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Passover and the Three Phases of Life

April 5, 2020 | by Rabbi Yisroel Roll

It’s no accident that life is comprised of highs and lows.

Life is made up of three distinct phases that repeatedly occur. Knowing how these three phases work gives you a deeper understanding in how to live more meaningfully.

Phase One is an exciting, euphoric, high moment which is a gift – a freebie – an undeserved handout which was unearned.

Phase Two is the moment when the euphoria, high excitement and high feeling dissipates and the “high” turns to a mundane, difficult and trying time.

Phase Three is the return of the high feeling, only now it is mine, deserved and earned rather than having been a handout or freebie.

Here are a few examples:

Phase One: Your eyes meet across a crowded room. Instant attraction. Fireworks. Chemistry. You keep hearing the theme song of the Titanic playing as you walk down the street together. Infatuation. Courtship. Romance. Falling in Love. This phase is a freebie. It’s an unearned gift. Enjoy it!

Phase Two: Commitment. Then a ring. Then marriage. Then reality sets in. Why did you leave the cap off of the toothpaste? Why didn’t you call to say that you would be late? Why can’t you be more supportive of me when I’m “down.” You don’t bring me flowers anymore. This is the trying phase – when the excitement of the courtship/honeymoon period wears off in order to give the couple the chance to work through issues and make the relationship work, through their own efforts.

It is at this point when many couples in our immediate gratification society break up. When the romance, the good times and the fun of the relationship are not “good” for me anymore – I walk. The secret is to work through the differences in our respective upbringing and think of how to “make things work.” Phase One was a gift in order to taste how good the relationship could possibly be. Then the magic is taken away – on purpose – to allow the couple to work for and earn the gift of the relationship. They work on “themselves” and the relationship and make it their own.

Phase Three: The couple achieve a working modus operandi in the relationship whereby they begin to understand each other and their respective needs. The couple learns to be giving to each other rather than being “takers.”

They learn to understand the way the other person thinks and thus learn to respect one another while not necessarily agreeing with each other. The relationship begins to bond and gel. It flows. The relationship now “belongs” to the couple. They have earned the success in the relationship through hard work, each working on his or her own personality and personal self-control. It may take three, five or ten years. They recreate the feelings they experienced in Phase One, only now, the feelings are more grounded and based in reality rather than infatuation and fantasy.

Precisely at the moment when the excitement and euphoria of Phase One begins to wane is the moment to hang in there and invest more energy and effort in making it work.

The same three-phase model applies to a new job or project. Even though I got good grades in school, secured positive recommendations and got some good work experience, at the end of the day I’ve got to be in the right place at the right time, and that usually has nothing to do with my own deserving efforts. At first I am offered the job having been headhunted or chosen from among many applicants. Congratulations! Did you earn this opportunity? It is a freebie. That’s Phase One. Then deadlines set in. I have to make the success happen. I have to earn the freebie. That’s Phase Two. Then, when I meet the deadline and achieve success, the job or project become “mine.” That’s Phase Three.

Precisely at the moment when the excitement and euphoria of Phase One begins to wane is the moment to hang in there and invest more energy, effort and time in making it work.

At the moment when many people give up on a relationship, when I might say, “This is not for me,” that is exactly the moment to keep going and keep trying. Otherwise the relationship is not “mine.” I have to make it mine by digging deep into my spiritual center, and reflecting on how I can change myself, rather than change the situation or my partner. The challenge is sent to me not to break me but to re-create me. It is up to me to re-create myself. To walk away without a full, concerted and spirited effort is to miss the point of the challenge.

Designed by God

God gives us the freebie in the first place, allowing us to taste how sweet romance can be by introducing us to our future soul mate, “falling in love,” the wedding and honeymoon. Then, no sooner than we taste the sweetness of being in love, God purposely brings us down to the reality of setting up a home, bills, and “how come you don’t pick up after yourself.”

It is God Who removes the euphoric honeymoon feeling so that we can start earning the right to the original free handout. When we work through the issues, then we earn the success of the relationship through our own efforts and arrive at a new level of understanding in the relationship.

As soon as we feel the euphoria of Phase 1 waning, it is precisely then that we must realize that God is challenging us to maintain our faith and to begin earning our undeserved handout so that we can arrive at Phase 3, which is a new and even more rewarding level.

Passover’s Three Phases

The source of this model can be found in Passover.

