The invitation at the beginning of the seder to all who are hungry to come and eat is an invitation to do much more than to partake in a meal. It is an invitation to participate in the eternal dialogue of the Jewish people.
The call to tell our history and remember our origins was not just for nostalgic purposes, but to cause us to have empathy for and to identify with the less fortunate in society. The injunction to remember that we were once strangers in a foreign land is meant to help to sensitize us to the plight of those who are oppressed. Based on our experience, it was clear that we should be motivated to be advocates for those who confront discrimination.
Growing up and coming of age in the 60’s I recall the amazing relevance of the words of the Passover haggadah to recall that we were once slaves in the land of Egypt. As our nation grappled with the challenge presented by the civil rights movement to be true to the principles of equality for all, we debated at our seder table the words of the haggadah, and it seemed clear what position was advocated by the Jewish sources cited in it.
At this year’s seder I will once again be reading the ancient words of our hallowed text through the filter of events taking place in the world around us. I will think of how far we have come, and far we still have to go and how much work we still have to do to rid our society of racial prejudice and injustice.
The haggada reflects both our concern for others as well as for uniquely Jewish matters as it alternates between the imperative to continue to work for racial, social and economic justice and equality, while compelling us to also think of our responsibility to our fellow Jews.
As a result I also feel the pain and sorrow this Pesah of the families of Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, who along with his 5 year old and 3 year old sons Arieh and Gabriel, and 7-year-old Miriam Monsonego were murdered in Toulouse because they were Jewish. I worry about our fellow Jews in France who feel a heightened sense of vulnerability and anxiety as a result of growing extremism and radicalism in the Muslim population leading to an increase in anti Semitism.
Another familiar passage that will resonate with relevance at the seder are the powerful and sadly prophetic words which remind us that, “not just one enemy has sought to destroy us, but in each and every generation there are those who seek our destruction.”
Once again as we gather around our seder tables this year with the ominous threats emanating from Iran’s leaders and ayatollahs we cannot help but think that the enemy who seeks to destroy us seeks to acquire the means to do so at a maddening pace. The prospect of a regime that has expressed its intention to destroy Israel in unambiguous terms acquiring nuclear weapons and warheads is cause for grave concern. Iran has not even attempted to obfuscate or mask its intense hostility and desire to obliterate the Jewish state.
Based on our history the threat of annihilation is something that we Jews must always take seriously.
Throughout the ages the words of the haggadah have stirred within us associations with events taking place in the world around us. We are invited to struggle with our obligation to apply the universal message of Judaism while never forsaking the call to work for the particularistic aspect of our calling, to work for the needs, welfare, well-being and survival of Judaism and our fellow Jews.
I think of those Jews who faced oppression and persecution throughout the ages and who faced the threat of pogroms and acts of cruelty. Somehow they persevered. They maintained their faith. Perhaps they were inspired and took comfort in the concluding part of the passage about our enemies which optimistically says, “but the Holy One praised be He saves us from the hands” of those who seek our annihilation.
May we continue to be saved from those who scheme against us. For God to do His part, we must do ours as well, and that is ultimately the message of the hagaddah and of Passover.
Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt is the founding rabbi of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, Maryland and is the President of the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America
The Jewish Federations of North America Rabbinic Cabinet
Cabinet Chair: Les Bronstein
Vice Chair: Frederick Klein
Vice Chair: Larry Kotok
Vice Chair: Steven Lindemann
Vice Chair: Fredi Cooper
Vice Chair: Tina Grimberg
Vice Chair: Jonathan Berkun
Vice Chair: Jack Luxemberg
President: Stuart Weinblatt
Honorary President: Matthew Simon
Director of the Rabbinic Cabinet: Gerald I. Weider
The opinions expressed in Mekor Chaim articles are solely of the author and do not reflect any official position of Jewish Federations of North America or the Rabbinic Cabinet