Monday, April 14, 2014
A celebration from generation to generation
It was a damp night in 1878. David Gutman was speaking to a group of pioneers who had joined him in celebrating the first Seder night on land known as Mulabbis, what later became the settlement of Petach Tikva.
"Today we are the first birds to greet the light of dawn," prophesied Gutman, an optimistic and tireless man. The reality in which they lived was quite dismal, rife with diseases and complicated by an existential struggle. But on that Seder evening, the pioneers bandied about their comprehensive vision of hope, liberation and light. (These details and more were revealed recently with the publication of Yoel Moshe Solomon's personal diary, by his family).
Tonight, 136 years later, in much more prosperous times, living under true sovereignty and independence, we will mark Judaism's original independence day, the day our nation was born some 3,500 years ago. While this original independence day doesn't try to compete with modern Israel's Independence Day three weeks from now, it does imbue a phrase we will shortly recite with contemporary credence: "The nation of Israel, throughout the generations."
Gutman and his friends, just like Hillel who "put Pesach matzah and bitter herbs together and ate them," Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua and their colleagues in Bnei Brak, or other generations of Jews, imagined themselves -- as individuals and as a nation -- going out from Egypt. If the generations of Jews had never imagined themselves undertaking that journey and establishing the traditional Seder evening, it's doubtful whether we would even be able to speak about a state of the Jewish people.
The Jews were commanded: "In every generation, each individual must imagine himself as if he was going out from Egypt." This was meant to prevent us from languishing in the present, disregarding the future and severing ourselves from the past. It is a code, and its function it is to balance the clear sense of, "Here I was born, here my children were born to me."
While no ceremony such as the Pesach Haggadah has been produced for either Independence Day or Jerusalem Day, which are both just around the corner, the guiding principle is the same for all three: If, in every generation, each person is able to imagine himself putting on the vibrant masks of bravery and revival, it will contribute decisively to our continuity, our memory of history and our nation's taste for life, both as individuals and a state.
Of all four sons in the Haggadah, poet Natan Alterman loved the simple one best. In his poem, "A Simple One," the simple son was portrayed as neither boor nor buffoon, but as someone intoxicated and overwhelmed by the miracles and wonders happening all around him. Alterman's simple child has a purpose: to prevent us from lapsing into the indifference to miracles that characterizes those "wise" ones, who perceive such things as normal and take them for granted.Indeed, neither the birthday of the Jewish people nor the birthday of the Jewish state, linked together by the chain of generations, lie within the realm of normalcy or self-evidence. While there is no problem getting used to their existence, we must always remember, recite and repeat, making sure such milestones are never taken for granted.