Drash on Pesach Day 1 2019
Rabbi Jeffrey B Kamins
When (and how) will redemption come?
As we gather around our Seder tables this Shabbat, we will be celebrating humanity’s oldest festival championing freedom. We have told it for thousands of years and hundreds of generations, and now, “let my people go” has become a catch phrase for all on this planet who still suffer – and we must recognise that there is still far too much suffering on this planet, especially for women sold into slavery and children forced into war. Around the world, children continue to be put in detention and we still hold those seeking asylum in indefinite detention. These are just some of the larger problems we all face on this planet before redemption, peace and freedom for all, comes, as dreamed of by our prophets and sages of old.
As Jews, we also have a specific narrative of redemption that derives from the traditions of the Torah and our prophets. There are five promises of redemption originally foretold to Moshe just after his encounter with God at the burning bush, italicised in this Torah: “I will free you from the labours of the Egyptians and deliver you from their bondage. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and through extraordinary chastisements. And I will take you to be My people and I will be your God. And you shall know that I, the Lord, am your God who freed you from the labours of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession, I the Lord.” (Exodus 6:6-8).
The Etz Chayim Torah commentary states, “The stages of Redemption: ‘I will free you’ from physical enslavement in Egypt; I will ‘deliver you’ from the psychological mindset of being a slave, which might persist even after you have been physically liberated; ‘I will redeem you’ so that you will think of yourselves as free people; and ‘I will take you’ into a special relationship with Me, for that is the ultimate goal of your liberation. Finally, ‘I will bring you into the land which I swore to give Abraham’. Only when the Israelites have their own land can they become the special people they are summoned to be. Only there will they have the duty and the opportunity to translate the ideals of the Torah into the realities of daily life and fashion the model society from which all nations will be able to learn.” (Etz Chayim commentary page 352).
This is our story, and we need to look at it closely. In the Pesach Haggadah we know we drink four glasses of wine for the four promises of redemption, as mandated in Chapter 10 of the MIshna of Pesach. Over time the fifth cup of Elijah has been added to our Seder tables, heralding the messianic time when we will be brought into our land. Our story of redemption, as told through the symbols of Pesach, as reiterated daily in our Amidah, as highlighted through so many other rituals and teachings for 2,000 years, centres on our return to our land as a free people. The highlight of that redemption is the rebuilding of Jerusalem (that is why we all conclude Seder night singing “Next year in Jerusalem”), including the construction of the Third Temple. Until last century, this narrative held us together as a people. Now that we live that narrative, with our successful return to our land and rebuilding of Jerusalem, we must ask, when will redemption come and what dowemean by that in our time. Is the Temple something real still, or something more symbolic perhaps, as in the vision of Micah, “Many nations shall come and say let us go to the mountain of God, to the house of the God of Jacob…..and all the peoples walk each in the name of its god, and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever” (Micah 4:1-4). That is, this Pesach let us ensure that our national story embraces the universal human story, that our vision of national redemption can be one that leads us to champion the universal redemption envisioned by our prophets of old. May the discussions at our Seder night be lively and enlivening. Chag Sameach.