haggada four sons_311.
(photo credit: David Geffen)
We live in historic times. Just think about what has happened in Jewish history
during the last 70 years alone. We often struggle to make sense of it all. There
is too much information and not enough perspective. Our understanding is
often fragmented as we lurch from one headline to the next, one crisis to the
next, without seeing the bigger picture.
Contrast this with Seder night,
when we don’t just recount the isolated historical facts of the Exodus from
Egypt but tell a whole, coherent story in the manner in which G-d has shown us.
The Passover Haggada is structured in such a way that in retelling the events
and re-experiencing the great miracles which G-d performed for our ancestors in
Egypt, we are actually putting the various fragments together to form a larger,
integrated and congruent whole.
As we go through the Haggada, we see the
Exodus not as an isolated event but as an event which occurred in the context of
our people’s history, going all the way back to our forefathers and
-mothers. We recount not only the experience of the Exodus, but how we
got to Egypt in the first place, the destiny of our people and the events
following our redemption – the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and entering
the Land of Israel. We look at the full sweep of history, not just at the
individual events being recounted at that moment. In the world of the Haggada,
we feel past, present and future merging into a coherent and congruent story of
who we are and what our Divine mission and purpose is.
Through this, G-d
teaches us an important lesson, and that is that we need to look at things from
a broader perspective and to contextualize the events of history in order to
make sense of them. Often we get pulled into the vortex of a particular event’s
intensity, to the point where we are unable to see the larger picture. But one
of the great teachings of Judaism is that nothing in this world is random; no
event is an isolated occurrence and everything is part of the Divine sweep of
history. We need to piece the fragments together so that they cohere in a
meaningful way that reflects G-d’s master plan.
In our own times as well,
we need to understand world events in the context of Jewish destiny and from a
Torah perspective. This imperative led me to produce a short, six-minute video
message (www.chiefrabbi.co.za http://www.chiefrabbi.co.za/>/vehisheamda
), which looks at the miraculous sweep of Jewish history, from
ancient Egypt to modern-day Iran, all underpinned with the immortal words of the
Passover Haggada, “Vehi she’amda
This short video, interwoven with the
inspiring music of Yaakov Shwekey, seeks to provide a framework for
understanding our destiny and the events of our times.
The video has been
made in the spirit of the Haggada, which teaches us to rise above the fragments
of daily events and to see the bigger picture, to see ourselves as part of the
unfolding story of Jewish destiny as guided by G-d. We must see events not as
random headlines, but as part of a meaningful story of who we are, which in turn
gives us clarity as to our purpose and Divine mission.
One of the central
symbols of our Passover redemption is the eagle. “You saw with your own eyes
what I did to Egypt; I carried you on the wings of eagles, and brought you to
Me” (Exodus 19:4). The eagle symbolizes transcendence. It flies higher than any
other bird, scans vast areas and sees everything. Flying on the wings of eagles
enables us to rise above the turbulence of daily affairs. Too often we find
ourselves staggering from one event to the next, from one peace summit to the
next war to yet another United Nations resolution, instead of seeing the bigger
picture of where we have come from and where we are headed.
our interactions with the nations of the world, we need to come with the broad
perspective of our history. There is no doubt that the modern Zionist enterprise
achieved great things; but if we tell the world that Zionism started just over
100 years ago in Basel, Switzerland, distorted perceptions and accusations of
colonialism will emerge.
If we do not proudly proclaim the truth, that
Jerusalem was the capital of the Jewish state long before Washington, Paris or
London even existed, there will be always be confusion. For our own clarity of
purpose and sense of mission, we need to realize that we are an ancient people
whose moral vision is rooted in our Torah, given to us by G-d at Mount Sinai
more than 3,300 years ago.
We are indeed living in historic and dramatic
times. We need to step back for a moment and understand that everything we are
going through is part of something much larger. It is only from the commanding
heights of the transcendent eagle that we can see things from a broader
perspective and find optimism and gratitude to G-d when we consider the miracle
of our very existence after so many enemies have sought – and still seek – our
This transcendent vision also imbues us with inspiration for
our Divine mission to continue our legacy as an ancient, holy and eternal
people. From this perspective will emerge the insight, faith and courage
we need in order to rise, with G-d’s help, to the challenges and opportunities
of our times.The writer is chief rabbi of South Africa.