What’s Black and White and Read All Over?

Is anything really “simply stated?”

“Don’t shoot the messenger!”

“It’s not my fault. I just work here!”

Life experiences might have demonstrated to you that when someone says those excuses, he is usually slithering out of his own responsibility. Curiously, for the ill-fated spies that went to explore the Land of Israel, that claim seems to have had veracity. The Jews in the wilderness, led by Moses, had dispatched them. The spies were deployed to research and report the physical nature of the Land of Israel and how easy or difficult it might be to conquer its inhabitants. When the scouts came back, they reported truthfully. They described the land as bountiful and its residents as strong, formidable opponents who were battle-ready. When the Jews assimilated the account of the fortitude of the Canaanites, they felt dejected and hopeless. They mourned their lot and dreaded fighting battles for Israel that they might lose.

G-d punished the Jews for being fickle and having lack of faith. Surprisingly, the spies got penalized too. Something appears unfair. The Jews’ outlandish behavior demonstrated that they were skeptical of Divine assistance. Why were the spies punished? They reported back what they saw. Don’t shoot the messengers!

This question has been addressed and readdressed by commentators through the ages. The Ramban advances an extraordinary approach. At first, the spies faithfully reported facts back to the Israelites. They described the agricultural abundance of Israel and its succulent fruit. They also related truthfully that the current inhabitants were strongly armed and well prepared for battle. Their description was not only truthful, it was responsible. It was their job to report about the land and its people, and they did as they were charged.  The spies would have been negligent if they omitted the description of the Canaanite nations as robust and substantial. They conveyed the information as they saw it. Yet, the foible of the spies was the word that they added to their communication: “efes,” which means “zero,” zero chance and zero possibility. They added that they saw no odds for the successful conquest of Israel. “No way!” they exclaimed. “The nations that are there are too strong.” The spies conveyed to the Jews that they had absolutely no opportunity to ascend to Israel.“ It is impossible to enter the Land!” they proclaimed. “Disregard any previous positive information. There is absolutely no possibility that we will succeed.”

According to the Ramban, the spies were culpable for simplifying their situation. They took a complex reality and saw it as binary. If the question was, “Can we succeed or not?” the answer the spies gave was a resounding “No, not a chance!” The fundamental error of the spies was that they did not allow themselves to see ambiguity and complexity. For them, the situation was black and white. The case was open and shut.

A more truthful response would have taken into account the components of the situation. They might have considered the different aspects of their combat. They might have posited, “The current inhabitants are strong. We also have an army. We have a large population. We might need to devise strategic methods to fight. We have Divine protection. G-d has provided miracles for us during our Exodus.” They did not allow themselves to see the equation as complex. Instead, they looked it at with a simplistic vantage, “The enemy is robust, so we can’t succeed.”

It is common to think that a major aspect of the sin of the Jews and the spies was that they did not trust in G-d and his ability to follow through on his commitment to bring the Jews to the promised land. It was more basic than that. There was nothing to begin to trust G-d for. In their minds, entering Israel was an impossibility that warranted no further discussion. To the contrary, in their immature simplicity, they might have seen entering Israel as prohibited. If there was no possibility for success, waging a losing battle would be suicide. Jewish law demanded that they did not enter!

Life is complex. We might have a desire to simplify our situations, our interactions with others, and our thoughts. Yet, most often there are shades of grey and webs of complexity instead of the black and white we pine for. Many errors in religion and relationships have their roots in unjust simplification of a complex situation. It is easy to see one’s specific religious practice as correct, with all others lacking. In certain situations that might be true; in many others it is a cry of simplistic judgement where more complexity is warranted. In relationships, it is so tantalizing to aim to isolate wrong from right and correct from incorrect. On might gain from observing that almost never – since Creation – is there a relationship disagreement where one party is absolutely wrong and the other is absolutely right. Human relations and human relationships are sophisticated and multifaceted. It is easy to simplify, but that is often not truthful.

