It all started with the Exodus from Egypt. That was the moment when the Children of Israel asked themselves four fundamental questions, and answered them with remarkable unity.
Nowadays, hearing about ad hominem attacks in the community, deep splits over Israel’s path, and divides within Israel itself, unity is the very last word that comes to mind. It might be that this Pesach we may find the comfort of solidarity through sharing the same four common questions, even if our answers now differ radically.
The story of the Exodus can be summarized with four Hebrew words that translate as: “To Be a People, Free In Our Land.” (When you think about it, it kind of makes sense that the Exodus story has a Zionist flavor!) These four words, that now live as the penultimate line of Israel’s Hatikvah anthem, also played out then, as now, in the form of four timeless questions.
In Egypt the Children of Israel were facing existential questions of a life in slavery (To Be?), struggling with a newly-embraced collective identity as a People and not just a fractious extended family (People?), exploring freedom from slavery and the freedom to commit (Free?), and setting off for the Land of Israel (In Our Land?) – and in following Moses across the Red Sea, the Children of Israel released the Four Hatikvah Questions into Jewish consciousness.
As we sit around our Seder night tables this Pesach, in addition to the traditional four questions sung by our youngest, we may be able to make out this additional set of Four Hatikvah Questions making their presence felt.
These are no longer the days of miracles. We can no longer expect consensus on the answers we each reach. But there is deep value in sharing questions about Israel in our lives.
What is the best way to ensure our survival? How can we best assess what threatens us, and how might we best neutralize these threats? (When) can we chill out and just “be”?
What makes us a collective? How should our religion, tradition, and faith play out in our lives? What value should we place on unity and solidarity among Jews, if it risks distancing us from others? In what way should our Jewish values of justice, and tikkun, drive our collective actions and thoughts?
How should the Jewish People innovate, create, and renew? What democratic structures and norms are required within Jewish communities and within the Jewish State? How can they enable us to freely choose how decisions are taken and implemented? How do we resolve the tension between “freedom” on the one hand and a commitment to the collective of the “People” on the other hand?
In Our Land?
Is Land important? When we talk of “our” Land, do we use the possessive pronoun as we would when we refer to “our apartment” or “our car”? Or is the pronoun more about identity: “Our Land” like “our family”, “our friends”? Must we be and live “in” our Land, in order for it to be truly “ours”, or can we be anywhere in the world?
When we argue about Israel, we are reviving the ancient tensions between the four questions – two universal, two particular – that walked with us through the desert from Egypt to Canaan, and continue to challenge us to this day.
May we all reach the harmony of our own ongoing answers, and may we continue to ask the questions of ourselves and of others in love and respect.