see yourself being there

April 13, 2022, Israel

Last night I was sitting in the synagogue and the rabbi was preparing us for the upcoming festival of Passover. Now we do not only celebrate our festivals as a reminder of events that took place thousands of years ago. No, we are not living in the past. We celebrate our Festivals because they are relevant to use, today, here and now. And each year we uncover new lessons that are pertinent to our own lives.

On the night of Passover we read the "Haggadah", the "Telling", which is the story of our ancestors exodus from Egyptian bondage and the early history of our people. The Telling includes the various symbolisms, a discussion of freedom, and the hopes of achieving full political, religious and spiritual freedom. As a result this holiday has taken on a bit of an international tone, as the message is universal, and I am told that it is even celebrated in the White House by the President of the USA and his staff. 

And it is written...In each and every generation, one is obligated to look upon himself as if he personally had come out of Egypt, as it is written "And you shall tell your child on that day saying, it is because of this that God acted for me when I came out of Egypt" (Shmoth, The book of Exodus, Chapter 13, verse 8)  Not only did the Holy One Blessed Be He redeem our fathers, but He redeemed us together with them, as is written, "And he brought us out from there so He could bring us home to give us the Land which He had sworn to our fathers" (Devarim, The book of Deuteronomy Chapter 6, Verse 23)

The lesson here is subtle, profound, and eternal. It is not enough to ritually repeat words, read texts and perform rituals, one must feel it, one must be there! One must feel that he himself has experienced this traumatic event, as it is written, "God acted for me". If you wish to pass this on to your children, to your students, you must live it. You must practice the art of Being There. 

One must feel what it was like to be a slave, to be oppressed, to yearn for freedom, and then! to actually experience liberation, freedom!

For Jews who escaped Tsarist Russia and Ukraine, for those who experienced the terrible pogroms and Jew hatred of those notorious regions, and then came to the United States of America, or Canada, or Australia, this is easy, for they have lived it themselves. For those who survived the Shoah/Holocaust and came to freedom in other lands outside of Europe, again, this message is clear, they have gone from bondage to freedom. And they will never forget. 

But for those of us who were privileged to be born into Freedom, this is more challenging. That is why this night is devoted to Being There, to internalizing the message, to understanding, to FEELING what it is like to be oppressed and then to become Free. That is what Passover night is about. 

For me I see this as a Krav Maga instructor, we must feel the pain, the trauma, the fear, and the doubt of the student who experienced a violent crime. We must fulfill the words, One is obligated to look upon himself as if he personally came out of Egyptmeaning, one must not look at them as the victim but rather we ourselves must put ourselves in their shoes, in their soul, we must see ourselves at the victim, and then our training will be totally different. 

We must see ourselves as the victim, we must put ourselves in that situation and feel the fear, the doubt, and then understand what technique might work. The fancy joint locks that we thought would work, suddenly become useless as we become paralyzed by fear. We must Be the victim, and then, everything looks totally different. It is then that we change our approach and it is then that we realize that we were delusional in thinking those earlier techniques would work. 

When I look at techniques that we have long since abandoned and yet see that other instructors are still using those inadequate techniques, I wonder why. The answer is that they remained teachers, they did not become the victim. 

I often imagine myself in such horrible situations and I wonder, will I really be able to pull off my techniques? How will I respond? and then I go back and reevaluate everything, I drop my false beliefs. That is why IKI Krav Maga is always evolving, because when you are the victim you want to make sure it works. Now it becomes personal.

But last night we were studying the works of Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, known as Maimonides. Writing in the 12th century he uses a slightly different work in Hebrew. Instead of Liroth, to see oneself, he writes, Leharoth, to show oneself. So with this minor correction of the text, it now every generation one is obligated to show himself as if he personally came out of Egypt. What difference does this make? to see oneself, or to show oneself?  I pondered the question. 

It appears to me that this the difference. To show oneself as if he personally experienced the trauma, the violent crime, is to show empathy, which is defined as the ability to understand things from another persons' perspective. It is the ability to share someone else's feelings and emotions and understand why they are having those feelings. Once we have true empathy for our students, we change our perspective. We no longer view them as weak victims who failed to protect themselves, we understand the situation better, we become one with them. Now we can start developing more realistic approaches to self-defense, ones based on a true understanding of what it feels like to be a victim, because we were the victim.

I think we can take both versions of the text, to see oneself, and to show oneself, as if we personally came out of Egyptian bondage. We not only must feel the trauma but also show our students that we feel it. We must become one with them.

Let this Passover be a meaningful one, one where we live the feelings of being oppressed and the glory of becoming Free, one where we gain greater understanding of those who are being oppressed and yearning to be free.  

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