Developmental psychologists note that adolescents often think in black and white terms. As they begin to be exposed to life and its experiences and their minds develop, they tend to passionately see circumstances and positions as simply wrong and right. As one matures, he ideally departs from this more simplistic tendency, and begins to appreciate life’s complexities. It has been stated that most extremists are either young or unintelligent. It can be easier to be an extremist, but it might not truly reflect life’s intricacies.

Similarly, Korach rebelled and desired to serve in the Tabernacle like Moses and Aaron. He shamelessly demanded that he be given a chance to serve. Korach was guilty of the same error as the spies. He oversimplified. Korach didn’t allow himself to appreciate the complexity of laws, of societal differentiation, of different strokes for different folks. He passionately desired to work in the Tabernacle and rebelled. He died because of his undying dedication to simplicity.

If some of life’s greatest sins and mistake come from using binary, simplistic thought, then the converse is also true. One of the greatest strides one can make psychologically, religiously, and in relationships, is to appreciate the complexity of most situations and experiences. It can be enriching, gratifying, to embrace life’s complexities. It’s not simple, but neither is life.

Oiling a Change?

Shift into “How” with a resounding question mark.

Do you know how to change your car’s motor oil? I don’t. When the indicator light is on in my car, I bring it to a mechanic. He changes the filter, puts in new quarts of oil, and usually attaches a clear colorform-like sticker to the top left of my windshield.

I don’t know how to remove the oil, dispose of it, or replace the filter.

But there’s one thing I am sure of. As long as I keep on saying, “I don’t know how to,” that will still be true.

What if I decide that I want to be independent of the gas station and do my own oil changes? I might explore how to do it. I could research it online, ask a handy neighbor’ s advice, or watch a mechanic several times. Perhaps I would do all of those.

A powerful shift would take place as I journey from being unaware to accomplishing. I would go from saying, “I don’t know how to change the oil,” to “How do I change the oil?” Instead of making a statement, I would begin to ask a question. When I would make that shift, I would be speaking volumes. By changing from a statement to a question, I then allow myself to entertain the possibility that I can do it. My sedentary nature becomes activity when I change around a few words and I go from declaring that I don’t know how to to inquiring how to.

Sometimes the most significant transformations in life are represented by moving from a statement to a question. When you ask “How,” you are digging yourself out of the quagmire of helplessness to vistas of possibilities. That shift is the key to any successful endeavor, change, or accomplishment.

When you say “I don’t know how to,” the punctuation is a period. The sentence is over. There is nothing more to discuss. Intervention, learning, or change can only begin to happen if you append an inquisitive, somewhat mischievous hook to its top. It turns into a question mark. One might say that the goals of teaching and psychotherapy are to put that crooked mark on top of the period.

Consider trying this exercise. Next time you find yourself stating “I don’t know how to” do something, change around a few words. Cut of the first three words, “I don’t know,” and begin your sentence with “How.” That seemingly small word shift opens up a universe of possibilities. It dramatically declares to yourself that there are ways for you to do it. Even if you don’t have the requisite skills, knowledge, or acumen, you are indicating that it’s something that you can theoretically accomplish.

Positive experiences begin by changing “I don’t know how” to “How do I?” The boring period becomes an exciting, daring and perhaps impish question mark. That phraseology and bold punctuation mark is the harbinger of being able to achieve.

I still don’t know how to change my oil. I am complacent with keeping that as a statement. But if I want to, or to oil any other change, I would need to make a word shift. I would discard the “I don’t know” and begin with “How do I,” ending with a question mark that hints that a world of possibilities is dawning.

Creation, Individuation, and a Nation

What are your relationships like?

A beautiful newborn lies in his loving mother’s arms. He silently sleeps as his mother marvels at the tranquility on his sweet little face. After a while, he wakes up with a tiny yawn. He stirs and then starts crying. Mother senses that he is hungry and tenderly nurses him.  As she does, she thinks about the special and unique connection that she is creating with her precious baby.

