Every year, at the beginning of the Spring, or on Israel, the dry season, we recount the magnificent epic story of the Exodus from Egypt. The tale of the Jewish people, under the leadership of Moses (Moshe Rabbeinu-Moses our Teacher) struggled to be free after 400 years of enslavement under the Pharoahs of Egypt.
The story of the Jewish people in Mitzra’im (the land of the two rivers) begins with the man, Joseph (Yosef) sold by his brothers in a pique of jealousy to a passing caravan which took him to Egypt, where after years of imprisonment, he became a high adviser to the court of the Egyptian ruler. At a time of great famine in the land of Israel, Joseph’s brothers and his father sojourned to the land in search of food.
I will not dwell on the entire miracle that eventually led to the trek to the Promised Land after 40 years of torturous travails and the birth of the Jewish nation at Mt Sinai. There, the Law, the Ten Commandments, were placed by G-d upon the shoulders of His people. For it was at this time, according to Rabbinic sources and some great philosophers, that the Jewish people came into being a holy nation and were given those divine instructions upon which much of the Western world’s civilized nations still use as the basis for their own legislation and jurisprudence. A moral code for creating a society where men and women could live in security and learn justice.
However, there remains a more significant question that has troubled many scholars far wiser than I. Did all the Hebrews leave Canaan for Egypt? Were there some that remained behind? Why was the commandment to have “No other gods before Me” such a vital direction if there were Hebrews who still worshiped the gods of the Canaanites? Was it Hebrews who left along with Joseph’s family and Jews who returned under the leadership of Joshua? What were the differences between those who remained in Canaan and those who came across the Jordan?
This presents a modern perplexity. When the early Zionist pioneers came to the land at the close of the 19th century, imbued with the spirit to reclaim the land and to live and create what they called a “Just Society,” were they anything akin to the Jews who were here before them? The religious Jews of Jerusalem, Hevron, Zefat and Tverya, communities that had been here for centuries, very often were horrified at the newcomers. These young people from Eastern Europe were, for the most part, deeply anti or non religious. Many of them espoused the theories of Marxism with its “religion is the opiate of the people” slogan in their consciousness.
The refugees fleeing Poland in 1925, when that new nation’s economy was in tatters and anti-Semitism reared its ugly head, and the Jews running for their lives after the rise of the Nazi beast, were not all pioneers in the same class as those who arrived before them. Yes, some were Zionists, but many of the immigrants of the massive German Aliyah of 1935, when 61, 854 men, women and children came here arrived penniless with no future of gainful employment. They were definitely not the type that built the kibbutzim and moshavim that had begun to dot the landscape of the Galilee, the Valley of Jezreel and the Negev Desert.
They were doctors, lawyers, teachers and artists, musicians and some, lucky enough to have some capital, became shopkeepers or opened small businesses. They were capitalists, as opposed to the ideology of the early pioneers that you can possibly imagine! But they created new structures for the land, a national orchestra arose. The universities expanded with new departments, hospitals grew in number and medical advances were made and factories sprung up like weeds all over the landscape. They took their lives and their children’s futures in their hands and some also laid brick, paved roads and swept the streets. In fact, there was an old joke that two German Jews (known as Yekkes, because they always wore their coats) met on a street in Tel Aviv while they were both employed as street cleaners. When they met, they would doff their hats and greet each other, “Guten morgen, Herr Professor, Guten Morgen, Herr Doktor.”
Indeed. they were very different from the native born Palestinians( yes, I use the term “Palestinians in its proper sense here as only Jews were called by that name as the Arabs in the land referred to themselves as southern Syrians or from whatever country from which they had come from originally) and their parents’ generation. These new immigrants came, many of them, not out of ideology or religious longing, but to save their lives and they left behind everything that had been comforting and familiar.
The survivors of the Holocaust, probably among the most desperate and ill treated Jews that ever left Europe, came here with little but the clothes in their packs to a country in the midst of a war for its very existence. The sons and daughters of those who had preceded them were under arms in a brutal struggle against a vicious and savage enemy. Yet, with enormous sacrifice, the state arose and with food rationing and near bankruptcy (albeit for the massive assistance from American Jewry and others) those who were here poured their sweat and blood into making these victims of the most horrific crime in human history into solid, productive citizens.
The 850,000 Jews who fled, sometimes in the middle of the night, across desert wastelands on foot, camel and donkey. to reach the safety of newborn Israel. They had been at the mercy of Arab mobs, screaming, “Itbach il Yahud!”-“Slaughter the Jews!” when the news of the birth of the State of Israel filled the airwaves by radio and newsreel. The Jews who were airlifted here from Yemen and Iraq, who were so primitive as to not ever have seen an airplane, no less a toilet, people who still were living as they did hundreds of years ago, were totally baffled, maybe even frightened, by the modern state that where they found themselves after a harrowing plane ride. Yet, upon landing at a very ramshackle airport, they kissed thee ground and with a newborn identity as Israelis and a new found sense of freedom.
Jews who came from the lands of North Africa, where they had dwelt for centuries, before the advent of the Islamic states where they lived in perpetual second class status, found themselves having to adapt to a new language, a new country and a new beginning. Jews from their native lands, who had made the journey to the land of Israel before them, worked diligently to make a home for their newly arrived brethren.
Even the sophisticated and modern age immigrants from the Americas, Europe, Russia and Asia, are. for the most part, very different than their brothers and sisters that have been in the land for generations. The miracle of the homecoming of the Jews from Ethiopia and their integration into a society that still, in many ways, has to come to grips with the social problems that do exist, maintains the hope that one day the only difference between them and other Israelis is the color of their skin as we are all Jews. The million Jews from the former Soviet Union who arrived here after decades of political and social pressure to wipe out their identities and heritage, now celebrate Passover in their homes from Haifa to Hevron, from Tel Aviv to Teko’a, from Metulla to Ma’aleh Adumim.
What I am leading up to is at Passover, we are celebrating not only the liberation of our ancestors from bondage, but the return of our people from Exile to freedom. We are celebrating the fact that Hebrews never left this land entirely, that there have always been those here to greet the ones who have returned from the Diaspora. WE HAVE NEVER LEFT THE LAND EVER! And so, have we never relinquished our claim to it in its entirety.
Passover reminds us that we have a great job ahead of us, the Ingathering of the Exiles. That our existence and survival in this tiny, Jewish country, depends on the return of ALL our scattered brothers and sisters.
Yes, we rejoice in the rebirth of our sovereignty. Yes, we rejoice that we, once again, have our capital in Jerusalem, not next year, but this year and forever. Yes, we proclaim that the nature of mankind is to live in liberty and to recognize that it is not easily obtained, but must be struggled for and preserved.
That is what we must teach our children and grandchildren, the native born and those who will come. with their parents and grandparents. In their hands will be the future of this wonderful country, this beloved and precious Israel. The lesson has to be told year after year, as we have done for over 3000 years.
Passover is the time to remember that each generation owes its freedom to the one that came before it, that the tie of our people to this land is an unbroken chain from the day that Moses stood overlooking the entire land and told us “Therefore go and spread liberty throughout the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof.” From the time before Moses, when G-d told Avraham to leave his father’s house to go “unto a land that I shall show thee.”
Passover is when we must remember that all of us are Israel. Those lucky to be here and those who will celebrate in the Exile which, G-d willing, will end speedily in our days.
May I take this opportunity to wish the entire House of Israel, a sweet, joyous and healthy Passover. Chag Pesach Same’ach!