Photo Credit: Jewish Press Photo Illustration

When I was 11 years old and at summer camp, we were taught to water ski (I only got as far as the aqua board – which was fun and frankly quite enough). I couldn’t get up on the skis, which at the time were taller and wider than I was. I kept repeating, “I can’t” and my counselor was getting frustrated as she kept repeating, “Stop saying that,” indicating that this was a self-fulfilling prophecy, or in today’s lingo, a negative affirmation.

At 11, I didn’t know too much about limiting beliefs, philosophy, or affirmations, I just knew I couldn’t get up on the skis. As an aside, I never went downhill skiing either, though I grew up in Montreal, an hour away from skiers’ heaven, but I digress.


I’ve been going through boxes, and getting rid of stuff, and recently came upon something I thought would be good for a gan (Israeli kindergarten). I posted on a women’s group and a lady wanted it. Only she asked if I could send it down in the elevator because she was afraid to go up in the elevator. I told her no because there were other things I wanted to offer her and what do you mean you’re afraid to go on the elevator? My whole neighborhood is apartment buildings.

It didn’t occur to me that she would walk up all eight flights of stairs, but she did. I asked her what floor she lived on and she said the fourth, “But it’s okay, it’s a good work out.”

How is this ok? How does she maneuver her kids and their various paraphernalia up four flights of stairs? And what message is she giving them by avoiding her fears? And in Israel it isn’t practical not to take elevators; we build upwards.

I offered to coach her through her fear, if she wanted, but she declined.

I shook my head in disbelief. I have managed very well without waterskiing for the last 52 years, but how on earth do you live without going on elevators?

The same week, I had met a friend of mine. She had forgotten to come to my son’s wedding. I forgave her slight and arranged to meet up when I was in her city. I wanted to show her pictures of the wedding on my phone. She demurred. “I’m sorry, she said, but I don’t look at people’s phones.” She explained that that was her contribution to trying to get people to use their phones less. I frankly have no idea how that works. I can understand her having a kosher phone if that’s her choice, but how is refusing to look at pictures on my phone – pictures of a beautiful religious wedding, baruch Hashem – increasing the holiness in the world and decreasing my phone use? It would have also been nice of her to oooh and aaah especially since she had not been there.

When my son was young, I tried to restrict my restrictions and say, “No!” as little as possible. Between the rules for keeping him safe (“Don’t stick your finger in the flame from the Shabbat candles!”), socially adept (“Say please!”) and religious (“This ice cream isn’t kosher, we need to get kosher ice cream,” “I want kosher ice-cream!”), I felt there were enough limitations on him (and on all children frankly).

Boundaries of all kinds are important. They keep us safe – in body and soul, they keep us focused on our goals and in line with our identities, and they keep us on track. And I’m quite sure that for everyone who has a limiting belief – and we all do – they make sense to them. But when we impose too many rules on ourselves and others, or we let our fears and limiting beliefs dominate our actions, we limit ourselves in ways G-d never intended for us to be.

Mitzrayim” literally means a narrow, limited place. Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim; He didn’t want us to be limited, except by the limitations He imposed on us for our own benefit – our spiritual and national growth. He wanted us to be free in body and soul, and to soar to great heights by forging an eternal connection with Him. When we put unnecessary strictures on ourselves, we unduly deprive ourselves and others of opportunities, while elevating our self-imposed limitations to be on par with those that were, l’havdil, Heavenly-decreed.

We need to be safe and we need to be holy but, the Torah tells, us we are not allowed to return to Mitzrayim – neither in body, nor in spirit.


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