Baby sees it differently. He doesn’t see a relationship between himself and his mother. He simply sees mother as part of him. He is hungry, and he is then fed. He needs cuddling and is held. Developmental psychologists suggest that for the first period after a baby’s birth, he thinks that he is the same person as his mother. His mother is part of him, and he is part of her. He’s unaware that she provides food and care for him. He just sees her as an extension of himself.

As baby matures, he gradually learns that his mother and he are not the same. She can feed him, or not feed him. She can satisfy him or frustrate him. This astonishing realization can provide baby with a sorrowful awakening to the realities of life. He is alone and dependent on the world for survival. Although he tries to control that world with his cry, he is not always successful. The world might respond to his needs, and it might not.

From that epiphany and on, baby begins a lifelong journey of psychological differentiation. He starts comprehending that he has a unique existence that is not connected to anyone else. The journey of individuation continues for years, and perhaps throughout one’s life.

Years later, this differentiation can include the individual becoming aware of his own sense of self in a deeper way. He can become aware of his own thoughts, feelings, and emotions. He comprehends that the ideas are in his mind and not shared by anyone else. Many people might even disagree with his concepts or thoughts. In a more profound sense, differentiation means understanding that he himself is responsible for the ideas in his head. Even if others have created experiences, shared connections and conversations, or given presentations that have impacted him, the thoughts in his brain are the products of his own processing. It is also his choice to try to alter or dismiss them if he chooses to do so.

Psychological individuation can be very significant for a person. Individuation brings with it a sense of responsibility and ownership of oneself. Perhaps it is the only way to fully exist. If one is psychologically tethered to his home and his early influences, he is not really an adult, but a grown child, connected to his early caregivers by a psychological umbilical cord. He is not his own person with independent thoughts and desires.

Despite the beauty and power of individuation, the mind craves the safety and security of its early existence when it was one with Mom. It deeply desires the comfort of childhood where one’s caregivers’ ideas were one’s own. The process of differentiation connotes greater and greater separation from one’s parents. Leaving psychological home and moving further on that path can be dreadful and bitter.

It is possible that relationships that one develops through life partly imitate the original parental connection. Peer relationships such as marriage or friends can partially echo the longing for caregiver connection. They can provide comfort to an individual whose mind silently mourns home. When one connects with a spouse, associates, or acquaintances, they can partly take the place of parents in one’s mind.

For example, it is often significant for each spouse to care for and responsible to the other. Sometimes a spouse can demonstrate an intense and consistent need to be taken care of that stresses the marital relationship. This might be a manifestation of that spouse’s wish to recreate a parental relationship in her marriage. If the latent wish to recreate a parental connection becomes prominent enough that it upsets a relationship’s functioning, it should be thought about and analyzed closely. Perhaps this is a simple meaning of the Torah’s description of marriage when it describes Adam and Eve, “one should leave his mother and father and join with his wife and they will be one flesh.” The Torah is describing the psychological differentiation that is necessary to create a peer marriage rather than a recreation of the parent – child dynamic.

The same analysis might be important in peer relationships. Connections with friends can be an important aspect of life. At the same time, if social groups usurp one’s individuality, it might be important to question that friendship or peer group. In some friend groups among adults, one can find it hard to be accepted if he engages in a certain mode of dress, style, or religious practice. One often obliges because that social circle is significant to him. Is that a peer group or a recreation of a desperate need to connect with others that are representing one’s parents? When Chazal relate that the Jewish people surrounded Sinai to receive the Torah “like one person with one heart,” it seems to be describing a powerful peer relationship where everyone was accepted and there was little hierarchy.

As we approach Shavuos, perhaps it is worthwhile to examine our relationships. Do they echo the beauty of Matan Torah, “like one person with one heart?” If they do, they might be very worthwhile to invest in further. If not, perhaps there are changes that one might consider as he becomes an individual, with the freedom and power that it produces.

Do You Hear What I Am Saying?

