I’ve been pondering the rebellious instinct in human beings recently. Why is it that I, who maybe has a piece of toast once a year (at most!) develop a sudden craving the minute Passover starts and it is forbidden to me? Why is it that my family who has literally eaten us out of house and home (a true Mother Hubbard story) and complained constantly about how full they are and how much they ate rushes to the store the moment Passover ends to buy pasta and donuts? It’s certainly not hunger and definitely not malnourishment!

The Talmud teaches that it is better to do something because we are commanded than because we feel like it. There are many lessons here but I think one of them is the answer to my ponderings. When we do something because we are motivated by our own emotions or intellect, it may be wonderful, it may be kind, it may be generous – but it’s not service of the Almighty. That only occurs when we obey His commandments. And because we have this rebellious instinct, it’s very difficult to obey. We rebel against the very thought of it. Even if it makes sense. Even if it’s good for us.

I was having a conversation with a young adult on her way to college recently. “Are you concerned about maintaining your religious perspective and practices while you’re there?” I asked.

“Not really,” she responded. “I think that in an environment where everyone is acting in a non-religious fashion, I will be more motivated.”

Interesting. “Conversely,” she continued, “in an environment where everyone is religious…well we won’t go there.”

But the rebellious instinct is alive and well – and powerful. And like this young lady above, can be harnessed for good if we are aware of it.

I don’t think of myself as a rebellious person. I like rules and structure and order. Yet I guess the instinct is very deeply ingrained. When we went on family trips during Passover, I bemoaned our inability to buy a coke or a coffee. Was I so desperately in need of a drink? Certainly not - although the caffeine may have been a real necessity! – but I wanted it because I couldn’t have it. I was so aware of what was forbidden and all of the sudden I had cravings. It was a fascinating psychological study. I stepped outside myself to watch the process.

Luckily this was an area where the boundaries are strict and the social support is strong. Although we are admonished “not to trust ourselves until the day of our death,” I wasn’t seriously worried about violating the laws of Passover and sitting down to a juicy sandwich. But what about other areas? What about more private situations? What about stronger cravings? What about deeper rebellions? The experience has alerted me to the conflict and made me hyper-aware of this instinct.

If even a “rules girl” like me is subject to it, how much more so those who love to flaunt the rules? (Do they rebel by following them?) Am I doing what the Almighty wants or what I want? Am I acting on “principle” or am I rebelling? One more thing to think about, to reflect on, to be conscious of – as Passover fades away and my house empties out and reverts to (almost) normal…