The Real Freedom of Passover

Dear Josep,

So there was a bus bombing in Jerusalem yesterday. In an area both Eitan and I drive through very often. We are all safe, thank God.

The bomb went off on an empty bus, setting it and a few neighboring vehicles (including another bus) on fire, injuring dozens, but thankfully, miraculously, no one was killed. It sounds like it was a fairly amateur attempt that did not go as planned.

In the terror attacks in Europe and the USA of late, I’ve noticed that it takes a long time before they declare it a terror attack. We’re not used to that here in Israel; usually we know the instant it happens that it was a terror attack. But in this case it took the police a few hours. It was pretty ridiculous, actually. When they were still deliberating, there was a sub-headline on the Times of Israel that read “Mayor says explosion from small bomb on back of vehicle, but police maintain unclear if terror attack or accident.” I was like, “Oh really? They’re investigating the possibility that someone ‘accidentally’ planted a bomb on the back of the bus…? My taxes are paying for this?”

About ten minutes later, the news reported that the police had confirmed a terror attack, and quoted the Jerusalem police chief as saying, “When a bomb explodes on a bus, it is a terror attack.”

YOU DON’T SAY.

I assume part of the confusion was that they had no intelligence about it whatsoever–which apparently means they usually do, which is both reassuring and extremely not reassuring–and the fact that no terrorist organization rushed to claim responsibility. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and their ilk are usually more than happy to gloat about it as soon as they can, but they did not claim responsibility, they just praised it.

*sigh*

I had just been noting, rather cautiously, that the wave of stabbings seemed to have ebbed a little bit. You know, just in time for us to uncover some new Hamas tunnels. Well, it’s that time of year, and we’re due for a war, right? It’s been two years since the last one.

*sigh*

Well… thank God for Passover. Seder night is this coming Friday, and while this holiday may drive the Jewish people collectively insane, it has its advantages. One, we are too busy panicking about getting our houses, kitchens, and pantries ready for the holiday to put much thought into what it means that someone managed to bomb a bus in Jerusalem, or to dwell on the memories from the Second Intifada such an image might invoke.

Two: Passover is a holiday of perspective.

Because when we sit down to tell the story of the Exodus, we zoom out of our current situation and the turmoil we are dealing with now, and we see it for what it is: yet another small blip in the 3,000-year-long story of the Jewish people, fraught with suffering but crowned with triumph.

Recounting the Exodus is about changing our mindset.

For so much of history my ancestors performed the Seder ceremony huddled over meager tables, saying the verses in hushed tones, strangers in strange lands under the shadow of the massacres so common around Easter time. “We were slaves, but now we are free,” they whispered, hiding from the watchful eyes of the Roman soldiers, or the spies of the Inquisition, or the Nazis. How did they live with this paradox? How could they celebrate their freedom when they were anything but free?

But they were free.

Because the kind of freedom we celebrate on Passover is a deeper kind of freedom than simply not being slaves, or enjoying equal rights, or having the opportunity to pursue our own destiny. It is a profound inner freedom, a freedom that cannot be shackled by any kind of chain. It is an inherent sense of knowing who you are, recognizing your place and your role in the grand scheme of things, and knowing that you matter. It is the courage to remain who you are in the face of threat and great pressure to abandon your identity. It is the faith that you are part of a story that will have a happy ending one day.

Before the tenth and final plague in Egypt, God commanded the Israelites to sacrifice a lamb. Tie the lamb outside your house for three days, He commanded, and then slaughter it and paint its blood on your doorpost. That night, I will smite every firstborn in Egypt. But I will pass over the houses whose doorposts are painted with the lamb’s blood, and let your firstborns live.

That’s the source of the name “Passover.”

But why this whole ceremony? Didn’t God know whose firstborns He should kill without needing to “check” the doorpost?!

So here’s the thing. Egyptians worshiped sheep. They saw them as Divine beings. So God commanded us to take this Egyptian god, tie it up in front of our homes for three days, and then slaughter it, eat it, and smear its blood on our doorposts–all out in the open.

I tell you, our lives have gone seriously downhill since these Israelites started with their whole “one God” thing.

This was a supreme act of defiance. One who was willing to perform this act was demonstrating that he no longer subscribed to the belief that the Egyptians and their culture held any power over him. He answered to one authority only: God.

That act, the paschal sacrifice–and the Seder that evolved around it–has become the ultimate symbol of what it means for us to be free. And we have continued performing it year after year, even under the worst of conditions, to continue to remind ourselves of that freedom, that no one can take away from us.

Looking at things from that perspective, we can find some comfort and hope. Because the truth is that our situation now is better than it ever was. With all the hatred and all the turmoil around us, we have a thriving Jewish state. With all the terror and warfare, we are still suffering a lot less violence from our nasty neighbors than we did in years past.

“And it is [that promise] that has stood for our ancestors and ourselves, for not only one has risen to destroy us, but in every generation, they rise up to destroy us, and the Holy One, Blessed Be He, saves us from their hands.”

That is the most poignant line from the Passover Haggadah. In this version of the song by Yonatan Razel, he changes the words to present and future tense, because of how relevant they still are, two thousand years after they were first written.

Not only one rises to destroy us… and the Holy One, Blessed Be He, will save us from their hands

Amen, may it be His will.

A joyful and peaceful Passover to all.

Much love,

Daniella

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