Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Lesson of History

We were honored to have the Adler family join us for our seder this year. It was their first seder as new immigrants to Israel and they are dear friends. You can read Rivkah's blog here, and Rav Elan's website here and his blog here.

Rav Elan is gifted with an amazing voice and an even more amazing personality - together, he and Rivkah bring light and joy and if I say any more, I'll never hear the end of it, so let me instead write of something that touched me during the seder. Rav Elan was explaining something about the Passover story and as he spoke, I couldn't help but apply it to modern times. I asked the question that bothered me and was quickly shown why that past rests easy.

What would you do to someone who abused your family, held them prisoners and forced them to serve your needs? If you begin to feel anger, now take it even further. Imagine if they murdered members of your family, children in cold blood simply because they were part of your family. Imagine that they forced you against your will to abandon your lifestyle, customs, needs.

And when the anger threatens to choke you, imagine, in the flash of an eye, you were given an opportunity to escape. Not only to escape, but suddenly, those that oppressed you were without power, at your mercy. You could do anything to them, take anything and everything for all they took from you, all they did to you. You could even kill them for their murdering your child or someone you loved. Finally, God had brought you to the point that you could do back, give back, take back.

What would you do?

Amazingly enough, when the Israelites left Egypt after being enslaved for 400 years, after having their male babies murdered, after undergoing torture and humiliation, their answer to those questions was simply to leave. There was no revenge, no pillage, no murders. It is a testimony to the nature of the people and the nation they would found. They left, trusting in the future and not looking back to what had been done to them. My first feeling was that we were as stupid then as we are now - that now we do not respond adequately and strongly to incoming rocket fire, to the murders of our loved ones.

Rav Elan's explanation bothered me and though I was impressed by what was done in the past, I felt that it paved the way for the weakness we now show in the face of our enemies. Rav Elan and others pointed out the difference and I realized I was wrong. In the case of Ancient Egypt, the fight was over and we had been victorious. We left in triumph, with the blessings and leadership and honor that was ours. We did not return the harm done to us and in so doing, we kept our humanity and sense of ethics. God brought the plague of the death of the first born (not all male babies as was done to the people of Israel); we did not. Revenge was for God - our future was in front of us and so we left Egypt in peace - they had their future, we had ours.

In the case of the Palestinians, it isn't that they leave us in peace but rather continue to attack. They have never offered us peace, never offered us an end to this endless violence. Their greatest offer was an absurd cessation for a limited period of time (mostly likely to be used to re-arm themselves and only in exchange for a full surrender on our part).

It all comes down to that famous quote by Binyamin Netanyahu back in 2006, "The truth is that if Israel were to put down its arms there would be no more Israel. If the Arabs were to put down their arms there would be no more war."

What I learned at the Seder this year was a new perspective - that our humanity, what makes us what we are, has deep roots that date back to the very birth of our people as a nation. We continue today in that tradition - of reaching out and helping others - in Japan, in Haiti, Kenya, Indonesia, Belarus, and so many other nations. We invent amazing technologies that save the lives of thousands...and in many ways, all this was taught to us as we left Egypt - don't murder, don't take revenge, leave with dignity and honor even against those who were dishonorable to you.

What defined us as a nation as we left Egypt remains with us today - that sense of tomorrow awaiting us, a destiny in this land, a greatness promised by God. All that we are, all started with that first walk out of Egypt and continues today.

May God bless the children of Israel and may we stand on our honor as we defend ourselves and live in the land promised to us by God, the land to which Moshe Rabbenu (Moses, our Teacher) guided us and in which we will dwell until the end of time.

1 comment:

Risa said...

While I like the thought, and with the perspective of 3500 years it's nice to see it that way, I think even the Tora and chazal don't really see it as such a smooth transition. Wasn't there a selection process during the plagues in which those who weren't really committed to the concepts of one god taking the Jews out to serve Him in the desert were eliminated? So then, the ones who did finally follow Moses out were indeed the more moral people. And even so it wasn't all smooth sailing. It's a nice thought though and something to try to live up to.
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