As my Birthright bus made its slow climb up the mountain to Tzfat, a mystical city in the north of Israel, I had the feeling that I was ascending into a different world. Walking the streets of the artist colony and hearing the wise (and trippy) words of the locals artists awakened a sense in me—an otherwise regularThree years later, I found myself in Tzfat again American college student—that there was another shade of reality shining there. I felt something shift in Tzfat. I felt a sense of possibility. I glimpsed that life could have more richness and depth than was possible on the campus of my state party school. I vowed to return (like most people did that afternoon).

Unlike most, three years later, I actually found myself in Tzfat once again, living in a small apartment carved out of the mountain and attending classes at the local seminary. After graduating college, I felt I had to make the intangible possibility of a holier life into a reality.

I moved to Tzfat in the winter after studying six months at a seminary in Jerusalem. A few months later, I started to seek a place for Passover, on the hunt for a spiritual high. My time in Israel thus far had been full of incredible spiritual growth, and I knew that this holiday had the potential for real self-transformation. I had visions of a seder table full of deep Torah, mediations and the most interesting people in the world. Nothing else would satisfy me. I spent a few days thinking about where I should go, trying to whittle down my choices to the best one. Finally, I decided to ask a Sephardi Kabbalist, whose classes I attended in Jerusalem for a few months, if I could join in, imagining the incredible seder he would craft in his home. His family was happy to have me.

A week-and-a-half before Passover, the Sephardi rabbi called to tell me that his wife had an accident. She twisted her ankle and had been bedridden for weeks. They were instead going to their children’s house for seder and not having guests.

I hung up the phone in dismay. All my visions of the “perfect seder” had been dashed. With Passover rapidly approaching, now I just needed to find somewhere to eat! After so much careful thought, this time I haphazardly asked a family in Tzfat who I had become close with lately. They were an older couple with no kids at home who I appreciated for their blunt honesty and passion for Judaism. They were thrilled that I called. They had wanted to invite me, they said, but figured I had more lively seder plans than to join just the two of them. I asked what I should bring. Their answer: matzah, wine and Torah.

I was working for a nonprofit in Tzfat at the time, in addition to taking classes. There was a younger boy there who reminded me of my brother and had worriedly asked me what he should do for the seder. I asked if I could invite him, too, and one of his friends; the couple said it was fine.

The next week I spent cleaning out my little cave of an apartment—and my soul. Learning Torah, painting, thinking, scrubbing. It was amazing!

Passover finally arrived. I had a beautiful new dress, and my matzah, wine, Torah thoughts and a mediation to bring to the seder. An hour before candle-lighting, the husband calls me. “Chava, the family next door needs to come to our seder. Just letting you know it won’t be as quiet as you thought . . . ” I wasn’t concerned. What’s the big deal? One more couple and maybe a few kids.

I walked up the winding stone steps to their house in the Artist’s Colony. The door was open, so I let myself in. I entered the dining room and stopped in shock: It was packed! The table had about 20 bottles of wine on it, and everyone was talking all at once, shouting really. Suddenly, the husband noticed me and yelled above the din: “Chava is here. We can start!” Everyone turned to look at me. As the noise subsided, I was able to take in the scene. I realized that there were not as many people as it had first seemed. My friends, the older couple, were at one end of the table, and the two boys I had invited were at the other end. In between them were two other couples, one with a grown son. I saw they left me a seat across from him. As I sat down, he smiled and said: “Will you marry me?” (His father apologized.) The couple next to me had brought their own food and seemed to have already begun their own seder . . .

This was not a seder; this was a balagan, a “mess.” All of my hopes for my spiritual Passover began crashing down on me. I looked around at the rag-tag group around me in dismay. How would I be able to focus on the mystical Torah I had been learning and have proper intentions when there was such a ruckus? I sat there despondent, arms folded, retreating into my frustration. As I was ruminating on what I could do to salvage the situation, my ears perked up at one of the conversations.

The younger boy I invited, who was probably about 17 or 18, was debating the role of midrash in the Passover seder. The husband of the family was passionately arguing his points and waving a full cup of wine in the air. As I ducked under a slosh of flying wine, it struck me; this is hilarious. No, this is fantastic! This is actually a powerful, deep, intellectual group of people. OK, at first, they didn’t fit into my vision of a “perfect seder.” Then it dawned on me that having high and unrealistic expectations is my Mitzrayim, my “Egypt,” my own form of slavery. My desire to control and shape reality keeps me enslaved to constant disappointments.

I looked around the table again and began to smile. These are the most interesting people in the world. When I accept that this is who G‑d wants me to spend Passover with, then nothing could be better!

With my shift in perspective, I reviewed the situation with new eyes. I looked ateach person without judgment and realized they each had such a uniqueMy desire to control reality keeps me enslaved to constant disappointments perspective. Even though it remained hectic, I enjoyed the creative, free-flowing form compared to the rigid seders I had gone to in the past. When it came time to eat the matzah, I stood up and demanded everyone’s attention. Eventually, I got the whole to table to unite over the mediation I had prepared.

I learned a huge lesson that Passover. I thought that living in Tzfat and learning mystical Torah was making me closer to G‑d. In some ways, it was. However, sometimes living a “holy” life can blind you to the hard work it takes to really refine yourself.

The real work of Passover is not just the cleaning and cooking. It isn’t even learning a Chassidic discourse or studying the Haggadah. In all of our important preparations, we also have to remember to take a good look at the crumb-filled corners of our minds. What habits and traits are keeping us from fully expressing our best selves and trusting G‑d?

For me, my expectations and need for control kept me enslaved to worry and frustration. My true exodus was falling into G‑d’s arms and trusting that I was exactly where I needed to be. Only then could I walk through the sea towards freedom.