May 25, 2024
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First Responder: Story Within a Story

Pesach is nearly here, yet the escalation of tensions in the Middle East is already here. Riveted as we are to the news—whether with fear, fascination, prayer or hopefulness—the reports and the imagery are a preoccupation for some, and for others a distraction from normal routines. We think about the hostages, about drones and missiles, about warfare and about our many loved ones. The world no longer distinguishes between Israel and Jewry. What is happening there is happening to us. In turn, how we deal with this here can shape some of the attitude there. When our nation is close, we all can feel a higher sense of Divine protection and security. When our prayers are for the global and regional safety of our people everywhere, this is the Spirit Dome to parallel the Iron Dome.

Despite the fears and tension, we will soon be engaged in our annual Sedarim. A few nights from now we will recline with family and friends and return again to the Haggadah Shel Pesach, repeating and recounting the saga of Jewish suffering and Jewish salvation. The Biblical commandment and the halachic requirement at the Seder are to teach, to give over, to model for ourselves and for our family the virtual sense of experiencing exile and exodus. I still have vivid memories from my childhood of the Sedarim where a survivor of Auschwitz recited “Avadim Hayinu”—we were once slaves—and he held up his uniform from the concentration camps. He then recited how Hashem redeemed us with an outstretched arm, and he rolled up his sleeve and pointed to the tattooed numbers on his own arm. This etched its way into my young mind and remains the lesson which I aim to introduce at my own Sedarim: make it real, make it clear, virtually being there again after thousands of years. We are oppressed and Hashem takes care of us.Whereas the Seder discussion is not about current events or today’s news from the media, the emotions which lurk within adults and within our children do pertain to those realities. We are aware of what is happening, what is going on. Incorporate that psychological given: there is fear, there is worry, there is a threat, and we think about it, or feel it. We can acknowledge this on the Seder night, camouflaging it as we must at age-appropriate levels with our young ones. Certainly we might note as we chant “b’kol dor v’dor omdim aleinu”—in every generation they rise up against us—that we are seeing this firsthand since October 7. This experiential message can well capture the mitzvah-fulfillment of teaching ourselves and our children about the persisting cycle of exile and oppression which is one reality-aspect of Jewish life. The subsequent message, however, is also just as important: we go on to chant that the Holy One rescues us from those oppressors. He did this following our first long exile in Mitzrayim and did so with wonders and awesome signs. This miraculous rescue is the blueprint of that other cycle running throughout history. We will outlive the oppression. We will get through this not because we are invincible survivors but because Hashem alone orchestrates our survival. This must be discussed at the Seder too. The Haggadah is about exile but is also about the exodus. It is about suffering, but it is about emancipation as well.

Sometimes families focus on the slavery then on the Ten Plagues, which can catch the attention of our young ones, who have songs and skits about this which are part of the beauty of the Seder. But the theme is also on the subsequent yetzias Mitzrayim—our miraculous departure from all of that, and the overt and the more internal feeling that just as our people made it through, safe, rescued and redeemed, He protects and rescues His people in every generation. This might be a theme to discuss at our Sedarim this year. The objective is not to talk about the worrisome news but to talk about building our faith that though world events now reflect the words of Yirmiyahu (30:7), “this is a time of trouble for the Jewish people,” they also herald the verse’s postscript that “they shall be saved from it.”

Rabbi Dr. Dovid Fox is the director of Chai Lifeline Crisis and Trauma Services. For Israel crisis resources and support, visit chailifeline.org/israel or call 855-3-CRISIS.

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