In normal years, new editions of the traditional Passover Haggadah are published, some with fanciful illustrations for children, others with scholarly commentaries for adults. This year, while we are prisoners in our homes, it is a propitious time to take a deeper look at the Haggadah as part of our holiday preparation. The Haggadah isn’t just a fun adventure for the kids, but a poignant recounting of the Exodus, carefully composed by our Sages to bring all future generations of Jews to identify with the inner aspirations of our People, as handed down on Mount Sinai.
Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook taught that the Exodus was, “the spring of mankind,” the initial phase of an ongoing process of Redemption spanning generations, which develops stage after stage toward the ultimate perfection of existence, called “Tikun Olam.” In this great world drama, it is the task of the Nation of Israel to be the beacon of light showing mankind the way.
The Seder’s concluding declaration, “Next year in Jerusalem” comes to teach that just as Jerusalem was the destination of the Exodus from Egypt, it is also to be our destination today. Receiving the Torah at Sinai was a stop along the way, not the final station. The Torah is not a mere list of do’s and don’ts, but rather our National Constitution, to be lived in our own unique National Land. In exile, we are scattered, individual Jews, minorities in foreign lands, whereas the goal of Judaism is to be a HOLY NATION, in our unique Holy Land, holding aloft a banner of righteousness and justice, as defined by the Torah, a mission we are unable to fill when we dwell in lands not our own.
This teaching is also found at the very beginning of the Haggadah. We begin the Seder by saying, “This year, we are here; next year, in the Land of Israel. This year, we are slaves; next year, free men.” In the Diaspora, a Jew is a slave to the non-Jewish culture around him. This teaches a basic principle: Even if Jews in the exile feel free, for a given period of time, when they enjoy freedom and equal rights, they are mistaken – for they are in a state of servitude, a minority in an alien country, governed by, and dependent upon, another nation, immersed in a culture not their own, speaking a foreign language and identifying with foreign creeds and ideals, believing that they are Americans, Frenchmen, and Germans like everyone around them, when in fact, they are and always will be, the Children of Israel. This is an essential lesson of Seder Night when families recreate the Exodus experience, breaking free from the shackles of Egypt, the foreign place and immoral culture of that time, to set forth on a journey to the Promised Land. The narrative of the Haggadah, and Jewish History, teach us that the seeming tranquility that we may enjoy in the exile is only temporary. And this Pesach, with the plague of Corona lurking outside our homes, the Hand of the Creator of Heaven and Earth seems as much a part of our lives, and just as real, as His Presence was to the Jews of Egypt celebrating the very first Passover. Perhaps, the Coronavirus has come to teach us how fortunate we are to have a State of our own, where Jews come first, rather than having our survival depend on the whims and decisions of others.
What does this mean for Jews who will celebrate the Seder in the Land of Israel? Unfortunately, even while we have our own State, we refuse to be independent, choosing to make ourselves dependent upon international powers whom we believe to be greater than ourselves, and who are now being brought to their knees by an invisible germ that their armies and missiles and material prowess cannot destroy. So too, our elected leaders believe that the Jewish State is dependent upon President Trump’s determination of peace, not on our own, and not on any Divine Promise which gave the entire Land of Israel to the Jews. To declare sovereignty, or not to declare sovereignty – that is the question that paralyzes our leaders and shatters our unity, even at a time of national crisis. Though we have left the exile, the exile has not left us. So long as this situation continues, when Israel looks to others for guidance and moral authority, rather than upholding the flag of Truth on our own, there can be no complete Redemption.
This Seder Night, where does the Coronavirus fit in? Why has the Almighty brought this worldwide plague upon humanity? How will it bring mankind closer to the Salvation which it is beginning, in its cosmic eschatological distress, to long for? How will this overwhelming plague, so reminiscent of the Divinely-sent plagues in Egypt, which has come to shatter the arrogance of modern humanity, reveal our essential helplessness, and awaken us to the Corona-Crown Kingship of God, extract the wagon of Zionism out of the mud on the way to Redemption? The book “Kol HaTor” tells how worried the Vilna Ga’on was, foreseeing that in the time of the Ingathering of the Exiles, only the Jews in Israel would survive the world catastrophes to come, and how myriads who didn’t wake up to see the light would perish in the Days of Darkness. “With piercing, fiery words he urged his students to ascend to the Land of Israel and to occupy themselves with the ingathering of the exiles and the settlement of the Land. Almost every hour, he would talk to us, trembling with emotion, repeating the words of the prophet, ‘in Zion and Jerusalem will be a refuge’ (Joel 3:5). How he urged us not to tarry.”
For many Jews in the Diaspora, this will be their last Seder Night. In all likelihood, there will also be those in Israel who will be passed over. In Egypt, the beginning of Salvation came when the Jews cried out to Hashem in their bondage and distress. Perhaps it is our bondage to the Pharaoh of Corona which will inspire us to cry out to Hashem in our helplessness and distress, and thus forge a pathway to a new phase of our long-awaited Redemption, for Israel and for all of the world, when airports will be reopened and passengers from all of the nations will ascend to Jerusalem to learn the ways of a revitalized Yaacov and to worship in the House of the Lord.