Dvar Torah - April 2022 (Pesach/Passover)

by Rabbi Mauricio Balter

“The mission of the Jewish people is not to make the world more Jewish, but to make the world more humaneElie Wiesel

Pesach is the festivity of our calendar that invites us to reflect on the freedom of both peoples and individuals; it also marks the beginning of spring. All our traditions related to this festivity, food, prayers, the symbols of the Seder, the readings and the songs of the Haggadah, invite us to travel through an imaginary time tunnel and relive the slavery, the lack of freedom, and the suffering of our people in Egypt. It is not just to remember intellectually, but to actively relive some of the memories.

I cannot but wonder how to include this year in our Seder a reminder of the war in Ukraine and the people suffering from lack of freedom, not through slavery, but through the terrible consequences of war.

It comes to mind that we can use some of the resources of the Haggadah and add them to the Seder to guide participants in thinking and praying for all those who cannot celebrate as we do, be they Jewish or not.

Please join me in revisiting three parts of the Haggadah:

1- The four questions of the Haggadah
2- The four sons/daughters of the Haggadah
3- The final song of the Haggadah “Dayenu”

מה נשתנה הלילה הזה מכל הלילות?

How is this night different from all other nights?

That tonight we cannot forget/erase from our mind what is happening in Ukraine.

Pesach invites us to think of human beings as the heart of the celebrations: their freedom, and their capacity to live their lives with integrity. Denying the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Ukraine and that of the Ukrainian people does not reflect the true concept of the celebration. Elie Wiesel once said, “The mission of the Jewish people is not to make the world more Jewish but to make it more humane,” I agree with him. Tikkun Olam means making the world a better place and we should all together decry the injustices we see around us.

Following in our Pesach tradition, what would the four sons/daughters say of our Haggadah with respect to war?

The wise one would ask:

What is the highest value, the maximum holiness that the Torah proposes?
One should answer that “Kedushat HaChaim”, the holiness of life, is the highest value proposed by Judaism. For this reason, the tosefta teaches us “whoever saves one life saves an entire world!”

The wicked one would say:

This is not my war; it is someone else’s!
One should teach them that every war is our war, and that is why we pray:

“עושה שלום במרומיו הוא יעשה שלום עלינו ועל כל ישראל ועל כל יושבי תבל”

“He who establishes peace in Heaven will give peace to the people of Israel and to all the inhabitants of earth”.
Peace should include all men and all peoples for it to be true peace.

The simple one would say:

And if your son asked you tomorrow, “what is it?”, you should explain that sometimes the human beings who should be the most rational beings of the animal world are simply irrational, and that their ego and personal interests oftentimes drive the leaders who should worry about the wellbeing of their peoples.

He who does not know how to ask would say:

You should explain, consistent with their ability to understand, our responsibility to prevent violence and wars.

And lastly, “Dayenu”, it would suffice, and here I would add a phrase.

If the Almighty offered us the possibility to learn how to solve the conflicts between peoples through dialogue and negotiation, we would know how to eradicate the culture of violence and war from within us. Dayenu, it would suffice!

With the best wishes for a kosher, happy and peaceful Pesach!

Rabbi Mauricio Balter

Executive Director of Masorti and MERCAZ Olami

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