Tuesday, / May 21, 2024

On Fear And Faith

The Jewish holidays, we are taught, are not meant merely to recall historic events. If their purpose were only commemorative, it would be enough to mark them on the calendar and take the days off of work. The much belabored, intricate laws—such as we have on the holiday of Passover—would not be necessary. 

Rather, the holidays offer us the opportunity to return, as it were, to the foundational mileposts of our nation. The Passover rituals, for example, facilitate not only a recollection but a return to the experience of the Israelite Exodus from bondage. As we work our way through the Haggadah—tasting for ourselves the bitterness and tears of our enslaved forebears—their fears and their faith become our own. 

We imagine our ancestors, a minority enslaved for centuries, rising up against their cruel masters. We think of the courage it took for them to make their daring exit, to abandon the miserable security of their existence in Egypt and walk out into the unknown.  

It is yet more difficult to understand their march into a vast, howling wilderness with no basic survival resources. Courage alone would not be enough to explain their readiness to trace a meandering route through the desert. 

Their fortitude, as the prophet Jeremiah (2:2) tells us, lay in the hearts, not in the minds, of the newborn nation:

Thus said G-d: 

I accounted to your favor

The devotion of your youth,

Your love as a bride—

How you followed Me in the wilderness,

In a land not sown.”

It was love, a spiritual, idealistic yearning, that impelled the Jews to follow G-d into the wilderness. It was their faith. In fact, in a stunning rejoinder to Moses who was worried about the depth of their commitment earlier in the Exodus narrative, G-d says “The children of Israel are believers, the children of believers.” 

This belief—call it faith, call it love—that has been passed down to us through the generations is the answer to our endurance through a history of persecution and oppression. We have seen it time and again through all our travails, and most recently in the terrible events of October 7.

If our enemies and detractors expected that the attacks against our people would be our undoing, they found themselves greatly mistaken. Had they learned their history, they would have known that “The more they were oppressed, the more they increased and spread out, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites” (Exodus 1:12). The horror they unleashed upon Israel, with the intention of defeating and weakening Israel, would prove a resounding failure. 

Rather, it emboldened the Jewish people in awe-inspiring ways: militarily, socially, and perhaps most surprising, spiritually. We saw an awakening of faith—the embrace of G-d despite His inexplicable ways—by the Children of Israel who turned toward Him in equally inexplicable expressions of love. 

Since that awful day, Jews of all denominations around the world have united in prayer and supplication, beseeching an end to Jewish suffering. And they have opened their hearts wide, giving to those affected by the war with the unmeasured kindness that has characterized our people from its inception.   

If G-d credits us for our unconditional faith, as He says He does, we insist that the credit is long past due. We expect, we trust, we believe that we will live to see this long, bitter journey finally near its end. 

As we celebrate the Festival of Freedom this Passover, let us do so with intention so that our generation will be blessed to experience the Divine miracles and revelation by which our forebears prevailed over their oppressors. 

May G-d’s illuminated presence and protection during the historic Exodus become evident for all to see and acknowledge. May we finally merit the redemption of the Jewish nation when peace and goodness prevail, as the Torah promises:

And you will live in security in your land.

I will grant peace in the land,

and you shall lie down untroubled by anyone . . .

and no sword shall cross your land (Leviticus 26).

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