Last weekend, we celebrated our forefathers’ liberation from slavery. Some did it over Gefilte Fish, some relished the Fatoot (traditional Yemenite soup with matzah), some delighted in Mina (matzah meat pie, popular among Balkan Jews), or in some other traditional food we enjoy on Passover night.
Traditions aside, the essence of the Passover seder is the same for all of us. But the Passover story does not end when the walls of the divided sea crumble on the Egyptians and become their maritime tomb. It is only the beginning of a journey.
As I wrote in last week’s column, to understand the real power of the story of the exodus from Egypt we should look beyond the traditional narrative. In one of his letters, Maimonides wrote, “We should know that Pharaoh is indeed the evil inclination.” So Pharaoh, and consequently Egypt, reflect a side in us that we prefer to see in others, rather than ourselves: the ego.
But once outside of Egypt we were liberated from our oppressor, the ego, and could begin to form the unique quality that had made us into a nation. We could begin to form brotherhood and unity. From here begins a journey that culminates at the foot of Mt. Sinai, where we pledge to unite “as one man with one heart,” thereby becoming a nation.
Our brotherhood had kept us strong for generations. It was our “prime defense against calamity” as the Maor Vashemesh put it. We could not always keep it, but we managed to restore it time and time again, until we couldn’t. That fateful time, some two millennia ago, was the ruin of the Temple and the exile—the result of our own unfounded hatred.
Immersed in egoism and in strife, we have become “the wandering Jew,” ever searching for a shelter, but always keeping “one suitcase packed.” The light of unity we had been destined to emit has dimmed and nations started wondering if we truly are “the chosen people.”
But tragic circumstances brought us once again to the land of our forefathers and to freedom. We have regained sovereignty and have rebuilt our might, but we have yet to remember what they’re for. Being a safe haven for the Jews is a worthy cause, no doubt.
But the growing rift between Israel and the Diaspora Jews is telling us that there is more to Israel than being a spacious “refugee camp.” Our strong, sovereign country can realize its destination. But instead of being a light for the nations, we are busy bickering among ourselves, displaying complete incompetence as far as unity and brotherhood are concerned, and instead of being “a light unto nations,” we pride ourselves on being a startup nation. Technology is great as an auxiliary means, but if this is all we have to offer the world, then we should do some serious introspection into what we are as a Jewish state.
A few short weeks ago, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted (by a majority of 33-6!) in favor of a declaration that Israel has no claim on Temple Mount. The world simply has no clue why we are here. It is our job to show that we are here in order to unite, and spread that unity throughout the world, to all the nations. Being “a light unto nations” means setting an example of brotherhood and mutual responsibility, of care, consideration, and empathy, precisely what the world needs most. The mutual responsibility we established at the foot of Mt. Sinai was a “proof of concept,” if you will. But now it’s time to spread it and help the world find peace.
Just as we emerged from the oppression of the ego when we came out of Egypt, our postmodern, hyper techie world is looking for an escape route from egoism that has become malignant. We, like Moses, have to show the way. Without our example of overcoming hatred, humanity will break itself to pieces.
The world accuses us of warmongering not because we do, but because we are not spreading peace—first among ourselves, a sort of “practice run,” and immediately thereafter among all the nations. We were not “chosen” to be the Taiwan of the Middle East, but to be a virtuous people, whose quality is mercy, and whose goal is to share it. When we become this, there will be no question as to our right to have a sovereign state, and precisely where we think it should be.
After thousands of years in exile, we are now free to carry out our mission. It is an opportunity that we must not allow ourselves to miss. The differences among us are a deep chasm. But as King Solomon said, “Love covers all crimes.” We need not fear our differences, but see them for the bridges that they are. The more we climb above them and unite, the stronger our bond will be, and the brighter our light will shine.
Let us take these last days of Passover and use this weekend to cultivate brotherhood and friendship. It is imperative to our success today, as a country and as a nation, wherever we may live.
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