The Relevance of Pesach in Our Times

April 4, 2012 by Isi Leibler
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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 Halacha…writes Isi Leibler.

Isi Leibler

This is especially evident at Pesach, with the vast majority of Israelis, secular as well as observant, attending Sedarim and refraining from eating hametz. It may well also reflect an increasing desire by many Israelis to become more connected to their 3000 year heritage.

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

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.

Pesach teaches us that whereas 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 which enabled us to restore our nationhood after an interval of 2000 years. 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 reestablish 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 which 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 Pesach all Jews are encouraged to direct their thoughts towards the source of Jewish identity and the centrality of Eretz Israel and Jerusalem in Jewish life – as highlighted throughout the text of the Hagada and which actually closes with the prayer to return next year to a rebuilt Jerusalem. It also encourages us to reinforce our commitment towards maintaining a stable and secure Jewish state for ourselves and future generations.

The text of the Hagada contains the ominous reminder that “in every generation men arise, intent on destroying us” and we appeal to the Almighty to “pour out Thy 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 the 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 Hagada 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, pay 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 IDF with the capacity to defend us against our combined enemies.

Other elements in the Hagada 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 represent 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 policies rejected by the vast majority of Israelis primarily out of concern that it 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 a Jew. They seek to divest the Jewish state of its heritage and values and frequently even stoop to the depths of promoting the narrative of our adversaries.

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

In fact the Hagada 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 amongst us who live in need  and cannot afford to buy sufficient food or live in dignity. This might also spark a thought towards the greatest scandal of this Jewish generation, in which elderly ailing Holocaust survivors are living out their remaining years in abject poverty.

The Hagada carries a universal theme of human rights that apply 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 specially directed to 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.
“Next Year in Jerusalem”.

Isi Leibler lives in Jerusalem. He is a former president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.


2 Responses to “The Relevance of Pesach in Our Times”
  1. Richard says:

    Oh Isi! More power to your pen. We must agree with Dov, you get to the nub of the matter clearly and without fear or favour. You are no shrinking violet and, to excuse a quote from my days as a young man in the ’60s, you “tell it like it is.” Mazel Tov.

  2. Dov says:

    Once again, Isi is a legend!! We can always rely onhim to tell it like it with no fluff around the edges. A real bretah of fresh air!!

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