Straight Talk Commentary – Each years Jews gather together at their Passover Seder and recount the story of the Passover and their Exodus from Slavery. We read passages of our Rabbis and sages which admonish us to consider ourselves as if we too sojourned from Egypt.
Each year we recite – “Slaves Were We” and “This Year Here … Next Year in the Land of Israel.”
This Passover Jerusalem is in the news. There has been lots of flap and diplomatic fallout over the announcement of Israeli home construction in East Jerusalem. The announcement came at the time of the Vice Presidents visit to Israel and Vice President Biden’s comments that he subsequently apologized for. Just a little Rosenthal commentary but the so called Palestinians expressed no outrage until after the U S weighed in on the announcement. The Israelis also might wonder why the President has not visited Israel and sent the number 2 man. In diplomatic circles such action is noted particularly after President Obama made his high profile visit and speech at Cairo University last year where he spoke of his Muslim heritage. At the time there was no corresponding stop to see our strongest ally.
It is amazing but it seems the U S policy in the Middle East, Israel, and on Iran sanctions seems to lack earnestness, consistent focus, and follow through.
For a historical perspective take on the Israeli perspective of Jerusalem take a look at Yoram Ettinger’s oped last week.
Passover has always been my favorite holiday. This year because of the controversy surrounding the Jerusalem announcement, Ettinger’s oped and coupled with the recounting of the story of the Exodus has connected with who I am and made Pesach 5770 a very emotional experience.
Passover Guide for the Perplexed 2010
By Yoram Ettinger
March 29, 2010
Happy Passover and Happy Easter
Assembled from Various Jewish Sages
1. “Next Year in the Reconstructed Jerusalem” concludes the annual reciting of the Passover Saga. How pertinent in March 2010?!
2. Passover’s centrality in Judaism and in the context of Judeo-Christian values: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” The first of the Ten Commandments refers to the Exodus and not to the Creation or to God’s Covenant with Abraham or with Jacob. The remembrance of the Passover Saga (via daily prayers) and the annual family reciting of the Exodus – on the event of Passover – are included among the 613 Laws of Moses. The Passover Saga is highlighted in most Jewish prayers and rituals, such as the welcoming of the Sabbath, the blessing over the wine, during each holiday, upon circumcision, at the door step (Mezuzah) of Jewish homes, etc.
3. David Ben Gurion, the Founding Father of the Jewish State (UN Commission, 1947): “300 years ago, the Mayflower launched its historical voyage. How many remember the data of the voyage, how many passengers were on the Mayflower and what kind of bread did they consume? However, 3,300 years earlier, the Exodus from Egypt took place. Every Jew knows the date of the Exodus – 15th of the Jewish month of Nissan – and the kind of bread – Matza, unleavened bread – consumed. Until today, Jews all over the world tell the story of the Exodus and eat Matza on the 15th of Nissan. They conclude the story of the Exodus (Hagadah) with the statement: “This year we are slaves, but next year we shall be liberated; this year we are here, but next year in the reconstructed Jerusalem.”
4. Passover highlights the fact that the Jewish People have been passed-over by history’s angel of death, in defiance of conventional wisdom. Non-normative salvation has characterized Jewish history ever since the Exodus, the Parting of the Sea, the destruction of the Temple, the exiles, the pogroms, the expulsions, the Holocaust, Communist and other forms of anti-Semitism, on-going Arab/Muslim terrorism and wars, etc. However, the involvement of Moses, Aaron, Phineas, Joshua, Caleb and Nachshon (the first to step into the Red Sea) attests to the crucial role played by principle-driven, steadfast leaders.
5. Passover highlights the centrality of Liberty, Roots, Education and Collective Responsibility. Passover commemorates the creation of the Jewish People and their transformation from Diaspora slavery to National freedom. The difference between the spelling of Ge’oolah (deliverance in Hebrew) and Golah (Diaspora in Hebrew) is the first Hebrew letter, Alef, the root of the Alpha-Bet. Alef is the first letter in the Hebrew spelling of critical root values: God, Truth, Faith, Covenant, Credibility, Awesome, Power, Abraham, Light, Father, Mother, Love, Soil, Adam Courage, Spring, Unity, Food, Responsibility, Immortality/Everlasting, Cure, Horizon, Patrimony, Tree, etc. In order to attain liberty and to transform (personal or national) Diaspora into Deliverance, one must return to one’s roots.
6. The Exodus took place around 1,300BC, 600-700 years before Greek philosophers promoted democracy, establishing the Jewish People in the forefront in the on-going battle against rogue regimes. Passover is celebrated on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nissan – the first month of the Jewish year and the introduction of natural and national spring (Nitzan is the Babylonian word for spring and the Hebrew word for bud). Nissan (its root is Ness – miracle in Hebrew) is the month of miracles, such as the Exodus, the Parting of the Sea, Jacob wrestling the Angel, Deborah’s victory over Sisera, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, etc. The 15th day of any Jewish month is endowed with full moon, which stands for optimism in defiance of darkness and awesome odds. It is consistent with the 15 parts of the Hagadah (the chronicles of Passover), 15 generations between Abraham’s message of monotheism and Solomon’s construction of the first Temple and the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shvat, Arbor Day – the “Exodus” of vegetation.