How the simply audible becomes deeply understandable.

Amidst the melodious clamor of the beis medrash, two chavrusos animatedly discuss a fine Talmudic point. One man asserts his analysis. The other counters; he comprehends the idea in a divergent way. They argue repeatedly and volley their opinions as they become more entrenched in their perspectives. An intellectual tug of war comes alive between them. One becomes more and more convinced that he is correct. The other has no doubt that his understanding makes the most sense. Then, in their spirited discussion, one begins to see a grain of truth in his colleague’s approach. He stops the conversation, closes his eyes and re-contemplates the logic. His brow furrows as he weighs the pros and cons of his partners assertions. He begins to see how it can make sense. Perhaps his friend’s point is on par with his own thinking. Maybe it is even more valid. In a valiant effort to now partially capitulate, the chavrusa offers one of the highest verbal accolades to his intellectual adversary: “I hear what you are saying.” With that brief phrase he virtually embraces his studymate and acknowledges that he is beginning to see merit in his assertion.

The socioculturally unique usage of that phrase has its etymology in Yiddish. There are two words that describe the word “hear.” The first sounds like its English counterpart, “hehr,”  and simply means to “hear.” A more intense version of the word is “derhehr,” which means to hear intensely. In common use, the word “hehr” might be used to connote audibility, that one can physically hear. In contrast, the word “derhehr” indicates intensive listening, or understanding. The verb “derhehr” became so synonymous with understanding and comprehension that it is used as a noun also. One may say, “I have an interesting derhehr,” meaning an understanding or thought. To make matters a bit confusing, the word “derhehr” sometimes becomes shortened back to “hehr,” too. The result is that the word “hehr” – hear – can mean to physically hear or to deeply understand. Do you hear what I am saying?

These two Yiddish words also highlight a powerful truth about conversations and relationships. When one talks to another, the speaker desires one thing over all else – a listening ear. The talker has an intense thirst that his conversational partner can quench. He does not want to simply be heard – hehr. He wants to be derhehred – understood. He passionately wants the other to comprehend his words and his thoughts.

Speakers do not necessarily desire that their listener concur with them. They fervently desire that the other person digest what they are saying, even if he disagrees with it wholeheartedly. Speakers want to be derhehered.

If you are in the role of the listener in a conversation, what might stop you from derhehring the other? True listening entails focusing on the speaker instead of yourself. When someone else is talking, that point of the conversation focuses on him, not on you. Even if you are the subject being discussed, the speaker is usually expressing his thoughts, his feelings, or his emotions – not yours. When you listen, your “I” takes a back burner to the “I” of the talker.

When Moshe Rabbeinu recounts the giving of the Torah, he states (Devarim 5, 5), “I stood between G-d and you.” A Jewish witticism highlights that Moshe is hinting that too much focus on the “I” can separate between one’s self and his connection with Divinity. Interpersonal relationships function similarly. If one feels an overwhelming need to protect his “I,” it can create a large divide in a relationship and prevent him from listening and understanding what a speaker is saying.

Yet, it can be very difficult to put your desire to express yourself on hold and listen to a speaker’s perspective. This is because you probably have your own thoughts and view about what he is saying.Whether you agree, concur with part of what he is saying, or completely disagree, you might feel emotions well up inside of you, eager to be voiced. When you are triggered it can be difficult to contain yourself. The speaker’s need to be listened to seems to pale in comparison to the need you feel to air your reaction.

You might find it difficult to listen for another reason, too. You might feel psychically petrified that the speaker will conflate your listening with agreeing. If you listen to what he is saying with an open heart and a free mind, you can give him the impression that you concur. That might weaken your approach in his eyes. Even worse, if you truly listen, you might be intellectually seduced by his words to accept some of his points. If you do not protect yourself, you might become a traitor to your own convictions!

Listening is the foundation of profound relationships. It means changing a simple “hehr” into a deep “derhehr.” That often takes practice and conscious effort because it entails temporarily stifling your “I” to give the speaker the opportunity to share his thoughts and words. Sometimes being aware of its importance and why it can be so hard can help you embrace this formidable challenge.

