The Most Hope I’ve Felt in 6 Months

Author and colleagues offering prayers together at the vigil for victims of the Uyghur genocide. Photo by Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz

The Korban Pesach (Passover sacrifice) was to be consumed as no other korban was: בְּבַ֤יִת אֶחָד֙ יֵֽאָכֵ֔ל, “It must be eaten in one house,” לֹֽא־תוֹצִ֧יא מִן־הַבַּ֛יִת מִן־הַבָּשָׂ֖ר ח֑וּצָה, “You shall not take any of the meat out of the house to the outside,” וְעֶ֖צֶם לֹ֥א תִשְׁבְּרוּ־בֽוֹ, “neither shall you break any of its bones” (Shemot 12:46). What’s the meaning of this oneness, this wholeness?

Several commentators frame this as a practical reference to how royalty ate. Someone with plentiful food did not need to break bones to find the last piece of meat or move from house to house searching for food. Rashi, however, offers a community building explanation. Namely, that these laws reflect the need on Pesach to eat בחבורה אחת, “in one group”. A group should not break up into different subsets and divide the korban, rather all eat together. So too the bones should not be separated but kept intact. The Maharal expounds that in this way, the Korban Pesach intimates the need for oneness among Israel. All of its laws underscore it: The Korban Pesach must be a one year old sheep or goat, it must be roasted whole, and it must be eaten, unbroken, with a whole group. It makes sense then that on the day we become God’s holy, redeemed people that even the korban would emphasize unity and togetherness. For at Pesach we go from being broken individual slaves to being a holy nation with a unified purpose, to serve God. 

Let’s reflect on achdut (unity) for a moment. I posit that there are two kinds of unity: One that comes in response to gratitude and one that comes in response to hatred. The former is the unity of Pesach. Hashem saved us, and we are united by our redemption and purpose. This achdut involves appreciation for God’s presence in our lives and the shared joy of witnessing that presence together. In short, it is a Divine unity. 

The latter is a unity that stems from human hatred. The experience of coming together because we are hated or in shared hatred. For us, this of course resonates in the widespread and frightening antisemitism we are seeing. Students gathering at Columbia and around the country to rally together in shared hate. Such unity can be masked as righteous, but any gathering whose roots are in hatred are eventually revealed. And just as hatred unites the haters, it also unites the hated. It is in such moments that denominational differences appear arbitrary and when Jews (and all people) find strength in numbers and solidarity.

I recently had the privilege to speak on an interfaith panel and give a vigil blessing at the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity’s congress on Disrupting Uyghur Genocide (with gratitude to Rav Shmuly Yanklowitz for inviting me). Over the past 6 months, I have never felt as hopeful as I did as I sat on that interfaith panel. Where Jews, Christians, and Muslims spoke in unity about how important it is to fight evil and oppression. In the context of the Uyghur Genocide, and in the context of the Holocaust and the current rise of antisemitism. A Muslim colleague who I knew already from California, spoke with me just before the panel. Almost 10 years ago, I spoke at AMWEC in Orange County, a gathering she organized celebrating Muslim women who had escaped persecution in other countries and started their own businesses. 

Wearing a dogtag for the Israeli hostages, she said to me that I must never stop wearing my Jewish star or my Israel necklace and must not let anyone scare me. She said she chose to retire early from teaching in California public schools when she was given pushback on bringing in a Holocaust survivor who had visited her school for ten years. That is when she devoted herself fully to public policy work. She said antisemitism is the greatest threat to all of us, and that we cannot allow those who act with hatred to win. I felt so grateful to her and hugged her. 

After the panel and the vigil, several Uyghur survivors came up to me and told me the stories of their families– all lost, killed, persecuted. With each, my heart was heavier, and I also recognized a common thread: Their gratitude to the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity and its partner organizations for seeing their suffering when the rest of the world has been silent. And their gratitude to stand for a moment with a person who cared. 

I posited that there are two kinds of achdut: One in response to hatred and one in response to gratitude. And that the first is human and the second is Divine. But perhaps, they are more connected than they seem. Yes, humans have the capacity to unite through hatred– whether as the hater or the hated. But we also have the choice to unite in combating hatred, which is a third path. The gratitude and connectedness we feel when someone else supports us when we encounter hatred feels nothing short of Divine. It is as if God acts through that person to show us that in the Mitzrayim-level darkness, redemption is possible and even present. It is when human unity becomes Divine unity – rooted in gratitude. 

This year, we did not eat the Korban Pesach. We did not make sure to maintain its wholeness, to not break a single bone, to eat it in one sitting. But we did unite across the world with Jews who are still yearning for their loved ones to return home. Some of us may have left a seat empty and others may have filled a seat, expanding our table– as some of the hostages’ loved ones asked us to do. And in our shul, we did distribute matzah made in a factory in Netivot, Israel – thanking and supporting a soldier fighting for our safety and freedom. Leading up to Pesach (in addition to our own Pesach Companion), there were more shared tefillot and Pesach resources circulating than I have personally ever seen before. Ensuring that we were not siloed at our own sedarim, but truly united in this ritual. These past 6 months and now, we continue to unite to combat hatred, antisemitism, and anti-Zionism. And we have learned that our greatest strength as a people is not in our unity against evil, but in our unity in service of Hashem– expressing gratitude and bringing joy, goodness, and kindness to this world. This Pesach (and every day since October 7th), we have internalized our individual brokenness and accepted the call to be a holy nation with a unified purpose– with unbroken resilience, hope, and connectedness.

So, then again…maybe this Pesach we did eat the Korban Pesach, as the Maharal indicated it should be consumed. Spiritually consuming its wholeness. 

About the Author
Rabbanit Alissa is the Rabbanit at Congregation Netivot Shalom in Teaneck, NJ and the president of Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains. She is a hospital chaplain in New York City and a past JOFA Devorah Scholar.
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