Passover will be here before we know it. When it arrives we will sit around our tables and participate in the most ritual-filled meal of the year. Among the many rituals we observe during the seder, there is one that stands out and, year after year, fills me with pride. It is this:I have the privilege to not only be Jewish but to be one of the individuals charged with helping to transmit our religious teachings to the next generation.
As we read the Haggadah we are invited to make the journey from Abraham entering the covenant to the moment of redemption at the Reed Sea. But the path from Egyptian slavery to freedom and covenant was not a straight line. Time and time again Pharaoh accedes to Moses’ request to free his/our community only to recant after God “hardened his heart.” It is only after a series of ten increasingly destructive plagues that Pharaoh finally grants our ancestors the right to depart Egypt. And then, when the people finally believe they are free, the king changes his mind once again and sends his army to recapture them.
It’s at this point in the retelling of the story that the seder ritualizes a fundamental moral teaching of our faith. As you know, as we recite each of the ten plagues God sent upon Egypt we are instructed to remove some of the wine from our cups. The reason, of course, is that while we are permitted to rejoice at our ancestors’ victory, we are also called upon to remember the human suffering that Egypt had to endure to make that possible. This ritual teaches that our joy at achieving any goal, in this case freedom from slavery, is diminished if another had to pay a price in order for us to succeed.
But this isn’t the only place where this moral lesson is taught.
According the Midrash,
“The Egyptians were drowning in the sea. At the same time, the angels wanted to sing before God, and the Lord, God, said to them: ‘My creations are drowning and you are singing before me?'”
The contrast between these teachings and the celebrations reported in the streets of Gaza and the West Bank during the current spate of terror attacks on Israeli civilians could not be more stark. Our children are taught not to rejoice at the downfall of others even if they are our enemies, while Palestinian children are given sweets to celebrate the murder of a father as he sought to protect his child from a terrorist’s gun.
But as painful as it is to see the joy in the streets of Ramallah after a week of daily terror attacks, it is more painful to see the near-absolute silence of the western media, the United Nations Security Council and most world leaders.
Until all people are valued and respected nothing will change. And while I believe we have a moral obligation to support Palestinian national aspirations, we also have a right to live in peace and security whether we live in South Orange, New Jersey or Bnei Barak, Israel.
More than that, these terror attacks will do nothing to advance the prospect of peace and the ultimate goal of establishing two states for two peoples.
And while I do not have an answer, I do know that I cannot sit silently as Israelis are murdered and celebratory songs are sung. At some point there needs to be a clarion call stating, “My children are dying and you rejoice? That will never achieve peace. Sit down and talk… if not for yourselves, for the sake of your children. They deserve to live in peace and that peace will never be achieved through violence and suffering.”
Rabbi Daniel Cohen
Dvar Acher — Another Thought:
As we slowly continue to reopen our building and return to in-person learning and prayer we have an opportunity to ensure our community lives up to its highest aspirations. A cornerstone of those aspirations is working to create a community that is as inclusive and embracing as possible.
Over the thirty years I have served our community I have seen it become ever more diverse. Gone are the days when one’s Jewishness can be determined by someone’s name or appearance. (If we are being honest, it never could be, but that is even more the case now than it was three decades ago.)
Anyone and everyone who walks into our building deserves to be welcomed and embraced. And yet, a single look or seemingly innocent question or comment can easily send a message that is anathema to the culture of inclusion we seek to build.
Rabbi Klein recently shared a document with me that offers some helpful guidelines with regard to what to say and what not to say in order to further our stated goals and commitments. With gratitude to my colleague I share it with you. Please take a moment to look it over and share it with those who share your Shabbat table this evening.