Do you hear what I am saying?

Counseling Inappropriate Technological Behavior? Consider One Cigarette!

One small step for man…one giant leap for man!

Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky, a renowned rabbi, teacher, and scholar, spent some of his last winters in Miami. One day, during a stroll, he was accosted by a distinguished looking man, dressed in a black fedora and a long black frock. “Shalom Aleichem, my master and teacher!” the man said energetically. Rav Yaakov was not a stranger to such receptions. His trademark congenial nature combined with his sagacity made him adored and revered by Jews the world over. Yet, something about this man’s greeting led Rav Yaakov to believe that he was supposed to recognize the man. Uncharacteristically, Rav Yaakov could not place his face. He apologized and asked him if they had ever met. The man smiled and told Rav Yaakov that they had met many years ago, in Canada.

When Rav Yaakov first came to North America from Europe, his first position was in an Orthodox shul in Toronto. Orthodoxy in those days was not as defined as today, and many of the congregants did not implement the work restrictions mandated on Shabbos. On Rav Yaakov’s first Shabbos Shuva, he gave a moving and emotional drasha (sermon) where he spoke about the charm and beauty of Shabbos. With his trademark warmth, Rav Yaakov spoke from his heart to the congregation. “My dear people,” he began. “I understand that you are not prepared to keep Shabbos. You might work and carry out business as usual. At the same time, you know that Shabbos is a unique and special day. Perhaps you can do something small in honor of Shabbos. Maybe consider smoking one less cigarette in honor of the specialness and sanctity of the day.”

The man in Miami Beach explained that he was one of those congregants who did not keep religious restrictions on Shabbos. When Rav Yaakov said those remarks on Shabbos Shuva, the man went home and discussed it with his family. “The rabbi is so warm, with such an encouraging and engaging smile. Let’s try it. I’ll smoke one less cigarette on Shabbos.” The man continued to explain that after a while he thought, “If I am having one less cigarette, I bet I can avoid having any cigarettes on Shabbos.” After a few weeks of abstaining, he gathered his family together and they decided that if the father made such a life change, they could really start having Shabbos meals too. Sometime later, the man remarked again, “if I am not smoking and we are having Shabbos meals, I bet I can manage not working on Shabbos either.” Eventually the man and his family became completely Shabbos observant, and then became scrupulous about all the commandments. The children grew up observant, and dedicated themselves to many years of intense Torah study. Their children continued on that path. The man himself now dressed the part of some of his coreligionists, with a long coat and black hat, and conducted his religious life with sharp contrast from the more cavalier approach of his youth.

The man said, “Rabi U’Mori (my master and teacher) might not remember me, but how could I ever forget him and the indelible impact he made on my family for generations…from one cigarette!”

This man’s interaction with Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky can make a halachic statement regarding counseling clients that manifest halachically discordant behaviors. An increasingly common example is Orthodox individuals that compulsively use the internet for pornographic purposes. This socioculturally and religiously dissonant internet use can cause sharp divides in marital relationships, social interaction, and religious practice and affiliation, and result in deep feelings of guilt and negativity about the self. In addition, it can be both indicative of and create emotional or psychological pain that the user is experiencing and is attempting to cover over or forget.  Most users are aware that their religious beliefs and culture sharply censures their behavior. At the same time, it can be habit forming and addictive and challenging to cease.

If a rabbi or psychotherapist suggests immediate termination of inappropriate behavior, the behavior might or might not cease, and the intense guilt and other presenting issues will usually linger and fester. On the other hand, a benevolent dialectic of acceptance of oneself, one’s current behavior, and one’s relationship with G-d, combined with analysis of factors that increase internet use and exploration of psychodynamic experiences that might have created it and foster it can be much more successful for the client. This approach does not usually demand cessation of the unwanted behavior. Therefore, a halachic risk with dialectic models is that they might allow one to be supported and persist with behavior that is halachically frowned upon, with termination as perhaps an eventual target, but not an immediate goal.

