Happy Pesach / Chag Sameach
As a religious human rights activists every Shabbat I want to experience “A taste of the world to come,” to live for one day as if the world has been repaired and sanctified, even though this is somewhat like those who cry “Peace, peace” “But there is no peace.” I am usually more or less successful, but a few weeks ago I found this simply impossible. On the previous Shabbat, some worshipers at “Simon the Just’s Tomb” in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarakh neighborhood chased after Palestinian residents, beat them and smashed the windshields of cars. A pogrom. It is not always quite so bad. However, the decision to hold weekly demonstrations on Friday afternoon and for some activists to spend their Shabbat evening in the neighborhood was influenced by the fact that, incredibly, that this is the preferred time for attacking Palestinian residents. I can somehow observe Shabbat knowing that the poor remain poor on Shabbat, Wisconsin Plan participants are still in the program on Shabbat and Sudanese refugees fleeing for their lives still find our borders closed to them on Shabbat. However, the very thought that religious Jews would deliberately carry out these deeds on Shabbat, and might be doing so at that very moment as I sang words of praise to God (Thak God, it didn’t happen that week), was simply too much for me. I wanted to get up in the middle of the service, shake some of the smiling people around me who were rising to the heavens with the prayers , and shout, “How dare you pray when this monstrous desecration of God’s name is taking place? You have no write to be so happy.” What saved that Shabbat for me was when somebody stood up and said before the “Hashkiveinu” prayer, “We are asking God to spread God’s Sukka of Peace over Jerusalem, but there is no peace in Jerusalem.” Earlier when we prayed “Mizmor shir l’yom haShab”bat,” “A song for Shabbat…to express Your loving kindness in the morning.” I thought to myself that we cannot merely express loving kindness through “The words of our mouths” alone. Actions speak louder in words, “Lo hamidrash ha-ikar, ele hama’aseh.” Seder ight is a great example of pedagogy that doesn’t rely on words alone. We pass on the story of freedom from generation to generation in a manner that is much more than a frontal lecture. It is an evening of questions and discussion and set inductions and drama, of acting out and visualization. And yet, it is all midrash.
We are required to go way beyond midrash. A few hours ago masked thugs attacked Palestinian shepherds and our volunteers. Afterwards settler flocks (Whose milk you are drinking if you drink milk from the Susya dairy.) entered Bir El Eid, as they often enter the remaining Palestinian lands and devour everything in sight. This last Friday night the police burst into the home of an Israeli Sheikh Jarakh activist who had returned home after the demonstration, pulled him from the Shabbat table and arrested him. Thousands live in fear (or don’t know but should be fearful) of what will happen to them if the Israeli Wisconsin Plan is extended to the entire country, and not every Israeli will e able to sit at a Seder table tonight and eat their fill. We are shutting our borders to Sudanese refugees fleeing fof their lives. Above us all hangs the sword of Damocles in the form of the proposed Elkin bill designed to dry up the sources of funding and delegitimize not only for human rights organizations, but for many of those organizations seeking to improve our society. This is but the most direct in a series of attacks on Israeli democracy.
At the same time, we see that focused and persistent action can make a difference. With all of the problems, the residents of Bir El-Eid have returned home after ten years. Twice we prevented the Wisconsin plan from being extended to the entire country. For the first time since our 2006 High Court victory almost all the farmers in the Occupied Territories were able to plow successfully and on time. It is actions that are demanded of us. That is why even in the programs run by our education department we try to require students to engage in practical applications of what we are teaching.
Wishing our Jewish friends and supporters a joyous Passover, and a blessed Holy Week to our Christian friends and supporters. May it be God’s Will that our Seder Midrash spurs us to action. This year may we do more than speak of God’s Loving Kindness. May we be God’s Loving Kindness, the embodiment of God’s Loving Kindness on earth. May it be God’s Will that we not only speak of freedom, but be agents of God’s Freedom.
Rabbi Arik W. Ascherman
Although it may seem like nepotism, I am including below not only the 5770 version of the RHR Haggadah inserts and donation information, but reprinting this week’s dvar Torah that appeared in our weekly update, “Parashat HaShavua.” The Hebrew version of the inserts appears at the end.
WHO SITS WITH US AT OUR SEDER?
Eloheinu v’Elohei Kadmoneinu (Avoteinu, Avoteinu vEmoteinu), our God and God of our ancestors, we are gathered around this seder table as b’nei khorin, free people commanded to remember our dark nights of oppression. We have vowed never to become oppressors ourselves. Yet, when we are honest with ourselves, we know that we may be Pharaoh in the liberation tales of other peoples, or even among the weakened disadvantaged sectors of our own people, who still feel themselves to be slaves in Egypt. Like Pharaoh, we are capable of oppressing when we feel threatened. There are times when we are truly endangered, and times when our belief that “In every generation there are those who arise to destroy us” causes us to perceive hatred where it does not exist. How easy it becomes to harden our hearts to those who have paid an excessive price for our people’s prosperity and security. Our experience as victims blinds us to the possibility that we can be both victims and victimizers at the same time. To be truly free we must banish Pharaoh from our hearts and reaffirm our commitment to honor God’s Image in every human being. Recalling the midwives of old, we know that the seeds of redemption are planted when we oppose Pharaoh’s command.
