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 for 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 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 mighty spirit of renewal of a people, as well as of an individual, also applies to the natural order of 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.
Today’s troubled Middle East, home of humanity’s inspiring Exodus, is in dire need of replacing degradation with dignity, unremitting terrorism with humane teachings, ever mindful of the unabated Syrian tragedy. The State of Israel, while the target of brutal Palestinian terrorism, 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’ Atzmaout’s uplifting joy, between the Holocaust’s helplessness and Hatikvah’s hopefulness.
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’ 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 Israel Zoberman, Congregation Beth Chaverim