And You Shall Tell Your Children
In every generation they rise up against us to destroy us. And the Holy One rescues us from their hands. (Passover Haggadah)
These words will hopefully be familiar to anyone who grew up attending a Passover Seder; but is it true that non-Jews have attempted to destroy us in every generation? At our Seder, when we get to these words, we divert from the text of the Haggadah and mention a few of the many instances of this phenomenon occurring throughout the centuries. Pharaoh in Egypt, Haman’s attempted genocide of the Jews, (356 BCE; Purim ), the Greek government outlawed the practice of Judaism in Israel (138 BCE Chanukah), Jews were expelled from Arabia (640 CE), First crusade: Thousands of Jews tortured and massacred (1096), blamed for Black Plague (13th century), Jews expelled from Spain (1492), Jews accused of murdering Christian children to use their blood to bake matzah(15th century), Holocaust (1939-1945), Arab nations launch attacks to annihilate Israel 1948-67. This is just a partial list but we managed to survive each time. One of the towering Jewish figures of 18th century Europe was Rav Yaakov Emden. In his commentary on the Haggadah he says that each year we celebrate a miracle greater than the Exodus, when millions of Jewish slaves effortlessly walked out of the most powerful nation (Egypt) of that time. The fact that we are still alive to tell the story after centuries of being a minority who have been the target of annihilation century after century, and without a land, attests to the miracle of our survival. No people on earth can claim this ‘distinction.’ People might not believe the story told in the Passover Haggadah but there is not denying the story of the miracle of our survival.
G-d has kept His side of the bargain but how about us? There are many valid Jewish approaches to keeping our part of the covenant, one of which is that we recount the Passover story each year. For centuries, parents and grandparents have been loyal in relaying our gratitude to the Almighty for doing something unknown in the annals of history. A Force interceded and rescued a persecuted people so that they would bear tribute to His kindness, follow His model and be a beacon of light by way of the kindness they would teach and practice. It seems so ancient but here is a question to ask at your Seder.
Moses lived 3,300 years ago; how many people (approximately) are in the chain of transmitting the Exodus story from Moses until you? Most people would guess in the hundreds but let us look at a common phenomenon. Most Seders have a few generations of family members sitting together at the table (I remember my grandfather and great aunts and uncles at our Seder growing up). If the story was transmitted by a 70-year-old person to a 10-year-old grandchild, then a fascinating calculation is revealed. There is a 60-year age difference between the one relating the story and the child listening to it and the story happened 3,300 years ago. Therefore, if we divide 3,300 by 60; the result is 55 (3300 ÷ 60 = 55). (Bear in mind that no one disputes the last 2,300 or so years of the chain. The only skepticism is in the first 1000 years, which involve 17 people telling the story). It is also important to note that grandparents generally don’t lie to their grandchildren about things that matter. In short, there haven’t been that many transmissions, yet Jews all the world over (people having no contact with those outside their country) have been telling the same story to their children and grandchildren for centuries.
How have we survived? The Haggadah answers, “And it is this that has stood by our ancestors and by us.” What is “this” referring to? The Covenant G-d made with Abraham; it has faithfully stood by us. G-d promised Abraham that we would never be destroyed. Although we might lose many people and/or the Land of Israel, one thing we can count on is that the world’s anti-Semites will never be successful in their desire to obliterate us.The story we recount each year is one of gratitude not only for being alive but also for being part of this distinguished people-whether you were born Jewish or are a Jew by choice.
And we rejoice in the message of freedom. There are fifteen parts of the Passover Seder; Maggid is the part about us telling the story. Speech is a human’s unique ability; articulating our thoughts is a gift given to us, not animals. Speech is the tool of building and G-d used it to create the world (“And G-d said: Let there be light.”). On Seder night, we use our gift of speech for the central part of the Haggadah, which is to tell the Passover story. The word Pesach is a contraction of the words “Peh” and “Sach,” meaning “the mouth speaks.” The Hebrew name for Pharaoh, on the other hand, is a combination of “Peh” and “Rah,” meaning “bad mouth.” For just as speech has the power to build, it also has the power to destroy. Gossip, slander, and lies have the potential to drive families apart and divide communities. On Passover, we use speech to build. When we tell the story as it is related in the Haggadah, we are communicating, connecting, and encouraging each other to remain connected-as a family and as Jews.
May each of us realize that our telling the story to the next generation allows us to create the next link in the chain of the magnificent people of which we are a part and rejoice in the gift we possess.
Chag Samayach/Good Yom Tov