7. Passover has four names: Holiday of Pesach (Passed-over; sacrifice), Holiday of Liberty, Holiday of Matza and Holiday of Spring. The number 4 features in the Passover Saga: 4 Sons, 4 glasses of wine, 4 Questions and 4 stages of divine deliverance. The 4th Hebrew letter (Dalet) stands for G-D.
8. Passover is the first Jewish holiday, according to the Jewish calendar, which starts in the Spring (Aviv in Hebrew, which consists of two Hebrew words: Father of 12 months), the bud of nature. The word spring is mentioned 3 times in the Torah, all in reference to the Exodus. Passover – which commemorates the creation of the Jewish nation – lasts for 7 days, just like the creation of the universe. Passover is the first of three Jewish pilgrimages, succeeding Soukkot/Tabernacles (Soukkota was the first stop in the Exodus) and preceding Shavou’ot/Pentecost (which commemorates the receipt of the Ten Commandments and the Torah).
9. Passover – the role model of Liberty – interacts with Shavou’ot/Pentecost (role model of morality), since Liberty interacts with Morality. The one constitutes a prerequisite for the other. The Liberty/Morality interdependence distinguishes Western democracies from rogue regimes. No appeasing rhetoric would transform rogue regime into a free/moral entity. Herut is the Hebrew word for Liberty and Harut is the Hebrew word for inscription, which refers to the Ten Commandments.
10. Passover – just like monotheism, the Sabbath, Ten Commandments, repentance/Yom Kippur – constitutes a Jewish gift to humanity. It constitutes inspiration to liberty-loving peoples (“Let My People Go”). Jews have been targeted by enemies of Liberty (from Pharaoh, Nazism, and Communism to Palestinian/Arab/Muslim terrorism and Ahmadinejad) because Jews have been rightly perceived as the messengers of liberty as a God-given natural right and equality before law.
11. Moses, the hero of Passover, has become a role model of principled and steadfast leadership. Moses’ name is mentioned only once in the Passover Hagadah, as a servant of God, a testimony to Moses’ humility, in order to humanize – and not – deify – Moses and to highlight the role of God in the Exodus. Similarly, Moses’ grave site is purposely unknown and the only compliment accorded by the Torah to Moses is “the humblest of all human beings.” The Mosaic legacy has greatly impacted the US democracy. Hence, Moses’ marble replica at the House Chamber on Capitol Hill (facing the Speaker), at the Rayburn House Office Building’s subway station and above the table of the Justices at the Supreme Court.
12. Passover inspired the Puritans, the Pilgrims and the US Founding Fathers:
*George Washington and John Adams were
compared to Moses and Joshua.
*Adams, Jefferson and Franklin proposed the Parting of the Sea as the official US seal.
*John Locke – who authored the first draft of the constitution of the Carolinas – considered the 613 Laws of Moses to be the worthy legal foundation of the new society in America.
*Ezra Stiles, the President of Yale University: “Moses, the man of God, assembled three million people – the number of people in America in 1776…” (May 8, 1783).
*President Calvin Coolidge: “The Hebraic mortars cemented the foundations of American democracy…” (May 3, 1925).
*John Winthrop, the first Governor of Massachusetts: “God has entered into a Covenant with those who are on their way to wilderness in America, just as he had entered into Covenant with the Israelites in the wilderness of Sinai… (A 1630 sermon on the Arbella).
They considered themselves “the modern day People of the Covenant,” King Charles was “the modern day Pharaoh,” the Atlantic Ocean was “the modern day Red Sea” and America was “the modern day Promised Land, New Canaan.”
The term Federalism is based on “Foedus,” the Latin word for “The Covenant.” The Founding Fathers were inspired by the political structure of the 12 Tribes, which sustained semi-independence, were governed by tribal presidents/governors and by Moses (the Commander-in-Chief), Aaron, Joshua and the 70 person Legislature, a role model for the 13 colonies and the US democracy.
13. The Exodus is mentioned 50 times in the Torah, equal to the 50 years of Jubilee, a pivot of liberty (“Proclaim liberty throughout the land to all the inhabitants thereof,” Leviticus, 25, 10, inscribed on the Liberty Bell). 50 days following the Exodus, Moses received the Torah, which includes – according to Jewish tradition – 50 gates of Wisdom. Where does that leave the 50 States?!
14. Passover commemorates the victory of Jewish demography. Jacob emigrated to Egypt with 70 relatives, but Moses launched the Exodus with 600,000 adult males and a total of some 3 million people. The Exodus was the first case of a massive Jewish Aliya (immigration) to Israel, in defiance of odds, as have been all major Aliya waves since 1948 (1950s, 1970s, 1990s), but consistent with Jewish history and destiny. Currently, there is a robust Jewish demographic tailwind between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. The number of annual Jewish births has surged 50% between 1995 (80,400) and 2009 (121,000), while the number of annual Arab births has stabilized during the same period. Moreover, Herzl launched the Zionist voyage in 1897 with an 8% Jewish minority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, Ben Gurion celebrated the November 1947 UN vote with a 33% Jewish minority, but in 2010 there is a 67% Jewish majority in the combined area of pre-1967 Israel, Judea and Samaria and a 60% majority with Gaza.
“Next Year in the Reconstructed Jerusalem”
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