By Aliza Gershon
One of the controversial subjects in the Haggada is the passage “Pour out Your wrath on the nations that do not acknowledge You” (Psalms 79:6). For me personally, this passage causes discomfort. By contrast, some traditional Israelis will say that this prayer arises from years of exile and suffering imposed on Jews everywhere, when they lacked the ability to defend themselves and had no country of their own, hence the desire and longing to avenge those who inflicted suffering is understandable.
However, the story of Pesach and the exodus from Egypt invite multiple readings and multiple movements regarding the relations between a person and his/her fellows, Jewish or not.
The emergence of Moses our Leader into the Jewish ethos, when he is put into a reed basket and placed in the Nile, already demonstrates the kindness given him by someone who is not of his people. Batya the daughter of Pharaoh is the one who discovers the lost child, draws him out of the water and decides to adopt him against her father’s order. Thus he who grew up in Pharaoh’s palace would become the savior who would lead the people of Israel from slavery to freedom and throughout all the stages of becoming a nation: receiving the Torah – a common system of values and ethos – and the entry into the Land of Israel. The Torah does not hide the fact that the person who raised the most significant prophet and greatest leader of the Jewish people was in fact a foreign woman.
We seek to learn from this great story, the meta-narrative of the Jewish people, and to apply it to Israeli society.
The Jewish people did not nullify its customs in order to get along with the people around them; on the contrary, at times they even maintained them underground, secretly, under personal danger. To relinquish Jewish identity – no! To show respect to someone who didn’t come from the same people, to acknowledge their greatness as in the case of Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law – and in many instances throughout history, definitely!
This is a great challenge to accept into myself the convert, the new immigrant with his different culture. But not less difficult is to accept and respect our fellow brother and sister who holds different world views and leads a different way of life: the ultra-Orthodox who goes out to struggle against army conscription – which for me is an ultimate expression of mutual responsibility and responsibility, and, on the other hand, the non-religious person who doesn’t forgo eating hametz during Pesach and marks Pesach in a different manner than mine and my family.
I believe Pesach teaches us to make this correction, to seat all the children at the table, to acknowledge the contribution of the convert, to distance whoever has threatened our identity.
And finally, to remember that freedom is much more than liberty, it is the right that comes with the responsibility toward others who have not merited freedom.
Aliza Gershon is CEO of Tzav Pius.