Sunday, March 24, 2013


Many years ago a friend of mine told me a story about an “exciting” experience he had on a New York City subway ride.  (This was before the days when New York was the safest major city in the US when a subway ride could prove to be a life-threatening experience).  Without going into all the details, while on the subway he had a run-in with a very scary individual which could have ended very badly.  Luckily, he survived unscathed though badly shaken.  Upon his return to Israel he asked his rabbi if he should make a special blessing of salvation. (In Jewish law when a person survives a dangerous situation he makes a special blessing to thank God for surviving).  The rabbi’s answer was quite interesting:  “Who put you on the subway car in the first place?” 

That short statement contained a very profound lesson about how Judaism looks at reality and an important message about what we should focus on the night of the Passover Seder:

One of the most fundamental ideas of Judaism is that God knows and controls everything.  There are no accidents. The good and the bad are all the will of the Creator.

So what’s the lesson for Passover?  If we look at the language, theme and focus of the Passover Haggadah, the overwhelming message is of thanks -Thank you, God, for taking us out of Egypt where we were suffering as slaves under Pharaoh and his task masters.  The famous “Dayenu” song we sing at the seder goes through an exhaustive list of detailed points of gratitude thanking God for every detail of the narrative.  But the story is a bit more complicated it than that. Who brought us down to Egypt in the first place?  It’s right there in the book of Genesis when Joseph (now the viceroy of Egypt) is re-united with his brothers.  He says to them: “It was not you who sent me here but God…” (Gen. 45:8)  What’s going on here? How are we supposed to understand the story!?

We have to start by appreciating that God doesn’t play games with his children. Everything He does, He does for a reason (even if we don’t always understand the reason) and He does so out of love.
In order to understand what we are thanking God for on Passover, we have to first understand why God felt a need to create the Jewish people in the first place.  From Abraham onward the Jewish people have had one critical role to play in history - to be the God Squad - to be the nation whose job it is to teach the world about the reality of God and act as a model for spirituality and values for the world to follow.  This is the essence of Chosen people and practical application of the idea of being a “light to nations.”
The Jewish people are, so to speak, God’s hardware for perfecting the world.  But the hardware is only part of the package.  There also needs to be software and the Jewish people’s software is the Torah.  The two together are a winning package but Jews without Torah will give the world lots of creativity, Noble Prizes and great ideas, but won’t give the human race the “Light to Nations” it needs to truly create a better a world.

Now that we understand the purpose of the Jewish people and the critical role that the Torah plays in enabling us to actualize our potential, we can now begin to make sense out of the Passover narrative and understand what we really need to be thankful for.

On Passover we are really thanking God for turning us in to a Nation in the womb of Egypt.  But we are not just thanking Him for creating us as a nation and then just letting us lose to do whatever we feel like.  We understand that the Exodus story - the narrative of leaving Egypt - is just the beginning of the story. From the holiday of Passover. we start to count what’s known as the “Omer”- a 50 day period from Passover to the holiday of Shavuot. Shavuot is the holiday which commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.  Just as Shavuot can be viewed as the end of a very long holiday that begins with Passover, so too we view the Exodus narrative as the beginning of the story with the climax really taking place at Mount Sinai.

So what we are really thanking God for is not the physical freedom from the slavery in Egypt but rather the entire process of creating us as  a unique nation and giving us the guidebook we call Torah that has enabled us to change the world and ultimately, with God’s help, to perfect it.

Passover is really a birthday party celebrating the birth of unique nation with a unique mission.  On Seder night, before we even start to read the Haggadah, we should all pause for a moment and reflect on the fact that virtually all Jews around the world (Passover is the most - kept Jewish ritual) will be collectively celebrating the same miraculous event on the same night, as one people, the way we first celebrated more than 3,300 years ago.

This is the real story of the Jewish people and the true miracle of Jewish history.  It is a story that is a part of every Jew’s history and dream that is part of every Jew’s destiny.

(Note:  the author is currently working on a Jewish unity project.  If you want to find out more or get involved send an email to:

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