What’s Different and What Should be Different
By Rabbi Yoav Ende
The greatness of Judaism is that it allows for change and at the same time carries on the Torah that we received at Sinai.
Passover in the Temple was different from Passover after the Temple was destroyed. So it makes sense that Passover after the destruction of the Temple will be different from the Passover we celebrate 70 years after the state of Israel was founded. Isn’t this a big enough and meaningful enough revolution to warrant us celebrating Passover as a sovereign nation in our own country and not a nation of slaves?
וְהִיא שֶׁעָמְדָה לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ וְלָנוּ! שֶׁלֹּא אֶחָד בִּלְבָד עָמַד עָלֵינוּ לְכַלּוֹתֵנוּ, אֶלָּא שֶׁבְּכָל דּוֹר וָדוֹר עוֹמְדדִים עָלֵינוּ לְכַלּוֹתֵנוּ, וְהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מַצִּילֵנוּ מִיָּדָם.
“This covenant that remained constant for our ancestors and for us has saved us against any who arose to destroy us in every generation, and throughout history when any stood against us to annihilate us, the holy one blessed be he kept saving us from them”.
“This covenant that remained constant for our ancestors and for us…” What is this about? God’s promise to Israel that the people of Israel will come to the Land of Israel (despite the difficult path) and build its home. Hence, even when things are difficult, God will stay with us and the promise will remain unbroken.
I would like to suggest a reading of the text that is closer to its original meaning, as I understand it.
Don’t read: “in every generation, they stood against us to annihilate us”.
Instead, read: “in every generation that stood against us to annihilate us”.
Perhaps this is the meaning? Otherwise, what else are we creating for ourselves and for our people if not a distorted consciousness? We are always persecuted and they always want to kill us. This is our axiom as Jews, regardless of time and place.
And what, actually, is the great danger? There are, of course, many dangers, but one of the worst is that we might never be able to look in the mirror and judge our own actions. Because if we are always running for our lives, if we are always in a state of distress, war and survival, then we are permitted to do anything for our survival.
We also must pay attention to what is written and what is not written: “And the covenant stood …” This refers to God’s promise to our people! What about our part in this covenant? What about our promise to God? Or do we have no responsibility and we are simply slaves forever and ever?
But it’s written: “Three things were given conditionally: the land of Israel, the holy Temple, and the kingdom of David. Only the Torah and the covenant with Aaron were given unconditionally” (Mechilta, Parshat Yitro, Parsha B).
We also have a part in this covenant, and if we don’t fulfill our part then the land of Israel, Jerusalem and the state of Israel will not exist for us. It all depends on us and our behavior.
“And we cried unto the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice, and saw our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression”. (Deuteronomy 26:7)
We were in distress, we were slaves and we shouted to the Divine Presence to hear us – and the Divine Presence heard!
The Talmud (Sotah 14a) tells us: “After the Lord your God shall you walk…(Deuteronomy 13:5)? But is it actually possible for a person to follow the Divine Presence? Hasn’t it already been stated: “For the Lord your God is a devouring fire, a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24), and one cannot approach fire. Rather, the meaning is that one should follow the attributes of the Holy One, Blessed be He… Just as He clothes the naked.. so too, should you clothe the naked. Just as He, visits the sick.. so too, should you visit the sick…”
And if we add in “God, hears our cries”, then we too are required to hear the cries of others. “Others” who are in distress, working hard, under pressure…. Do we indeed hear the cries of others or only our own?
“In every generation, each person must regard himself or herself as if he or she had come out of Egypt” just as it says “You shall tell your son on that day, ‘it is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt” (Exodus 13:8).
“In every generation there is an exodus from Egypt in accordance with that generation, and all this was at the time of the Exodus. And just as if a man’s faith also came out of Egypt, this aspect was revealed and felt during today’s exodus from Egypt and each person may leave” (Sfat Emet, Vayikra).
So what is the Exodus of our generation, after seventy years of independence? What is our “strait”? (The Hebrew word for Egypt, “Mitzrayim”, comes from the same root as the word “strait”). What is that narrow place from which we struggle to escape?
Is it not time that we read the Passover Haggadah as a sovereign people in its homeland? Are we still in our own narrow place, our own “Egypt”? Are we are still reading the Haggadah as if we were in exile and being persecuted every hour of every day hour by hour? There is danger in this approach because we are running from our responsibility for ourselves. Are we running from our sovereignty, from our Zionism, from our Judaism, from our conscience?
As a Masorti (Conservative) rabbi, I am indeed not Orthodox, but I chose the most conservative path among the more liberal approaches to Judaism. I am not in favor of change and innovation as values in and of themselves, but rather support them where they are needed, and certainly where there is a moral problem, we are obliged to face the challenge.
So here is my question:
Is it enough to add “pour out your love” to the phrase “pour out your wrath”? Is it enough to remove drops of wine from our glasses when we recall the ten plagues? For we, too, are pained by the death of our enemies since we are all created in the image of God. Is it enough to give different interpretations and to create new aggadot or tales with new meanings, as fascinating and interesting as these may be?
I fear that reality proves that all this is insufficient and does not lead us to another reading of the Haggadah, a correct reading for our generation, since the exodus from Egypt is before the generation.??
It may be that the Haggadah must be fundamentally changed, turned on its head in order to remain true to its content and its essence.
What is actually written does not require change since interpretation can extract the text from its plain meaning and mark new and revolutionary understandings. Rather, it is because of the danger that we might remain in Egypt, that we might continue to be persecuted and, worst of all, we might continue to be blind and to avoid looking at ourselves clearly.
Perhaps the time has come to renew the Passover Haggadah as a sovereign people in its homeland, and to read and write the Haggadah in a revolutionary way, in a way that will sanctify God and will allow every person not only to feel that he or she was actually at the exodus and a part of this shared story but also to understand that more than this story tells our past, it tells our future. And if the eternal nation is not afraid of the long path ahead, then we must not be afraid of the Zionist work/vision of building our future and our common consciousness as a sovereign nation in our own land.
“It is time for the Lord to work; they have made void thy law” (Psalms 119, 126). If “they made void Your law” then it is time to do God’s work in order to return to the Torah of God.