The Biblical account of the celebrated Exodus from Egypt became the leitmotif of rabbinic theology, perceiving in the Israelites’ redemption from a House of Bondage, God’s greatness, guidance, and goodness. Thus, the Shalosh Regalim, the three Pilgrim Festivals of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot—revolving around the common theme of the Exodus, point at the divine gifts of both freedom and responsibility as essential requirements for fulfilling both the Jewish and human potential.
The awesome and complex journey—physically, spiritually, and psychologically—from servitude to an oppressor to service of the Most High, became a model of liberation for the entire human family, culminating in the Messianic vision of a world transformed.
We have chosen to convert the bitter herbs of our exile into the sweet charoset of homecoming for all. It is the symbolic hovering presence at the Seder table of the prophet Elijah for whom we open the door and set aside a special cup of wine, which provides the eternal hope of universal shalom. It is the peace we have kept alive as a flickering light in the darkness of a trying history.
Passover’s promise is ultimately rooted in its revolutionary view of the infinite worth of each of the Creator’s children—recalling that God silenced the heavenly angels when jubilant at the drowning of Pharaoh’s troops. When we preserve our adversary’s humanity, difficult as it is, we maintain our own essential human stature, even as we are commanded to rise up against evil. Passover’s mighty spirit of renewal of a people, as well as an individual, also applies to the natural order of springtime’s return with the beauty of Earth’s budding and recovery that we are pledged to forever secure.
How revealing of our people’s healthy spirit and the Rabbinic balanced mindset that the Festival of Freedom is designated for reading the sensual Song of Songs. Yet, we recall that the puritanical opposition to its inclusion in our Biblical cannon was overcome when Rabbi Akiva argued and won with his creative interpretation that the scroll was really about the binding love between God and Israel.
At this awesome season, so curiously close to Passover’s twin themes of bitter enslavement and sweet redemption, we are poised between Yom Hashoah’s monumental burden of sorrow, and Yom Ha’ Atzmaout’s uplifting joy of Israel’s 71st anniversary celebration—between the Holocaust’s helplessness and Hatikvah’s hopefulness.
The rabbis attached an ethical dimension to Biblically defiling body conditions. To diminish one’s reputation became tantamount to no less than shedding one’s blood, given that a good name, Shem Tov, was deemed to be a person’s crowning glory. The sinfully genocidal Nazi ideology insisted on dehumanizing as a means for a person’s and our people’s total destruction in spirit and body. Yom Ha’ Atzmaout restores the Jewish people’s human dignity and proud standing in the comity of nations, affirming the divinity within all God’s children, which we first shared with the world. Our covenantal call, “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy,“ is our guiding light.
Rabbi Dr. Israel Zoberman is the founding rabbi of Congregation Beth Chaverim in Virginia Beach. He is Honorary Senior Rabbi Scholar at Eastern Shore Chapel Episcopal Church in Virginia Beach.