Passover, Yom Hashoah, and Yom Ha’atzmaut

by | Mar 23, 2018 | Torah Thought

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 that provides the eternal hope of universal shalom.

Passover’s promise by a compassionate and passionate heritage 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 spirit of renewal of a people, as well as of an individual, also applies to the springtime’s return with the beauty of the 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, 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.

Today’s troubled Middle East, home of the inspiring Exodus, is in dire need of replacing degradation with dignity and unremitting terrorism with humane teachings, ever mindful of the unabated Syrian tragedy. The State of Israel remains an enlightened Western island of progressive values, retaining its democratic essence in a wide sea of barbarism and backwardness begrudging the survival of the world’s only Jewish state.

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’atzmaut’s uplifting joy of Israel’s 70th anniversary celebration—between the Holocaust’s helplessness and Hatikvah’s hopefulness. We recall that in the midst of the Tabernacle’s zenith of celebratory dedication, two of the four sons of Aaron the High Priest, Nadav and Avihu, who were just all anointed as Kohanim, were tragically consumed by fire. Devastated, Aaron’s response was one of silence, which perhaps was the best option as he was personally and professionally challenged, threatening to undo his very being. At the risk of lifting a verse of a sensitive text of theological quagmire, the following resonates with shocking relevance to Yom HaShoah: “And your brethren the entire household of Israel will bemoan the burning fire.”

Torah Thought The rabbis attached an ethical dimension to Biblically defiling body conditions. Thus, with linguistic aid, skin ailments turn into a violation of one human being against another. 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’atzmaut restores the Jewish people’s human dignity and proud standing in the comity of nations, affirming the divinity within all God’s children. Our covenantal call, “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy,” is our guiding light.

Rabbi Dr. Israel Zoberman, founding rabbi of Congregation Beth Chaverim