Monday, April 06, 2009

Pesach Thoughts 5769: Freedom in Every Generation

בכל דור ודור עומדים עלינו לכלותינו

In every generation they arise to destroy us…

בכל דור ודור חייב אדם לראות את עצמו כאילו הוא יצא ממצרים

In every generation a person is obligated to see himself as though he actually left Egypt.

I remember a primary school project in which we had to make our own Hagaddah. I’d never been particularly artistic, but with help from creative parents managed to win the school prize. Looking back, the only section I remember was the page discussing how enemies rise up to destroy us in every generation, and the big wall we drew with different bricks representing different enemies.

It was an all star team of baddies – the Crusaders, the Spanish Inquisition, the Cossacks, the Nazis.

And to add some contemporary meaning to the proceedings – and to remain true to the meaning of the text that we have enemies in every generation - we also added the PLO, the latest in a line of villains to step up to the plate and try their luck with us.

Yet thinking about it now, I wonder if our focus on enemies old and new may undermine our ability to fulfil the second ‘in every generation’ that of personally liberating ourselves from slavery.

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The British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks questions why before the people of Israel left Egypt they had to ask their neighbours for gold and silver. The whole scenario sounds a bit like an anti – Semitic joke; you hear the one about the stingy Jews? They were in such a rush to leave they didn’t even have time to bake bread…but still found the time to demand cash.

The Chief compares this issue to the case of giving presents to redeemed slaves and explains that it allows the former slave to leave without anger and a sense of humiliation, that it facilitates emotional closure.

Because one who has received gifts finds it hard to hate.

And in order to be truly free, a people need to let go of hate.

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If in every generation we are commanded to liberate ourselves from slavery, then surely we're also obligated to relieve ourselves of any hate (and fear) towards those who wronged us.

And while there’s no question that for so much of Jewish history the first ‘in every generation’ was very tangible, perhaps celebrating the festival of freedom in Israel – that independent powerful sovereign state of ours - its time to focus more on the 2nd ‘in every generation’ – liberating ourselves from hate, freeing ourselves from fear, ceasing to be traumatised by the past.

This is not to suggest that utopia has arrived, that weekend trips to Teheran beckon and that disbanding the IDF is only a matter of time. But I’ve been around enough Friday night dinner table discussions to understand that our vision of the world is often coloured by Shoah tinted spectacles - that the world is out to get the Jews; that the goyim can’t be trusted, that Ahmadinejad is the new Hitler...

And I wonder whether despite being physically free, we’re still emotionally enslaved or traumatised by the past, whether the first ‘in every generation’ undermines our ability to fully experience the second.

And whether true freedom is remembering the past, but refusing to let it rule us in the present.

1 comment:

SG said...

That poster must be where Shepard Fairey got his inspiration from, not to mention Andy Warhol.