Monday, April 02, 2007

Pesach Thoughts 5767: Slavery, Freedom and 21st Century Israel

I remember learning about how the Haggadah actually edits out any mention of the land of Israel in the Exodus story. Whereas the Torah explains that the specific reason for bringing the people out of slavery was to bring them into the land of milk and honey, the Haggadah makes no mention of this at all.
The editor probably did this to maintain 'Zman Cherutenu' as a meaningful festival – because if Pesach is about coming into Israel, then how can a 16th Century Polish Jew reading the story in the shadow of a potential pogrom truly celebrate our journey from slavery to liberation without being miserable? Marking our victory of the few against totalitarianism, inspiring; celebrating political independence, depressing.

Yet if the aim of the Exodus was coming to Israel, then why do we sing Dayenu, it would have been enough? If the sole reason was to come to the land, how can we say it would have been enough if we would have stayed in the desert? If we were brought out of Egypt to become an am Chofshi Beartzenu, how can it be enough if the sea wouldn’t have parted?

The answer, in my opinion, goes to the heart of what Zionism is. Because even if the ideal isn’t achieved we should still be prepared to give thanks for the steps along the way. We should still be grateful even if our life, our dreams, the State we want to build are incomplete. Just as the Rabbis of the Talmud were prepared to say Grace after Meals when they weren’t fully satiated, so the Yishuv were prepared to embrace a State even when its borders weren’t fully viable. At its core, Zionism is the ability to be grateful over incompleteness, the ability to give thanks, even when our dreams aren't fully fulfilled.

The Exodus story has always been reinterpreted to be meaningful and as individuals and as a nation, we need to think about things that enslave us (in my case, Avadim Hayinu Le’internet …) and how we can achieve our own personal liberation. In the 20th Century, Jewish Communists celebrated being liberated from Capitalism, Jewish feminists celebrated liberation from patriarchy and early Zionists marked being free from exile and anti Semitism. Even Martin Luther King used Yetziat Mitzrayim as a paradigm for the African American struggle for equal rights.

21st century Israelis meanwhile need to take a minute to think of those in our own society who remain 'enslaved', whether they be eastern European women sold as sex slaves in the Negev, Ghanaian or Chinese workers oppressed by unscrupulous bosses in Tel Aviv or homeless Gush Katif farmers seemingly forgotten by the government. The festival of freedom demands us not to close our eyes to our neighbour, even when they are a different colour, gender, religion or political persuasion to us. And as long as these injustices exist, our Israeli journey isn’t complete.

Yet this morning as I went to burn my pittot in our local park, saw the excitement on the faces of the children in my secular neighbourhood as they threw crumbs into the flames, saw the Chag Kasher VeSameach sign instead of ‘full’ and ‘spaces’ in the North Tel Aviv car park, it reminded me of how far we have come since the days of the fear of pogroms. Where else in the world can Jewish children experience Pesach in true freedom? And in what other generation would retelling a journey that begins in slavery and ends in independence in our own land not make the Haggadah depressing but liberating?

We haven’t reached the end of our own story of creating a truly egalitarian and equal society living in our Bibilical homeland in peace with our neighbours. But we’re on a journey, and I’m grateful enough to say Dayenu.

Chag Kasher VeSameach


Anonymous said...

fyi, the tora says nothing of egalitarianism or equality

Calev said...

Apart from when it says that people are created in the image of Gd...