Phase 1: The Israelites were taken out of Egypt by God’s outstretched arm through the Ten Plagues and the Splitting of the Sea, even though they did not deserve to be redeemed. They had forgotten the ways of their forbears, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and engaged in the worship of idols much the same as their Egyptian overlords. God gave them an undeserved handout by redeeming them, anyway. He did this because of His original promise to Abraham that He would one day redeem Abraham’s descendants and bring them to the Promised Land.

Phase 2: After experiencing the Splitting of the Sea and the euphoria of freedom from their oppressors, the Israelites had to face the prospect of living in the harsh Sinai desert. Although the Clouds of Glory protected them from the elements to a great extent, nevertheless, they had to face their share of difficulties. They had to come to terms with their freedom by maintaining their faith in God despite their ordeals, thereby earning their previously undeserved freedom.

Phase 3: After wrestling with their faith in God in the desert, the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Com­m­an­d­­ments from God. They earned their right to receive this Blueprint of Life after their struggle through the desert which earned them their spiritual redemption. Receiving the Ten Command­ments was their spiritual reward.

Many people throughout history have been inspired by the Israelites’ Exodus from slavery in Egypt. Thomas Jefferson wanted to use the Exodus scene as the motif of the founding of the United States of America. The Civil Rights movement identified their quest for equal rights as a reenactment of the Israelites’ quest for freedom.

We are in fact the most free society in history. The question we must ask ourselves is: what are we doing with our freedom? Are we making use of our time in this world constructively or are we just passing the time? When God challenges us with crises like the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, He is speaking to us and is urging us to rethink our priorities. He is challenging us to work on ourselves and to redouble our efforts to make our lives count.

Splitting of the Sea

The Midrash tells us that Moses had a “dialogue” with the Red Sea as the Israelites approached it when they were being chased by the Egyptians. Moses told the sea to split. The sea responded that it would not as it was fulfilling God’s will by flowing in its natural state. But when the sea saw the coffin of Yoseph Hatzaddik – Joseph the Righteous – approaching, the Book of Psalms states, “hayam raah vayanosThe sea saw and it fled” (Psalms 114:3).

Joseph is called righteous because he went against his natural inclination and resisted the seductive advances of Potiphar’s wife. The Torah states: “But he left his garment in her hand, and he fled…” (Genesis 39:12). The sea saw that Joseph rose above his “nature” – so it too could go against its “nature” and stop flowing naturally – to allow the Israelites to cross through the sea. Since Joseph “fled,” the sea too “fled” – and split, measure for measure.

We were created in order to develop and refine our natural tendencies, not to become entrenched in them.

Our purpose in life is to overcome and to grow in character and personal refinement. We cannot say: “Well, that’s the way God made me. I’m short tempered, lazy, unmotivated, it’s just the way I am.” We were created in order to develop and refine our natural tendencies, not to become entrenched in them. Our job is to take charge of our personalities and to change our natural way of doing things in order to achieve our potential.

We each have an area of constructive talent that we need to develop and bring to the world. There is one area which gives full expression to your highest attribute, i.e. kindness, leadership, empathy, integrity. Actualizing that attribute and giving it to the world brings meaning and fulfillment to our life. That is our personal unique Passover offering to the world.

And we each have a particular weakness that we need to rectify and refine. It may be anger, sadness or negativity. My great teacher, Rabbi Moshe Shapiro, ztz’l, taught that each of us knows, deep down, what we need to fix. It is our life task to take a personal inventory of our strengths and weaknesses and to work on ourselves in order to make our unique positive contribution and rectify our unique personal weakness.

The great ethicist, Rabbi Yisroel Salanter tells us how we can discover the flaw that we need to rectify. The prophet Hoshea 14:2, states: “And you shall stumble on your mistake.” Rabbi Salanter explains that if there is a certain mistake I continuously make, and it bothers me to my core, that is my soul speaking to me, asking me to fix it. If, for example, I am always losing my temper, I am always jealous, or am always letting people down, and it really gets me upset, then chances are that is the issue I need to address.

If we resolve to work on our personal character flaw and rededicate ourselves to making our unique contribution to the world, then we will have a personal redemption from our personal Egyptian exile – the exile from our true selves – and G0d willing redeem ourselves and the world from this tragic plague. Each of us can and must do our part to redeem the world.


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