William Hamilton

Seder at seventy

On the eve of Israel’s 70th birthday one of the Seder’s sages associates his 70th year with refreshing new understanding.  This year’s Pesah observance invites a fresh appreciation for the historic times in which we are blessed to live.

The ancient world consisted of 70 nations. Tradition also enumerates 70 different interpretations for every Torah passage.  So there is a corresponding vantage point from which every nation may face and find meaning in Torah.  Since 1957 Israel has led the world in international development cooperation.  Today MASHAV share  know-how and emerging technologies with 140 countries (twice 70) around the world advancing public health, agriculture, sustainability, and gender equality, while combating disease, drought, and violence against women and children.

Statecraft is never simple. The current struggle over the fate of African refugees presents an alarming asymmetry with the story we tell, taste, and personalize at this Seder.  If Purim reminds us to stay safe, Passover expects us to be good – particularly with the powerless whose future is in peril. 

Biblical advice given to Moses when he felt particularly low involved gathering 70 elders to share the burden of leadership in restorative ways.  Throughout Israel today thousands of non-government organizations and projects reveal morally handsome leadership.  Israeli rabbis like Benny Lau and Tamar Elad-Applebaum insist each day that our nation be led – not misled – by encouraging Zionism to embrace self-examination, repentance, and ways forward that champion equity and dignity. 

We all draw inspiration from David Ben Gurion who proclaimed: “The State of Israel will be tested not by its wealth, not by its army, and not by its technique, but rather in its moral identity and humanitarian values.”

70 also signals fresh beginnings.  The Book of Genesis culminates with 70 souls who make up the Children of Israel settling in Egypt.  And the psalmist estimates a lifespan at 70 years.  70 years young, the Nationstate of the Jewish People inspires personal rebirth each and every day.   

Tourists and visitors are consistently moved by something that thrives in every region and sector – it’s called commitment.  Being around people who pursue purposeful living – from the arts to the army, from agriculture to artificial intelligence – can be contagious.  The resourcefulness and resilience with which Israel meets wonders and worries serve to inspire people of all faiths to deepen their own.

Our Seder’s sage confesses not meriting (zachiti) comprehension of a biblical passage until reaching the age of 70.  May our daily prayer to merit (nizkeh) a new light to shine on Zion, soon enable us all to bask in its faith-warming glow.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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