The cup of salvation: Pesach with pride

“Rabbi, we’ve been waiting for the Messiah all our lives. Wouldn’t this be a good time for him to come?”

So asks Mottel the Tailor in a poignant and powerful scene from the film Fiddler On The Roof. The Jews of Anatekva have just been informed that they are being expelled from their town and are feeling despair, prompting Mottel to ask and wish for what Jews have always asked and wished for in times of pain and suffering.

The rabbi puts his hands on Motel’s shoulder as the townspeople gather round and responds, “We’ll have to wait for him someplace else.” I imagine that some version of this was actually shared many times throughout Jewish history, whenever Jews faced expulsion and persecution and hope seemed lost.

Jewish history is replete with Messianic predictions; even Maimonides, after criticizing the practice due to the crisis of faith that such predictions can generate when they fail to materialize, offers a family tradition for when the Messiah would eventually come. When predictions like those did not materialize, when the Messiah had not come despite all the prayers and wishes, I’d like to believe that Jews proclaimed, with perhaps a sense of resignment, but also a sense of resilience and strength, “We’ll wait for him for someplace else.” Indeed, the Rabbi of Anatekva next tells his community, “Meanwhile, let’s start packing.” This journey is not over yet. Judaism will continue elsewhere.

This answer, this belief that Judaism will go elsewhere, may have been consolation enough for most of Jewish history. But what about now, in one of the darker times for the Jewish people? When tragedy of such a degree has struck the Jewish people living in the Land of Israel! Can we still respond to the Jewish questioner wondering where the Messiah is that we’ll have to wait for him someplace else? Sometimes, there is no someplace else! So what is the answer in our days, in our time?

I believe this question has led to much of the sadness and depression about the future that we have experienced in the recent months. For the first time in much of the history of the State of Israel, many people are afraid that the coming years will be worse than the previous years.

Growing up in a religious Zionist atmosphere in the US, we were taught about the strength of Israel and our Jewish army, an army that showed the world that Jewish blood was not cheap when they daringly rescued Jewish hostages in Entebbe. An army that showed the world it would not be threatened by its neighbors when it bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor. An Israeli army that was blessed by God Himself when, against the odds, it prevailed over a larger Arab force in the Six Day War to reclaim Jerusalem and the holiest sites for the Jewish people. And even if there were failures like those in the Yom Kippur War, the army bounced back and miraculously turned the tide against the enemy.

This feeling, this belief, has now contributed to a present feeling of hopelessness. Where are the big miracles, the major operations, the soldiers returning successfully with all the hostages? Why does it seem only to be getting worse?

Living in the diaspora, I would not be so bold to try and offer chizzuk to our brethren in Israel on the front lines. But I do know one thing. Now more than ever we need to put on a demonstration of our strength and resilience. To show our unwavering belief in the Guardian of Israel Who does not sleep.

As part of the Passover Haggadah, we proclaim that in each and every generation people stood against us to destroy us, but Hashem saved us from their hands. In his commentary on the Haggadah, R. Eleazar Rokeach (Germany, 1176-1238) writes according to a tradition from his fathers that it is proper raise the wine glass during the recitation of this paragraph, which we do to this day. The reason is that we are speaking about salvation, and as the verse in Hallel (Ps. 116:13) says, “I raise the cup of deliverance and invoke the name of the Lord.” We thus raise our glass at the Seder as we invoke God’s name and celebrate His continued deliverance of the Jewish people.

According to this explanation, this passage should be recited with pride. As we remember God’s redeeming the Jewish people from Egypt so long ago, we say with confidence that He will continue to save us during our current struggle. We cannot afford to feel despair or hopelessness. Instead, we raise a glass with strength to all the soldiers who fight to defend the State of Israel and as Jews around the world who support them in every way we can.

Nachmanides writes that the great miracles which occurred during the Passover story remind us of the small miracles that happen in our lives every single day. Perhaps the opposite is true as well: seeing and appreciating the small miracles around us can lead us to have faith in the larger miracles that God performs for us. We need only look around and see that God saved His people from the most recent onslaught of missiles from Iran, among so many miracles over the past few months, to reinvigorate our belief that redemption for the Jewish people can and will come.

This year on Passover, let us joyfully remember that God’s promise to us continues to be fulfilled.

About the Author
Rabbi Yaakov Taubes is the rabbi at Mount Sinai Jewish Center in Washington Heights, New York. He serves as an assistant director at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary at Yeshiva University, and is a PhD candidate in Medieval Jewish History at the Bernard Revel Graduate School for Jewish Studies. He also teaches Jewish History in Yeshiva College.
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