Our Hagadah instructs us to tell the story: “From Degradation to Exaltation.” It’s an exercise in being truthful about the brokenness in our world and nevertheless, refusing to be resigned. The central theme of Pesach is Redemption, “salvation from the states and circumstances which destroy the value of human existence or human existence itself.” (Encyclopedia Judaica)
One midrash asks: “Why did the Exodus from Egypt come when it did?” Why not earlier or later? What was the trigger that signals it was time for liberation? The answer: We cried out. “The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help went up to God.” (Exodus 2:23) It could be said that until that moment, we were resigned. For too long a time our spirits were so crushed by slavery we could not even call out for change. But the moment we cried out was the beginning of our redemption.
The Rasha, the “wicked/rebellious one” of the Hagadah is the cynic, the one who calls Pesach a charade, the one who argues that nothing really ever changes in the world. We set a place for the Rasha at our table; we bring him in. Not only for his sake. Not only to “save” him for the Jewish People, but for our sake, too. Every edgy question and challenge he lobs at the festive table give us the opportunity to articulate our own convictions, our own faith, our own commitment to bringing the world “from darkness to light.” To the Rasha we mustn’t just speak flowery words of hope; we have to show him. The Hagadah says, “You must set his teeth on edge.” It’s a dramatic call for physical change. The effort is likely to be painful, but rescuing the Rasha from his cynicism is serious business, because like a plague, cynicism is dangerous and contagious. It can sweep through a community much more swiftly than redemption can. Redemption is usually slow, especially at the start, and often subtle.
I was surprised to learn that Jews were permitted to bake matzah one Pesach in Bergen-Belsen. Rabbi Israel Spira of Bluzhov (1881-1981) led the seder. In the midst of such profound degradation, Rabbi Spira said: “Tonight we have only matzah, we have no moments of relief, not a moment of respite from our humiliated spirits… but do not despair, my young friends….For this is also the beginning of our redemption…Even in our state of slavery we find intimations of our eventual freedom through the coming of the Messiah. We who are witnessing the darkest night in history, the lowest moment of civilization, will also witness the great light of redemption…”
Realist, Optimist, Activist, Person of Faith. These must overwhelm the cynic in each of us. The cynic whispers; the one who believes in the possibility of redemption cries out. The cynic whispers and saps our strength. The person of faith cries out, calls for change, insists that God and humanity are good; and is willing to work to prove it, to make it more so. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was such a person. He teaches: “The meaning of redemption is to reveal the holy that is concealed, to disclose the divine that is suppressed. Every man is called upon to be a redeemer, and redemption takes place every moment, every day…. Redemption must not be expected to happen as an act of sheer grace. Man’s task is to make the world worthy of redemption. His faith and his words are preparations for ultimate redemption.”
I wish you and your loved ones a Chag Sameach, filled with the power and potential of spring.