This weekend marks twenty-five years since scud missiles began raining down upon Israel. It was a frightful time when gas masks and sealed rooms were required in response to the asphyxiating fear that the rockets might contain chemical weapons. Saddam Hussein calculated that if he could remind Gulf States aligned against him of their common foe, perhaps even provoking retaliation by Israel, then he might shatter the coalition amassed against him.
Consider how history has changed over this quarter century since January of 1991. Today common strategic interests and ferocious new adversaries find many Arab States cooperating militarily with Israel. Moreover, Israel’s existence is no longer seen as the primary cause of regional destabilization and bloodshed. Indeed despite contempt for Israel’s handling of the plight of Palestinians, the Nation State of the Jewish People is now widely valued as a force for regional stability.
Sometimes it is our vantage point which impairs our view and misdirects our choices.
The familiar verse, “And you shall tell your child in that day, saying, ‘Because of that which God did for me when I went out from Egypt’” (Ex.13:8) appears in the heart of this week’s Torah portion. One reason why this particular verse makes four different appearances in the Passover Haggadah – responding to the both the wicked and un-asking children, instilling the importance of telling the story with unleavened and bitter sensory enhancements, and expecting our generation to see and show ourselves as if we actually experienced the Exodus – is because it asks us to take the story personally. Taking it personally is about more than simply saying “it’s not about them, it’s about me.” For the sages who designed our Seder, making it personal reconnects, awakens, animates, and locates us in ways that help bring history to life. Such impulses actually vector outward to wider empathy. In so doing they admit space for others to do the same.
The self-interested view is the view we know best. But we need to take today’s challenges personally without making them all about us; to embrace our responsibility while giving others the space to do the same.
Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. took the Exodus very personally when he said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” What makes hope infinite is not merely its Divine source. What makes hope eternal also depends upon each season’s cosponsors. Poised to meet the challenges of the next quarter century, may we honor Rev. King’s teachings by doing our personal share to prove that hope works.