Pesach 5778

Rabbi Ariel J. Friedlander – 30 March 2018

Seder night commemorates the miraculous moment in Jewish history when, having cried out to God for help, our ancestors were saved. Moses led the Children of Israel out of Egyptian slavery, and towards the Promised Land. Tradition teaches that since God has previously redeemed us, we have empirical proof it may happen again. However, six million souls know that it did not happen for them. I cannot tell you why not, but I know that we are no longer children, and do not expect a superhero to swoop down and save us in our time of need.

Why, then, do we open the door, ostensibly for Elijah, and cry out to Adonai, “Pour out your wrath on those that do not know you, and upon the governments that do not know your name.” (Psalm 79:6)? Our ancestors took the opportunity in this moment to check the front garden in case a dead body had been left as an excuse for a blood libel. Thank God we live in a safer time and place. Yet we share the desire to speak our emotions out loud, to imagine that those who cause us pain will be punished – God, they are being mean to us. If only you would smite them! It is certainly emotionally healthy to express such feelings, but is that the only reason for saying these words?

Midrash tells of Moses, with the Egyptian army coming up from behind, and the perilous deep Red Sea before him, standing and praying. God says, “my beloved ones are drowning in the stormy seas, and you are standing and praying?!” Moses asks, “What should I do?” God replies, “lift your staff and spread your hand over the seas. They will split, and you all may cross on dry land.” At first, I read this as an example of deeds before words, that we may speak and pray all we want, but in the end what makes a difference is that we do something. I told this to my beloved, I said that prayer is not enough, and she replied, “but if Moses hadn’t prayed, would he have made the connection?”

Connection is the key. The Torah tells us, “I will be your God, and you will be My people.” (Lev. 26:12) For this partnership to work, we must remember that while we ask a lot from our God, there is also much we may offer. However, preceding these transactions, at the heart of the relationship, there must be the desire for a connection.

Way back when Moses saw a burning bush that was not consumed by the flame, he went to investigate. God spoke to him, telling him to remove his shoes, as the ground on which he stood was holy. Why didn’t God tell Moses to take off his shoes before standing on holy ground? Rabbi Mattisyahu Solomon writes that it was because the ground was not yet holy! What made it holy? It was made holy by Moses’ desire to know more about the phenomenon, and thus learn about God.

If we are truly interested in a relationship with God, then we must take an active part. We may whinge, we may send a clumsy collection of words for God to decode, or we may sing. We may ask, we may praise, we may thank, we may apologise. All such prayers manifest our desire to connect. When we are silent, how can there be a reply? When we reach out, it is not towards some caped crusader, but rather with hope that we will feel the response of our beloved.

As for the festival of Pesach, it is a burning bush for our community. We come together on Seder night, drawn by the miraculous light of redemption. As we tell the story, examining it each year in myriad ways, may we create holy ground, and know that we are not alone. Chag sameach!

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