When I discussed the benefits of a broader dialectic of self-acceptance with Rav Mordechai Willig and queried about halachic support for it, he included that story of Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky in an affirmative response supporting dialectic interventions.

I have observed obfuscation in the Orthodox world, among rabbis, educators, and psychotherapists, as to how to target pornographic internet use in accordance with halacha. It is such an important dialogue that it is often not discussed, like many of life’s most important conversations.

To that end, I created a symposium, taking place in less than two weeks, in Passaic, NJ. On Sunday, May 7/ 11 Iyar, rabbis, rebbetzins, educators, and psychotherapists will come together for a symposium entitled: Practical Counseling of Inappropriate Technological Behavior: Halachic, Hashkafic, and Mental Health Perspectives. The speakers include Rav Mordechai Willig, as well as rabbinic and mental health practitioners. You can find the detailed schedule here. It is the first symposium that I know of to tackle illicit internet use in the Orthodox community with a synergy of the rabbinate and psychotherapy. I am eager for rabbis, educators, and therapists to join together to begin the discussion on this issue, which is becoming an increasingly common phenomenon in the Orthodox community.

Most of us can have similarities to that man in Miami Beach. We can be involved in emotional, religious, psychological, or physical behaviors that others might warmly encourage us to slowly terminate. When we accept ourselves and continue on that journey, we might end up making significant progress beyond what we had imagined, all because of one cigarette!

Please come and join the symposium! Exclusively for blog readers, there is an early registration discount until April 29, by clicking on this link after registration. (Do not use the standard link on the website. It is not discounted!)

That’s Very Personal

The pinnacle of the Exodus might help one exit personal predicaments.

This post is a repost from two months ago, when I entitled it, “O Say Can You See.” I am reposting it in honor of the Seventh Day of Pesach, when the splitting of the Red Sea occurred. Chag Sameach!

A people in bondage for over two centuries was majestically and miraculously led out of enslavement to its national destiny. The capstone of that magnificent exodus was the splitting of the mighty waters just as their persecutors hounded them. The Jewish people paraded through the Red Sea. The Egyptians, following them in hot in pursuit, drowned soon after. Exhilaration filled the air as the nation witnessed the miracle of G-d parting the Sea and flooding the forces of Egypt. The Jews were filled with gratitude and emotion, and erupted unanimously in resplendent poetry and song to G-d.

The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Shemos 15, pointed out to me by my friend Rabbi Ari Chechik) highlights a powerful aspect of the Jewish experience at the Red Sea. After the Egyptians drowned, the Sea ejected them onto the shore. The Jews walked along the banks and found the Egyptians that had wronged them. They pointed to the hands that brutally enslaved them and the arms that were merciless to them lying lifeless. They remarked to G-d “You did all these miracles for us, we will not be ingrates. Let us sing praises and song!”

The Midrash is highlighting a paradigm shift in the Israelite mindset. The Jews had experienced their miraculous salvation from Egypt as a people. G-d took His nation out of bondage and redeemed them from slavery. The salvation was on a national scale and the people on the whole were ecstatic. The Jewish people were profoundly thankful and might have expressed their national thanks for communal salvation.

Yet, when each Jew exited the Red Sea, he encountered a new experience of personal emancipation. Each former slave walked along the Sea and saw the specific Egyptian that was so callous and malicious to him lying lifeless. Among the thousands of corpses, each newly free man was able to sense his individuality. When each Jew realized that G-d had meted out retribution on his personal persecutor, the exodus had moved from being a solely national event to an intimate, personal one. Each Jew felt his own, special connection to G-d, and erupted in a personal song of euphoria.

