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April 5, 2012 11:38 am

The Modern Relevancy of Passover

avatar by Isi Leibler

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Jerusalem. Photo: wiki commons.

Despite alienation from religious extremism and the extortionist tactics of the one-dimensional haredi political parties, there has been a remarkable revival in the observance of Jewish traditions and customs among those not committed to observing Halachah (Jewish law).

This is especially evident during Passover, with the vast majority of Israelis, secular as well as observant, attending Seders and refraining from eating hametz (leavened bread). It may well also reflect an increasing desire by many Israelis to become more connected to their 3,000-year heritage.

The messages that lie at the core of the festival of Passover, reasserting Jewish history and reinforcing the ongoing relevance of our shared past to our destiny, are of particular significance for Jews of our generation.

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The Festival of Freedom, commemorating the end of bondage for the Jewish people who were slaves in Egypt, reminds us that we are the privileged generation of Jews, blessed to be living in the era following the miraculous Jewish renaissance of our time.

Passover teaches us that while miracles may not be glaringly evident in the context of our contemporary day-to-day lives, logic and reason alone cannot explain the unique and unprecedented events that enabled us to restore our nationhood after 2,000 years in exile.

During that period, the Jewish people, dispersed throughout all four corners of the world, suffered painful discrimination, endless persecutions, expulsion and attempted genocide. Yet in the wake of the Holocaust, the greatest disaster since our exile, we rose like a phoenix from the ashes to re-establish our homeland.

Those of us who believe in a God who made a covenant with the Jewish people require no explanation for the extraordinary events that preceded our return to the land of our forefathers. Secular humanists confronted with dilemmas in trying to craft a rational explanation for our ongoing existence are reduced to postulating that the extraordinary post-war events which paved the way for the Jewish national renaissance were based on a host of fortuitous simultaneous coincidences.

On Passover, all Jews are encouraged to direct their thoughts toward the source of Jewish identity and the centrality of the Land of Israel and Jerusalem in Jewish life, as highlighted throughout the text of the Haggadah, which actually closes with the prayer to return next year to a rebuilt Jerusalem. It also encourages us to reinforce our commitment to maintaining a stable and secure Jewish state for ourselves and future generations.

The text of the Haggadah contains the ominous reminder that “in every generation men arise, intent on destroying us” and we appeal to the Almighty to “pour out Your wrath” against the wicked and destroy them.

When we open the door for the prophet Elijah to symbolically join us at the Seder we are reminded that during the Middle Ages, the door was also opened to refute accusations of obscene blood libels – now revived in the Arab world.

Throughout our exile, it was the Church, secular anti-Semites, Nazis and communists who sought to destroy the Jewish people. Today it is the radical Islamists, supported by left- and right-wing extremists throughout the world, who seek our demise.

Alas, those who believed that the “irreversible peace process” with our neighbors had opened up a new chapter of history, and that the cycle of hatred against us had been broken, were sadly mistaken. Today, as in the past, we Israelis live in a region surrounded by fiendish enemies dominated by cultures of death and destruction who seek to deny our right to live in freedom as a nation. And we are reminded of wicked Amalek as we witness the Iranian leaders, the successors of Haman, who openly proclaim their genocidal intentions.

The Haggadah implicitly reminds us that in order for the Almighty to protect us and grant us peace and freedom, we are required to demonstrate determination, a willingness to stand up and fight for ourselves and, if necessary, make painful sacrifices.

But despite the threats confronting Israel today, we must rejoice that the age of Jewish powerlessness is no more and that we now have the Israel Defense Forces with the capacity to defend us against our combined enemies.

Other elements in the Haggadah resonate with the contemporary challenges we face relating to Jewish identity. There are for example, the symbolic four sons. The simple son who is unable to respond to questions related to his role in Jewish life represents Jews who have become so assimilated and estranged from their heritage that they became oblivious to their Jewish identity and disappear.

The wicked son is represented today by Jews who cold-bloodedly distance themselves and seek to undermine their own people. They are to be found in the Diaspora, allied with those committed to our destruction, calling for boycotts against us or lobbying foreign governments to pressure the Jewish state to introduce certain policies — policies rejected by the vast majority of Israelis primarily out of concern that they would undermine our security.

We also have such Jews within our ranks in Israel. Described as post-Zionist, many of them suffer from a form of spiritual and psychological slavery, unable to see merit in their right to exist as Jews. They seek to divest the Jewish state of its heritage and values and frequently even stoop as low as to promote the narrative of our adversaries.

In addition to its specifically national aspects, Passover also conveys a social message. The Seder is replete with symbols — bitter herbs, salt water and matzah — repeatedly reminding us of our humble origins as slaves, which preceded our nationhood.

In fact the Haggadah actually opens with the recitation of the “Hah Lahma Anya,” reminding us of our obligation to look after the downtrodden and the needy and to seek to repair the world. There are the constant references in the text to “the bread of affliction,” reminding us that in our times there are still people among us who live in need and cannot afford to buy sufficient food or live in dignity. This might also spark a thought on the most outrageous tragedy of this Jewish generation – the fact that elderly ailing Holocaust survivors are living out their remaining years in abject poverty.

The Haggadah carries a universal theme of human rights that applies to all people. But the trendy Jewish modernists who seek to transform the Seder into a universal freedom fest should be resisted. There is indeed a universal message related to human rights but the central core of the Passover experience is specifically directed at the Jewish people, reminding us of our origins as slaves in Egypt and of the countless former generations who aspired to the renewal of Jewish nationhood and sovereignty, with which our generation is blessed.

Here’s to “next year in Jerusalem.”

This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.

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