Ilana Fodiman-Silverman

Rockets’ red glare, bombs bursting in air: Passover 2024

Pexels/Cottonbro- Israeli flag
Pexels/Cottonbro- Israeli flag

As we approach the seder, the night of many questions, I am struck by the one question that has haunted the last six months. It has choked us for air, narrowed the passage of the esophagus, magnified the racing beats of the heart, made the dreaded lump of the gut ever heavier and left the most articulate dumbfounded. A simple question. A frequent and ordinary one. Suddenly unbearable.

‘How are you?’

In Israel, this baseline greeting of civil society has become the mourner’s mirror, frightful to look into. When trying for an authentic answer, one is left to confront themselves, as with the forceful wet slap of a wave that unsettles the balance of our precarious footing.

With the shock and trauma of grief, horror of the unknown, and fear of what is yet to come, one popular response has emerged. The beloved poet Haim Gouri, depicting the challenges of social etiquette during an entirely different time in his poem Bakasha- Request ‘שלומי כשלום עמי’ ‘I am as my nation is.’ This reply deflects but also expresses the challenges of the moment from within an awareness of our social context. The blurred borders of our personal and communal identities at once horrify and console. I feel as my neighbor and nation feels. As such, I am not alone.

This past Saturday night, news outlets published the most unbelievable headline. ‘Israel Under Attack by Hundreds of Iranian Ballistic Missiles and Armed Drones – Arriving Soon.’ Well then, good night. Sleep tight.

While the vast majority of Israel’s 9 million citizens read the news, there was little to do beyond sit and wait. The tenor of the voices of our nation’s leaders telegraphed a sense of urgency, but also encouraged confident dependency. Just follow the directions of the Homefront Command, pray and remain calm.

During these same hours, teams of pilots and astrophysicists, maintenance workers, diplomats, and intelligence officers were preparing, planning, reviewing. I was inspired by the midrash that my teacher Rabbi David Silber taught me years ago, a twist on the popular translation of the verb pesach (Exodus 12:13), the very name of our holiday often understood as describing God ‘passing over’ us as He unleashed the final deadly plague taking the lives of the first-born. The midrash (Mekhilta de-Rebbe Yishmael 7) references the same root word pesach as it appears in Isaiah (31:5) describing a ‘Divine hover of protection’. The midrash suggests that here, too, in the Exodus, during the final horrific plague in ancient Egypt, God did not ‘pass over’ but rather ‘hovered over’ the houses of those He sought to protect.
This deep sense of interconnection is also represented in the rabbinic sources relating to the offering of the Pascal Lamb in Jerusalem. For generations of Jews in the days of the Temple the sacrifice was the Passover holiday’s central ritual. Unlike other services in the Temple, on Passover, the holiday when we mark our birth as a nation, the Pascal Lamb was an obligation incumbent on every household, offered and consumed by all.

The Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin 41b) cites the biblical verse describing the 14th of the month of Nissan emphasizing this radical inclusivity: ‘the entire community of Israel should slaughter their sacrifice at twilight’ (Exodus 12:6) It’s a formidable image, every single Jew arriving at the Temple in Jerusalem to offer their lamb within the same small window of time. Rebbe Yehoshua ben Korha notes the infeasibility of the scenario. He resolves this difficulty by explaining that people joined together into groups and appointed agents who would present that group’s lamb.. This ritual detail defuses the challenge of the collective rush to the Temple and at the same time instantiates a premise of mutual dependency. It also, he argues, establishes a principle of representative agency, the delegation of a proxy, thereafter applied as a legal mechanism across the board.


This Talmudic interpretation established a legal principle of delegated proxy predicated on the very ritual commemorating the birth of our nation. Generations later, Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Agency 1:1) codifies this rule, further explaining that this relationship of delegation or proxy, which can be employed to buy or sell on another’s behalf, does not require witnesses or a formal transaction (kinyan) between the parties. Rather, this dynamic is formed via the most informal verbal communication from one to another. In doing this, Maimonides structures a framework that affirms our social network of kinship above all else. Our connection as a nation is strengthened by our interdependability, and vice versa.

While military strategists analyze the remarkable feat of Saturday evening’s defense against over 350 Iranian missiles and drones, the collaborative efforts of the IDF and its allies effected a humbling protective hover. As we prepare for the upcoming holiday amidst ongoing pain and uncertainty, we also celebrate the many expressions of connection, support, and resilience of our nation. On October 7th,when Israel’s infrastructures crumbled, it was the heart of our nation that stood up. Vast networks of volunteers from every segment of society reinforced and continue to strengthen our social fabric.

What we celebrate at the seder is bringing ourselves into our nation’s story. Imagining ourselves as if we left Egypt in the here and now, stirring our emotional gratitude for Divine miracles. It is not merely the retelling of a narrative of our past, but connecting across the rich diversity of who we are today, sharing perspectives, actively listening to one another, and offering an outstretched hand to one another on our continued journey forward. Making our national story our own entails learning the importance of leaning on one another. Together with the enormity of the pain, I am incredibly proud of the extraordinary character, dedication and actions of our fellow travelers, and pray that we can work together to liberate our hostages, heal the torment of our nation, and herald a time of peace.

About the Author
Ilana Fodiman-Silverman is Director of Moed, a community organization in Zichron Yaakov, Israel that brings together secular and religious Israelis in Torah study and innovative social action programing to create vibrant and compelling Jewish lives together.
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