How Am I Not Myself?

There’s a scene in the movie I Heart Huckabee’s, the greatly underrated David O. Russell film, where Jude Law’s character visits existential detectives played by Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman. He accidentally blurts out the phrase “How am I not myself?” and they repeat it ad nauseum, realizing the poignancy of this off the cuff statement. Yet Law cannot see his own genius.

I often repeat “How am I not myself?” whenever I need a personal check-up. It’s the pop culture equivalent of the biblical Adam being asked “Ayekah” – where are you? We all know who we truly are in our heart of hearts and but we sometimes lose sight of it when caught up in life. When I get angry or I’m caught up in a moment I can feel shutters on my vision. Somehow, our emotions tend to blind us. But every time, it’s only when it breaks that I’m cognizant of it.

When we know ourselves we can grab those moments of clarity and cleanse. Often it is a long, difficult process, but it has to begin with the proper mental space. And that can be instantaneous.

We are meant to go into Passover feeling as if we were taken out of slavery ourselves. How often do we do this in earnest? As the holiday approaches, tensions typically run high as preparations are made. We turn on our loved ones, and in the process turn on ourselves. It is the opposite of where we are supposed to be.

Thankfully being so far removed from actual slavery, we have to make our own personal exodus. Find one of those emotional states that blinds you and release yourself from it. Or better yet, work with a partner and release each other. Schedule time to close your eyes and breathe, if only for a moment, because this is just as important as any other preparation.

At the seder, get zen and internalize the process. The popular narrative of the matza is one of “Lechem Oni”, poor man’s bread. The popular myth is that there was no time to allow for bread to rise on leaving bondage. What we can extrapolate for ourselves is to be humble in the moment. Don’t snap. Don’t be selfish. Keep your cool. This the stage of the mind.

When you eat the bitter herbs, release your pain. Acknowledge the emotion you have bottled up and channel it in a healthy way. Tears of joy and tears of pain are identical to a passing bystander. So eat the horseradish, or whatever your custom may be, and taste your soul. This is the stage of the spirit.

The idea of an animal sacrifice is antiquated. Today we would view this process as barbaric and a violation of animal rights. But at its core, Jewish sacrifices were always about the person who brought them. The animal is you, and to ignore the gravity of the situation is a disservice to the experience. Have gratitude for physical elevation, or as we usually call it- death, happening to your stand in. The blood of the lamb was our protection as we prepared to leave Egypt. As you commemorate the pascal lamb, you traverse the stage of the body.

Be humble like matza. Release the catharsis of bitter herbs, and face your own mortality through the pascal lamb.With intention, you will be transformed. The real you is better than who you are in the heat of the moment. The real you has greater potential and further forethought.

There is no mention of Moses in the hagaddah. As we recall the exodus, we connect directly to the root of ourselves and become a humble, caring leader in our own right.

Add a question to the Passover service and ask, “How am I not myself?”