Monday, March 18, 2013

We do we always bring up the past?

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If slavery is so bad, why do we have to reenact it every Passover?  One might think we should skip over the reliving the shame of slavery.  Who wants to eat the symbolic foods like matza, poor man’s bread, the bitter herb, and the dipping in salt water? Shouldn’t we rather concentrate upon the psalms of praise, Hallel, and eating of the festive meal with its four cups of wine?

Rabbi Joshua ben Levi taught that revelation from on top of Mt. Sinai is a continuous event as it is written:  “Every day a heavenly voice goes forth from Mount Horeb, another name for Sinai,…” (Avot  6:2)  Just as revelation from Sinai is a continuous event, so too do I believe that the Exodus from Egypt is a continuous event and that’s why we still need to remember our time as slaves to Pharaoh.  We’re still not out of the woods yet.

 Rabbi Avraham Kook, the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Palestine, explains why God needed to take us out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm.  Wouldn’t it have been sufficient to take us out of Egypt with strong hand or an outstretched arm?   He writes:

A strong hand refers to the sudden, dramatic intervention of God in our history, which immediately catapulted us from the depths of depravity in Egypt to the spiritual heights of Mount Sinai.  Bu this is only one side of the coin of divine history.  In addition to the revolution of the strong hand, there must also be the evolution symbolized by the outstretched arm. The arm is outstretched meaning that the potential yet awaits its actualization. This outstretched arm alludes to the slow, gradual spiritual evolution of the Jewish people, to an ongoing process that will eventually climax in the coming of the Messiah.

These are the two tracts of history.  One, a revolution engineered from above. Left to our own resources we would never have left Egypt.  There was required supernatural divine intervention.  But the ultimate goal is not that the Torah go against the grain of nature, but rather that human nature be refined so that the Torah can be integrated and absorbed within the framework of nature.  This gradual refinement is an ongoing process over generations upon generations.  Each individual generation has its part to pay in this spiritual drama.  For this reason we say, “In every generation everyone must see himself/herself as if he or she left Egypt.” This Exodus of the “outstretched arm” is a work in progress. It yet awaits completion. (The Rav Kook Hagadah, page 38. Orot Publishers: Spring Valley, NY, 2012)

The Haggadah calls us to look around and see where the world is still not redeemed.  Slavery in many forms still exists. The weak and the poor are still exploited.  Gun violence permeates our country and war is a constant companion to too many people around the globe. By retelling the story of our people’s slavery through words, songs, and symbolic food and seeing ourselves as if we just left Egypt, we learn that God is waiting for us with an outstretched arm to complete our world’s redemption. When we join the Holy One as His partner to finish the task of redemption, our plea “Next year in Jerusalem” will no longer be a plea in potentia, but will be realized to the full extent of our longings.

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