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Dovid Vigler

Celebrating Freedom while we’re under Fire?!

Image source: https://twitter.com/IsraelinUSA/status/1714997514192011503

A Spiritual Approach to Our Sorrows

Pesach this year was a night different from all other nights.

Instead of the academic, historical context in which the Haggadah discusses how “in every generation, they rise against us to destroy us,” this year it’s for real. And so close to home.

Whilst our hostages are languishing in Gaza and rockets continue to rain over Israel’s borders onto civilian areas, college students around the world are now accusing Jews everywhere of unspeakable atrocities. It’s quite challenging to celebrate the Festival of Freedom when we’re under attack.

A subtle nuance in the Haggadah gives us tremendous strength to endure this crisis. The Seder opens with the curious tale of five rabbis who had gathered for a Seder in Bnei Brak, during Roman times. They were so engrossed in their conversation of the Exodus that they failed to notice the rising sun, until their students alerted them that the time for the morning prayers had arrived.

At first glance, the story seems archaic and irrelevant. But a closer look reveals so much more than meets the eye. The hosting rabbi was Rabbi Akiva, the rabbi of Bnei Brak (Talmud Sanhedrin 32). Amongst his guests were two of his teachers—Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua. Why would the teachers have come to their students for the Seder, when Jewish protocol calls for the reverse?

The key lies in a peculiar phrase in the narrative that seems to add no meaning to the untrained eye: “They were discussing the Exodus from Egypt all that night.” Our sages explain that this Seder was held soon after the destruction of our Second Temple in 69 CE by the Romans. Countless Jews had been murdered, raped, and taken hostage. The glorious city of Jerusalem had been burned down and our holy Temple had been defiled and destroyed. The spirit of the Jewish nation was broken.

It was in reference to this context that the Haggadah informs us that they discussed the miracles of redemption “all that night,” as they were suffering through a most dark night indeed—the darkest period of Jewish history in thousands of years.

Given the context, the Sages couldn’t understand how they were supposed to celebrate the Seder—how could freedom reign when they were suffering so? And that is precisely the reason why they had gathered in the home of Rabbi Akiva—the great optimist of Jewish history!

Rabbi Akiva is the paragon of promise and the heralder of hope in the darkest night. When 24,000 of his students died in a period of 33 days of the Omer, instead of emerging defeated, he proceeded the very next day to open a new Yeshiva to start over! When he experienced great troubles while traveling, instead of cursing his luck, he famously declared “all that G-d does is for the good.” Even while he was being executed by the Romans, he joyously declared his gratitude for the extraordinary and rare opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah of sanctifying the name of G-d with his very life!

Once while traveling, Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues reached Mount Scopus on their way up to Jerusalem where they could see the ruins of the Temple so they rented their garments. When they reached the Temple Mount, they saw a fox emerging from the ruins of the Holy of Holies. They began to cry, but Rabbi Akiva laughed. They asked, “Why are you laughing?” Rabbi Akiva replied, “Why are you crying?” They said, “This is the place of which the verse states, ‘and the non-priest who approaches shall die,’ and now foxes are walking on it; how can we not cry?

He replied, “That’s why I’m laughing. Just as G-d’s prophecy to Uriah that ‘Zion shall be plowed as a field,’ has been so meticulously fulfilled, so we will His prophecy to Zecharia—that ‘there will yet be elderly men and elderly women sitting in the streets of Jerusalem’—be fulfilled to the last detail.” His companions replied, “Akiva, you have comforted us, Akiva, you have comforted us.”

The Rebbe points out that Rabbi Akiva’s use of the plowed field metaphor holds the secret to his worldview: When a field is plowed, only a simple person would think it’s being destroyed. A wise person understands that the seeming destruction is actually a vital step in the growth process. Planting without prior plowing is futile. The plowing is a vital step toward fulfilling the purpose of the field. The deeper the plow, the better the subsequent growth. As in the construction of a new home, it’s the destruction of the old that makes way for the construction of the new.

We are not the first generation to experience such a dark night this Passover. Our pain is validated by our sages of the opening story of the Haggadah who didn’t know how to celebrate freedom under fire, just like us today. Yet this story has been incorporated into the opening of the Seder experience to give us strength, courage, and direction to seek the wisdom and faith that will guide us through the dark night.

Just like the Sages understood that only Rabbi Akiva could guide them through the night, we too need to lean into our faith, filled with the conviction that everything that G-d does is part of His Divine plan. Though we can’t make any sense of it now, faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.

And when we have the courage to do so, then just as the Sages did indeed experience the rising sun at the end of their dark night, we too will experience the ultimate rising of human consciousness and Divine awareness as we, and the nations of the world, will finally see the light, after the long, lonely and fearful night that we have been through. May we merit very soon to experience the era of passion and purpose—the era of Moshiach!

_______________________
Rabbi Dovid Vigler
Chabad of Palm Beach Gardens

6100 PGA Blvd, Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33418
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About the Author
Raised in South Africa and educated in some of the finest Yeshivas in Israel, England, New York, and Australia, Rabbi Dovid Vigler strives to share the beauty and depth of Judaism in a clear, conversational, and down-to-earth manner. Whether in private counseling, relatable sermons, weekly email broadcasts, or in his popular Torah classes on social media, he reaches out to every Jew with unconditional love, patience, and compassion. His inspirational talks and uplifting messages can be found on YouTube.com/JewishGardens and Facebook.com/JewishGardens
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