As we have demonstrated in our two previous issues, Hashem’s commandments and prohibitions are aimed to make our lives more enriched and meaningful. Through Rav Soloveitchik’s essay “Catharsis,” we presented the positive impact of restrictions and their purpose of refining mankind. We continue our discussion on the importance of restrictions and begin with an analogy to owning a car.
Analogy between Restrictions and Car Ownership
An analogy to car ownership is instructive. If one follows the manufacturer’s instructions on how to drive and maintain the car, he will benefit and enjoy the car for a long time. One who does not adhere to the manufacturer’s instructions will suffer the consequences in the long term and regret his decision. Hashem is our manufacturer, and the Torah is the manufacturer’s user manual. Strict adherence to the manufacturer’s user manual is not only the proper course of action, but it is also the prudent approach to life.
Observance of all Mitzvot is beneficial, and surveying the benefits of all of the Mitzvot would require an entire treatise. We will suffice with one example wonderfully articulated by Rav Efrem Goldberg:
For years researchers have sought to understand, what holds families together? What are the ingredients that make some families united, strong, resilient, and happy, while others are in disarray, fractured, broken, and fragile? Why are some families functional and others utterly dysfunctional?
As it turns out, the single most important thing you can do for your family is to develop a strong family narrative. The New York Times (March 15, 2013) had a fascinating article entitled, “The Stories That Bind Us.” It provides the background for how this conclusion was reached.
In the mid-1990s Dr. Marshall Duke, a psychologist at Emory University was doing research into the dissipation of the family. His wife, Sara, a psychologist who works with children with learning disabilities noticed something about her students. She told her husband, “The ones who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges.”
Duke decided to test the hypothesis by developing a measure called “Do You Know,” a test for children with questions about their family. Examples of questions were: Do you know where you grandparents grew up? Do you know where your Mom and Dad went to high school? Do you know an illness or something terrible that happened in your family?
Duke took the answers he received and compared them to a battery of psychological tests that the same children had taken and he reached an overwhelming conclusion. The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.
Psychologists have found that every family has a unifying narrative and they take one of three shapes. The ascending family narrative is exclusively positive: Son, when we came to this country, we had nothing. We worked hard, opened a store, your grandfather went to high school, your father went to college and now you…”
The second is the descending narrative: “Sweetheart, we used to have it all, then, we lost everything.” Dr. Duke explains that the third narrative, the oscillating family narrative is the most healthful one. “Let me tell you we’ve had ups and downs in our family. We built a strong business, your grandfather was charitable, but we also had setbacks. You had an uncle who was once arrested. Your father lost a job. No matter what happened, we always stuck together as a family.”
Duke and his colleagues concluded that the children who have the most self-confidence and resilience have a strong “intergenerational self.” They know they belong to something bigger than themselves. Dr. Duke recommends parents pursue opportunities to convey a sense of history to their children. Use holidays, vacations, family get-togethers, or even a ride to the mall to tell your family stories and personal anecdotes. He recommends adopting rituals and traditions that can get handed down from one generation to another.
Duke’s bottom line is this: if you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your collective ability to bounce back from difficult ones. When I saw this article and read about Duke’s research, all I could think of is the Pesach Seder and the wisdom our sacred tradition. This new research simply affirms what we knew and have practiced for millennia. When we sit at the Seder and tell the story of our people, our children feel part of something larger than themselves. When they hear our personal stories of ups and downs, bitterness and sweetness, they feel part of something larger and greater than themselves. They don’t see their own circumstance in a vacuum or feel the need to face their challenges alone. When they see themselves as part of our collective history and our family’s personal narrative, they are encouraged, strengthened and uplifted.
We don’t just eat the Maror at the Seder as a prop in order to tell the story chronologically. It isn’t just a function of reminding our children we were once slaves, but now we are free.
Rather, we eat the Maror to remind our children that our narrative is an oscillating one with ups and down, sweetness and bitterness, successes and yes, even failures. We become stronger, more resilient, more effective, more functional and more united when we don’t hide the Maror part of our past but instead, we embrace the Maror as part of our oscillating narrative. We don’t have Maror and then once we have matzah everything is smooth sailing from there. No, we have Matzah and then Maror and then Matzah and then Maror and thus is life.
Knowing our narrative is an oscillating one gives us each courage and strength and empowers us to confront the Marors we may face today. The Passover Seder teaches us to be honest, direct and truthful in our conversations with our family. The more we share about both the Matzah and Maror moments, the stronger we will be, the more united we will feel and the greater our capacity to overcome whatever may come our way.
As we have emphasized in this issue and the two preceding it, all of Hashem’s restrictions and commandments were put in place for our benefit. This claim, which holds true for all of Hashem’s Mitzvot, was proven on a micro level by Rav Efram Goldberg in his analysis of the benefits of the Mitzvot associated with the Seder night. Although some Mitzvot, such as those which take place at the Seder, can easily be shown to be advantageous, some cannot. In our next issue, we will discuss Mitzvot classified as Chukim which are not obviously advantageous and demonstrate their importance as well.
 This theme is emphasized throughout Sefer Mishlei. We neglect this Sefer, which is brimming with wise advice, at our loss.
 The Sefer HaChinuch is a wonderful example of such a work.
 This was posted on Rabbi Goldberg’s blog, http://rabbisblog.brsonline.org/have-you-told-your-children-your-family-narrative/. The only changes to the quote are minor transliteration ones.
 A Torah lifestyle certainly promotes one’s sense of belonging to something larger and greater than himself. Torah Observant Jews see themselves as a chain in the link stretching back nearly four thousand years to Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imeinu and looking ahead to the Messianic age. We pray in the plural, as a collective entity. When one Jew suffers on the other side of the world, we feel as one. Jews described the three boys who were kidnapped in the summer of 2014 as “our boys,” and they very sincerely meant what they said. Rav Shmuel Goldin eloquently presents the adventure of Torah study as an eternal conversation:
Many years ago I made the acquaintance of a young man who came to Talmud study late in his educational development. One day, he turned to me and said: “You know why I love the Talmud? Because when I begin to study Talmud, the boundaries of time disappear. Suddenly I am sitting at a table, present at a discussion between Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yishmael, dating back to the beginning of the Common Era. “As the conversation continues, Rav Huna [third century] offers a thought; Abbaye [fourth century] makes a comment, only to be countered by Rava [fourth century], as Rav Ashi [fifth century] joins in. “Then Rashi [1040–1105] makes an observation and is immediately challenged by his descendants, the Tosafists [twelfth–thirteenth centuries]. Others soon join the discussion, including the Rambam [1135–1204] and Rabbi Yosef Karo [1488–1575], all making their positions known…“And I, I am there too, at the table, asking my questions and adding my thoughts to a dialogue that will continue long after I am gone, as well.