to deflect the focus from oneself onto others.

Wine, alcohol, money, sex, food, caring for others and in fact, all things in life are really neutral in their inherent nature. The challenge that we face, and this is really our “mission” should we choose to accept it, according Judaism, is what we do with these things. Do we use them for a noble, higher purpose and thereby sanctify them by doing so? Or do we use them for a lower purpose instead.

For some of us, drinking wine has been removed as an option. Because of an allergy, we can no longer drink alcohol. But we can still use grape juice and look at this mission in so many other areas of our lives. Do we have the ‘courage to change the things we can’ by using them for a higher purpose? This is Judaism’s mission for us and it is also the challenge we face everyday in recovery.

Another reason for using wine is something I once heard from the Bostoner Rebbe. He said that wine is used for so many special occasions because it comes from the inside of the grape. Only by accessing the liquid contained inside the grape can we have wine. This reminds us constantly that what is important is what is on the inside and not what is on the outside. Our focus needs to be more on what’s on our inside and less on what’s on our outsides. The path to conscious contact with our Higher Power comes from the work we do within ourselves.
We need to remember not to compare our insides with the outsides of others.

It also reminds us to focus on what’s going on inside of us and not on what’s going on inside of others. Co-dependence is another maladapted form of focusing where we become pre-occupied with someone else’s recovery or choices and avoid looking at our own.

Using wine or grape juice, reminds us to focus on the internal, the spiritual, and on ourselves.

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Passover Math

How many:
Matzos ________
Cups of Wine ________
Parts of the Seder ________
Sons in the Hagaddah ________
Ma Nishtana Questions ________
Spills at your table so far ________
Matzah balls can you eat ________
People who are looking for the same afikomen matzah ________
Dayeinu’s ________
Amount of horseradish eaten before you start crying ________
Times during the Seder you wished you could have it WITHOUT your family! ________
Times during the Seder you are grateful you are having it WITH your family! ________

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The Paradox of Matzah

Matzah is a unique ritual object in Judaism because it is a paradox.
It is only one object but it has two simultaneous messages, which seemingly contradict each other – slavery and freedom. It was the bread eaten by the Jews as slaves and it also symbolizes their freedom because they didn’t have enough time to let it rise when they were hastily leaving Egypt.

Addiction is full of paradoxes.
It pushes you to do something that seems to make you feel better but in reality hurts you and others more.
We risk so much for our addiction for seemingly so little.
You lie to the ones you love the most.
You hurt yourself in a search to feel better.

We walk around like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the contrast between who we are when we are active in our addictions and who we are the rest of the time is astounding. It’s like we are two completely different people. People who are normally the nicest, caring, most sensitive people become someone entirely different when in their active addictions. They become selfish, focused only on how to feed their addiction, even animalistic at times.

This is true slavery. A servitude to a taskmaster that drives us to hurt ourselves and the ones we love in order to feed our addiction.

Recovery is also full of paradoxes.

You have to surrender in order to win.
Admit powerlessness in order to be free.
Face discomfort in order to feel better.
Don’t do what seems like will make you feel better.
Ask for help to become more independent.
Hitting a bottomv to begin a new life.
Grow spiritually to find physical freedom.
Keep (sobriety) it by giving it away (helping others).

What times in your life has been a paradox?

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Passover – a Journey of Freedom From the Things That Hold Us Back

Passover coincides with the beginning of spring. The earth is waking up from the cold and darkness of winter. It’s a time for renewal, rethinking, and rebirth. We throw open the windows of our homes, we sweep away winter’s grit and dust.
The story of Passover is a historic story of freedom from bondage. It’s a story of liberation and new beginnings. We review the story of our ancestor’s journey from suffering and bondage to being happy, joyous, and free. What better time to rethink our own personal journeys of freedom from the bondage of self and addiction?
Everyone of us has had our own personal “mitzrayim” (Hebrew for Egypt where the Jewish people were slaves). The Hebrew word “mitzrayim” comes from the word “tzar” which means narrow. How narrow our lives became when we were caught in the disease of our addictions. The width of a bottle? The length of a crack pipe? The spread on a bet? The amount of food needed to purge or attain control?
The seder provides a blueprint for action. It’s an outline of recovery that has been used for thousands of years for spiritual journeys of freedom and recovery.
May this Passover spring give us the insight and courage to create ourselves anew.

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