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The Myth of Relaxation

The Myth of Relaxation


A recent Wall Street Journal article discussed the results of a fascinating study. People who work under high pressure conditions will often take time off to get away from it all, relax and "decompress"; this, common wisdom assumes, is the way to alleviate the accumulative effects of stress. Alas, the study's findings indicate that a cycle of intense stress followed by utter relaxation does nothing to counter the deleterious physical and mental health effects of chronic stress. The only thing that really helps is learning to respond in effective ways to stress-inducing situations as they arise. Relaxation is not what heals stress, but reshaping our day-to-day behavior in a way that makes for a less stressful life.

Passover is a celebration of our capacity to attain freedom in "every generation" (as the Haggadah challenges us), to leave whichever "Egypt" our souls languish in. Yet when we think of freedom, we usually think in terms of being free of care, worry and the burdens of life — in other words, freedom equals "relaxation". Passover seems to contradict this with its laws on banishing every crumb of leaven from every nook and cranny of our home, with the requirement to eat precise amounts of matzah and drink a certain measure of wine with each of the "four cups". Religiously speaking — without eating and drinking the specified amounts, we have not really celebrated the Seder.

Is this focus on detail freedom? Indeed, there is no other true freedom. We are physical beings living in a world of myriad details and minutia. If we say, "I can only spread my wings and feel uplifted when I transcend the body, the earth, and all its petty details," we are basically saying that G‑d cannot be felt here in our world. In this model, G‑d is imprisoned in the sublime, and we are imprisoned in the petty. Escaping the petty won't help either — sooner or later we'll need to return from the vacation, and then we're back to square one.

Passover responds by telling us that if we truly want our spirits to soar, we must find G‑d in the details of the world we live in — in the same way that stress is not eliminated by escaping our life-frameworks, but by remaining within them and transforming them from within. At the Passover Seder, the ordinary act of eating embodies the will of the infinite, packaged in a few mouthfuls. G‑d is not imprisoned, and neither are we. G‑d can be wherever G‑d chooses to be, even in the act of eating a piece of matzah or the sounds of a small child asking the Four Questions. And we, too, are set free, as we discover the transcendent in the stuff of everyday life.

Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe is a frequent contributor of articles and media to, is Dean of the Institute of American and Talmudic Law in New York, N.Y., and Rabbi of Congregation B'nai Torah in Springfield. Mass. Rabbi Yaffe has lectured and led seminars throughout North America, as well as in Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Africa.
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Anonymous CA April 14, 2014

Passover Miracle Hashem, please help me. Happy Pesach. Reply

Liora Waterford, CT March 23, 2010

G-d is in the details. I have never felt like a "slave" to the preparations. Rather, G-d is in the preparations, and the whole of the holiday is a joy. We are only slaves in those ways in which we allow ourselves to be enslaved.

That, to me, is the point here. Coping with the stressors by transforming our mind to see G-d and experience joy, even in the so-called "mundane." Reply

Gisele Brooklyn, NY March 19, 2007

Peasach can we relax during the Chag? we relax after the hard work preparing for peasch. Our reward is to see how our hard work paid off by siiting with our loved ones at the seder. this is what I got from reading this article. Reply

Aurey Yanofsky Newington, CT April 3, 2006

The Myth of Relaxation Rabbi Yaffe:

Passover is a holiday to celebrate freedom, but at the same time we are supposed to feel like we were slaves in Egpyt, hence why we eat matzah. The preparation of Passover alone, makes one feel as if they are a slave to the holiday. It is only durring the Seder, when you can truly celebrate the holiday by reciting the story of the exodus does one feel free.

If we say, "I can only spread my wings and feel uplifted when I transcend the body, the earth, and all its petty details," we are basically saying that G-d cannot be felt here in our world. ----- Everyday I look at my children.....I see and feel that G-d is here with me. Reply

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