The monologue in the Midrash describes each Jew’s mindset. He was formerly going to thank G-d as part of His nation. When he experienced his newly found intimate religious experience, he declared to himself that he will not lose that realization. He affirmed to notice the personal experience in addition to the national miracle and began to express his exultation as an individual among his compatriots. The Song of the Sea was composed in singular phraseology rather than using plurals. Even though millions of Jews sang it contemporaneously, each one felt his own uniqueness, individuality, and relationship with G-d.

In the United States, two mottos are often used, “In G-d We Trust” or “E Pluribus Unum (out of many – one).” When the Jews emerged from the Red Sea, they seamlessly integrated both ideas. Their trust in G-d was not only national, it was personal. Out of the pluribus of their fellow Jews, each felt unum, an intimate and special encounter with the Divine.

Modern society sometimes emphasizes community belonging and identity, both explicitly and implicitly. Religiously and culturally, we see value in creating a cohesive society of somewhat likeminded individuals. Does that come at the expense of individuality? Can we model our social organization to encourage individual religious feeling and expression like the Jews did after the splitting of the Red Sea? Perhaps greater attention to the beauty of individuality will foster a contemporary euphoric symphony similar to the exquisite Song of the Sea.

The Shot Glass Heard ‘Round the World

The amazing 2.81

How big is the goblet you use for the seder? Chances are that it is much larger than it has to be. The size requirement for each of the cups is shockingly less than three ounces – tiny!

This determination comes from a fascinating discussion in the Gemara and the poskim. The size of a cup needed for the four cups is called a reviis – which means “a quarter.” In our currency we use the term quarter as a shortened form of “a quarter of a dollar” and we refer to a quart which is a condensed form of “a quarter of a gallon.” Similarly, halacha uses the term reviis, a quarter, for volume. It means a quarter of a larger volume called a lug. A lug is the volume of six eggs.  That means that a reviis or quarter lug is the volume of 1 ½ eggs. (¼ of 6 is 1 ½.)

How much is the volume of an egg? Rabbi Yisroel Pinchos Bodner, author of Halachos of K’zayis, describes that he investigated the size of eggs with the United States Department of Agriculture. An average egg has the volume of 1.87 fluid ounces. If so, 1 ½ eggs is approximately 2.81 fluid ounces. That means that a reviis is just that – 2.81 fluid ounces.  Accordingly, the amount of wine you need to drink for each of the four cups is virtually negligible – less than 3 ounces. It is such a small amount that even people concerned with getting headaches or stomachaches can usually manage to drink such little wine. Furthermore, the halacha is that you ideally should drink the whole cup, but strictly speaking it is only necessary to drink more than half. That means that a person can get away with drinking less than an ounce and a half of wine for each of the four cups. That’s like drinking a shot glass worth of wine!

There is a catch. Halacha demands that you drink the whole or most of the cup that you are using, regardless of its size. If you use a standard sized Kiddush cup that hold around 6 or 7 ounces, you need to drink a lot more than if you use a smaller cup. You can only take advantage of this very small volume requirement if your cup is around that size. If your cup is bigger, you need to drink more.

Consequently, it might be worthwhile to get smaller cups for you to use at the seder. Some special silver Kiddush cups are pretty small. If you can’t find those, perhaps consider using demitasse espresso cups. They are usually approximately 3 ounces (demi=half, tasse=cup).

Exploring how big the cups for the seder need to be can be representative of the true meaning of cheirus – the freedom we celebrate on Pesach. Halacha mandates that the seder table demonstrate grandeur and magnificence. Yet, that is exceedingly more meaningful if the external splendor of the Pesach experience penetrates one’s mind, enriches his own existence and fosters a deeper connection to Hashem. Sometimes it is easy to delegate one’s own feeling of freedom and personal majesty to the mere performance of ritual and use of grandiose objects. It can be easier to procure a larger cup for the seder than to internalize the words of redemption that each cup represents.

As we approach Pesach, may we be privileged to  savor the liberating complexity of freedom and allow ourselves to be who we dream to be, regardless of the size of our seder cups.

Chag Kasher V’Sameach!