Candidly Speaking: The relevance of Passover in our times (JERUSALEM POST OP-ED) By ISI LEIBLER 04/09/12)
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Despite alienation from religious extremism and the extortionist
tactics of the one dimensional haredi political parties, there has
been a remarkable revival in the observance of Jewish traditions and
customs among those not committed to observing Halacha.
This is especially evident at Passover, with the vast majority of
Israelis, secular as well as observant, attending Sedarim and
refraining from eating hametz. It may well also reflect an increasing
desire among many Israelis to become more connected to their 3,000-
The messages which lie at the core of the festival of Passover,
reasserting Jewish history and reinforcing the ongoing relevance of
our shared past to our destiny, are of particular significance for
Jews of our generation. The Festival of Freedom, commemorating the
end of bondage for the Jewish people who were slaves in Egypt,
reminds us that we are the privileged generation of Jews, blessed to
be living in the era following the miraculous Jewish renaissance of
Passover teaches us that whereas miracles may not be glaringly
evident in the context of our contemporary day-to-day lives, logic
and reason alone cannot explain the unique and unprecedented events
which enabled us to restore our nationhood after an interval of 2,000
years. During that period, the Jewish people, dispersed throughout
all four corners of the world, suffered painful discrimination,
endless persecutions, expulsion and attempted genocide.
Yet in the wake of the Holocaust, the greatest disaster since our
exile, we rose like a phoenix from the ashes to reestablish our
Those of us who believe in a God who made a covenant with the Jewish
people, require no explanation for the extraordinary events which
preceded our return to the land of our forefathers. Secular humanists
confronted with dilemmas in trying to craft a rational explanation
for our ongoing existence are reduced to postulating that the
extraordinary post-war events which paved the way for the Jewish
national renaissance were based on a host of fortuitous simultaneous
On Passover all Jews are encouraged to direct their thoughts towards
the source of Jewish identity and the centrality of Eretz Israel and
Jerusalem in Jewish life – as highlighted throughout the text of the
Haggada, and which actually closes with the prayer to return next
year to a rebuilt Jerusalem. It also encourages us to reinforce our
commitment to maintaining a stable and secure Jewish state for
ourselves and future generations.
The text of the Haggada contains the ominous reminder that “in every
generation men arise, intent on destroying us” and we appeal to the
Almighty to “pour out Thy wrath” against the wicked and destroy them.
When we open the door for the prophet Elijah to symbolically join us
at the seder we are reminded that during the Middle Ages, the door
was also opened to refute accusations of the obscene blood libels –
now revived in the Arab world.
THROUGHOUT OUR exile, it was the Church, secular anti-Semites, Nazis
and communists who sought to destroy the Jewish people. Today it is
the radical Islamists supported by left- and right-wing extremists
throughout the world who seek our demise.
Alas, those who believed that the “irreversible peace process” with
our neighbors had opened up a new chapter of history and that the
cycle of hatred against us had been broken, were sadly mistaken.
Today, as in the past, we Israelis live in a region surrounded by
fiendish enemies dominated by cultures of death and destruction who
seek to deny our right to live in freedom as a nation. And we are
reminded of wicked Amalek as we witness the Iranian leaders, the
successors of Haman, who openly proclaim their genocidal intentions.
The Haggada implicitly reminds us that in order for the Almighty to
protect us and grant us peace and freedom, we are required to
demonstrate determination, a willingness to stand up and fight for
ourselves and, if necessary, pay painful sacrifices. But despite the
threats confronting Israel today, we must rejoice that the age of
Jewish powerlessness is no more and that we now have the IDF with the
capacity to defend us against our combined enemies.
Other elements in the Haggada resonate with the contemporary
challenges we face relating to Jewish identity. There are for
example, the symbolic four sons. The simple son who is unable to
respond to questions related to his role in Jewish life represent
Jews who have become so assimilated and estranged from their heritage
that they became oblivious to their Jewish identity and disappear.
The wicked son is represented today by Jews who cold-bloodedly
distance themselves and seek to undermine their own people. They are
to be found in the Diaspora, allied with those committed to our
destruction, calling for boycotts against us or lobbying foreign
governments to pressure the Jewish state to introduce policies
rejected by the vast majority of Israelis primarily out of concern
that it would undermine our security.
We also have such Jews within our ranks in Israel.
Described as post-Zionist, many of them suffer from a form of
spiritual and psychological slavery, unable to see merit in their
right to exist as a Jew.
They seek to divest the Jewish state of its heritage and values and
frequently even stoop to the depths of promoting the narrative of our
In addition to its specifically national aspects, Passover also
conveys a social message. The seder is replete with symbols – bitter
herbs, salt water and matza – repeatedly reminding us of our humble
origins as slaves which preceded our nationhood.
In fact the Haggada actually opens with the recitation of the “Hah
Lahma Anya,” reminding us of our obligation to look after the
downtrodden and the needy and to seek to repair the world. There are
the constant references in the text to “the bread of affliction,”
reminding us that in our times there are still people among us who
live in need and cannot afford to buy sufficient food or live in
dignity. This might also spark a thought toward the greatest scandal
of this Jewish generation, in which elderly ailing Holocaust
survivors are living out their remaining years in abject poverty.
The Haggada carries a universal theme of human rights that apply to
all people. But the trendy Jewish modernists who seek to transform
the seder into a universal freedom-fest should be resisted.
There is indeed a universal message related to human rights but the
central core of the Passover experience is specially directed to the
Jewish people, reminding us of our origins as slaves in Egypt and of
the countless former generations who aspired to the renewal of Jewish
nationhood and sovereignty – with which our generation is blessed.
“Next Year in Jerusalem.” (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 04/09/12)
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