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What I Will Be Thinking About at the Seder This Year

The invitation at the beginning of the seder inviting all who are hungry to come and eat is an invitation to much more than a dinner invitation to partake in a meal. It is an invitation to participate in the eternal dialogue of what it means to understand and apply the message of Judaism to our world.

Growing up and coming of age in the 60’s I recall the amazing relevance of the words of the Passover haggadah. As our nation grappled with the challenge presented by the civil rights movement to be true to the principles of equality for all, it seemed clear what position was advocated by the Jewish sources cited in the haggadah. We were implored to recall that we were once slaves in the land of Egypt.

I never felt the reference to remember our history and our origins was for nostalgic purposes, but to cause us to have empathy for and to identify with the less fortunate in society. The injunction to remember that we were once strangers in a foreign land was meant to help to sensitize us to the plight of those who are oppressed. Based on our experience, it was clear that we should be motivated to be advocates for those who confront discrimination.

At this year’s seder I will once again be reading the ancient words of our hallowed text through the filter of events taking place in the world around us.

The tragic murder of an innocent young black child, Trayvon Martin in Florida reminds us of how far we still have to go and how much work we still have to do to rid our society of racial prejudice and injustice.

The haggadah reflects both our concern for others as well as for uniquely Jewish matters as it alternates between the imperative to continue to work for racial, social and economic justice and equality, while compelling us to also think of our responsibility to our fellow Jews.

As a result I also feel the pain and sorrow this Pesah of the families of Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, who along with his 5 year old and 3 year old sons Arieh and Gabriel, and 7-year-old Miriam Monsonego were murdered in Toulouse because they were Jewish. I worry about our fellow Jews in France who feel a heightened sense of vulnerability and anxiety as a result of growing extremism and radicalism in the Muslim population leading to an increase in anti-Semitism.

Another familiar passage that will resonate with relevance at the seder are the powerful and sadly prophetic words which remind us that, “not just one enemy has sought to destroy us, but in each and every generation there are those who seek our destruction.”

Once again as we gather around our seder tables this year with the ominous threats emanating from Iran’s leaders and ayatollahs we cannot help but think that the enemy who seeks to destroy us seeks to acquire the means to do so at a maddening pace. The prospect of a regime that has expressed its intention to destroy Israel in unambiguous terms acquiring nuclear weapons and warheads is cause for grave concern. Iran has not even attempted to obfuscate or mask its intense hostility and desire to obliterate the Jewish state.

Based on our history the threat of annihilation is something that we Jews must always take seriously.

Throughout the ages the words of the haggadah have the ability to stir within us associations with events taking place in the world around us. We are invited to struggle with our obligation to apply the universal message of Judaism while never forsaking the call to work for the particularistic aspect of our calling, to work for the needs, welfare, well-being and survival of Judaism and our fellow Jews.

I think of those Jews who faced oppression and persecution throughout the ages and who faced the threat of pogroms and acts of cruelty. Somehow they persevered. They maintained their faith. Perhaps they were inspired and took comfort in the concluding part of the passage about our enemies which optimistically says, “but the Holy One praised be He saves us from the hands” of those who seek our annihilation.

May we continue to be saved from those who scheme against us, but let us know that for God to do His part, we must do ours as well, and that is ultimately the message of the hagaddah and of Passover.


Also published on Medium.

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Stuart Weinblatt

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt is the President of the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America. From 2009 - 2014 he served as Director of Israel Policy and Advocacy for the Rabbinical Assembly.
Rabbi Weinblatt is the rabbi of Congregation B'nai Tzedek in Potomac, Maryland, a vibrant Conservative synagogue of 650 families he founded in 1988, along with his wife and a handful of families.