Chag of Presence

Ever since Rashi preferred to translate Pesach as Passover (Parshas Bo, Revii), nearly a millennium ago, Ashkenazi Jews have assumed that that was the only meaning for the name of the Holiday, including in Yiddish, “Iberganagen”. Rashi actually gave the meaning in Onkelos, “had compassion” before his own translation, but it faded into the background.


Many Jews, myself included, have suggested that in the time of Beis HaMikdosh Pesach has an entirely different meaning, “To Protect.” Here is not the place for details.
The difference between the two readings is a difference between absence and presence. In the usual reading the Maloch HaMashchis passed over, was absent. The alternative is that HaShem was present at our doors, protecting us. You can find, for example, that the great Reb Tsadok HaCohen of Lublin zts”l referred to both of the meanings; the plague passing over and HaShem standing at the door.We are all hoping that this Corona plague will pass over ourselves, our loved ones, and Clal Yisroel. As our clients stay shut into mostly very small quarters, it is we who take on the role of presence.

We, flesh and blood, cannot protect from the plague. But we can provide what humans can provide for each other, and that is presence. We can use all the technologies that suit us to check in, not only in providing sessions where possible. We want to give each of our clients the sense that they are in our minds and that we are thinking about them. These functions of a therapist do not contradict our usual neutrality in helping clients find their own way. Rather, we check in to ask how they are doing – in their own way – during this period.


As family therapists, we have in our minds a unique understanding of the meanings of family life, from the positive to the dangerous, for our clients. It is with us that they have first articulated the immense complexity of these relations. When we call and ask “How are you,” we give them a chance to connect with the meanings that have come up in treatment. When a client refers to her mother or sister, it is only we who share with her the manifold layers of these relations.If we take our role as family therapist seriously, the role of assisting families in preserving and raising levels of differentiation, we would want to create a bridge between the therapeutic work at hand and the challenging family configurations in the face of Corona. That bridge to preserving differentiation is our presence. “How are you,” is a bridge to that “you” that is emerging in therapy.


There is a deep opportunity for trainees to experience the importance of our therapeutic function in our clients’ lives. Here there is no room for false modesty. We have assumed a unique function and the more we can provide continuity for this function in our clients’ lives during these oppressive times, the more robust our work will be when the plague has passed.


It is no less important that we at The Family Institute communicate to you that you- personally and in your professional development- are in our minds. We want to know how you are doing personally and in your professional growth during these times. We have opened the forum to keep communication open.

I join the entire staff of The Family Institute in wishing you a Chag Kasher v’Sameach – may what needs to pass over you be gone and may you experience a Chag of Presence in every meaningful way.