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Reflections Amidst this Shabbat-Pesach Interim

(image source: sabrina soffer)
(image source: sabrina soffer)

Jewish poet Hayim Nachman Bialik once said, “Without the Sabbath, there would be no godliness and no semblance of humanity in the world.” With antisemitism spiking globally, war raging in the Middle East, and 133 hostages still held in Hamas captivity, now is a time that demands humanity’s finest attributes—clarity between good and evil in the aftermath of October 7th; calls for empathy, acts of compassion, and leadership grounded in moral courage.

The holiday of Pesach that commemorates the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt—their miraculous journey from slavery to freedom, from a people to a great nation—is also imminent. As we approach Pesach, we are reminded of the imperative to embrace rest as a means of directing our newfound freedom assertively and responsibly. Freedom entails the responsibility to rest and gain the inspiration to cultivate leadership: confidence and courage. In the words of Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “Few things make a leader more unpopular than the pursuit of popularity. Great leaders have the courage to face unpopularity.”

This Shabbat, a stop along the road to Pesach, holds a beacon of significance that imbues life with all its meaning: From the tragedy of October 7th, we learn to cherish every moment with our loved ones and never take our homeland or our heritage for granted. From Pesach, we inherit resilience, perseverance, and the dual nature of freedom—a force that can be used for good or evil. The commandment of rest is a gift, granting sharpness and a drive to continue pursuing our freedoms and aspirations positively.

Jewish history and legacy are marked by an unwavering pursuit of opportunity and light, even amidst the darkest of times. Yet, in our relentless pursuit, we recognize the importance of rest—a testament to the Jewish value for human life and the importance of wellness. With wellness absent, humans enter a spiraling burnout of discouragement and distress. Rest periods on Shabbat and the commandment to recline on Pesach are a divine demand to truly live: to convene in prayer and song, an elevation from the mundane, feeding the soul. This purification, this quiet, acts as both the human shield and human heart; it is a shield, like that of David, that empowers individuals to tackle challenges with renewed vigor and vigilance.

Amidst these difficult and troubling times, it is upon the Jewish people to be proactive rather than passive: never shy away, never cower. As the name Israel demands of us: chazack ve ematz, strong and courageous. 

What gives us strength and courage? Heeding the wise words of Mother Teresa, “If you want to save the world, go home, and love your family.” Just as what composes Israel’s resilient spirit is that family is its civic religion, Jews and Zionists around the world must embrace this very notion: uniting in community, like family, where we have not only the dream, but the will, to dance again, and to dance always.

This piece is an adaptation of a speech given at Chabad of the George Washington University on April 12, 2024.

About the Author
Sabrina Soffer is an undergraduate student at the George Washington University where she is double majoring in Philosophy & Public Affairs and Judaic Studies. She is the former commissioner of the George Washington University's Special Presidential Task Force to Combat Antisemitism and the Vice President of Chabad George Washington. Most recently, Sabrina was a speaker at the American March for Israel in Washington D.C. She is also the author of My Mother's Mirror: A Generational Journey of Resilience & Self-Discovery, a dual-perspective memoir that offers creative, narrative-based tools based on the USC EDGE Center award-winning Self-Ex Guide, authored by Sabrina and her mother.
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