Tonight we leave a place at our table for victims of oppression. We renew our commitment to winning their freedom, thereby insuring ours. We particularly remember: (Choose one or more)
A. Israeli Democracy. First they attacked the courts and judges, and we didn’t protest. We aren’t judges, and clearly the courts are an elite that doesn’t represent the people or Jewish values. Next they attacked Israeli Arabs, “No citizenship without loyalty.” We didn’t protest because we aren’t Arabs, and Arabs aren’t Zionists. Next they attacked peace organizations. We didn’t protest because, “That’s politics.” After that they came for human rights organizations, and we didn’t protest because human rights organizations called for an independent Israeli investigation into the Gaza war. “They collaborate with the enemy.” Next they came for women’s organizations, for environmental organizations and for social justice organizations, as the proposed Elkin bill threatens to dry up funding and demonize all.
When this night we open the door for Elijah, who will be waiting for us on the other side?
אם אנו באמת בני/ות חורין הלילה, אנו חופשיים/ות לבחור. יהי רצון שנבחר בחיים ובשלום בכבוד האדם לנו ולאחרים/ות, בדרך ההופכת את שונאנו לחברינו (פרקי אבות דברי נתן).
B. Civilians in Gaza and Gilad Shalit. Another year has passed since that terrible war. Gilad is still captive and Gazans still live blockaded. Gazans spent another winter amidst the rubble, lacking even the possibility of bringing in the building materials necessary to put roofs over their heads. At the same time, residents of Sderot, Ashkelon and the Western Negev fearfully asked if the attacks on them would be renewed. Pharaoh initially had a choice how to treat the children of Israel, and chose to enslave. When we hear that before resuming hostilities Hamas had been willing to renew the June 2008 ceasefire, but Israeli was not willing to honor its commitment to easing the blockade on basic humanitarian goods, we ask ourselves, “Was their another and better way to protect our citizens?”
If are truly free this evening, we are free to choose. May it be Your Will that we choose life, peace and human dignity for ourselves and for others. In so doing, may we turn enemies into friends (Based on Pirkei Avot D’Rabi Natan)
C. Participants in the Israeli Wisconsin Plan. Wisconsin participants wrote to ministers and Knesset members this year, “Happy Feast of Freedom. We are still enslaved.” Despite the fact that the Knesset has time after time put off the extension of the Wisconsin Plan to the entire country, the government remains insistent. This night we carry in our hearts the mother who was forced to leave her children in the courtyard of a still closed school and walk kilometers to get to a Wisconsin center on time, in order not to lose the meager payments she depended on for survival; the woman from whom they wanted to take away her payments because she travelled abroad to repair her husbands tombstone; the many who have been humiliated because program operators didn’t believe that they were sick, forced them to waste long hours doing nothing at the centers or to do busywork under the guise of “Community service,” and/or forced them to sit in courses where they were told, “Only those with means can be happy.”
This night we hear the cries and oppression of those who day, “Let us also be free. May we too have our dignity.”
D. The Residents of Sheikh Jarakh. Since last Passover, the Ghawi and Hanoun families have joined the El-Kurds as expelled from their homes, and many others are endangered by ongoing legal proceedings. They have been expelled “legally” by court order because of alleged pre-1948 Jewish ownership, but no court will send them back to their pre-1948 homes. On Friday nights there are Jews who “sanctify” the Shabbat by violence against the residents. The police stand idly by.
“Our ancestor was a wandering Aramean.” This night we remember that all have the right to a home.
E. Silwan Tonight, 88 families in El-Bustan neighborhood of Silwan, E. Jerusalem live in fear of having their homes demolished to make way for an archaeological park. Above in the Wadi-Hilweh neighborhood, archaeological excavations have caused roads to collapse, cracks in the homes and buckling floors. In Issawiyah, the Dari family faces a third demolition.
Celebrating the seder in the security of our homes, we commit ourselves to work in the coming year so that our National Home rests on a foundation of justice.
F. Sudanese Refugees. “No Ammonite or Moabite shall be admitted into the congregation of the Lord…because they did not meet you with food and water on your journey after you left Egypt…”(Deuteronomy 23:4) Fleeing the carnage of Darfur and unwelcome in Egypt, Sudanese refugees come to Israel’s borders assuming that they will find refuge among those who have known too often the terror of being refused asylum . However, they are turned back from closed borders. The lucky ones who have made it across have been imprisoned for months and longer, some of them eventually released. Samuel (not real name) saw much of his family murdered in Southern Sudan and was himself imprisoned. Helped to escape before he too was murdered, he became a translator in Egypt. However, his life was again in danger because Egyptians thought he “knew to much.” At first imprisoned in Israel, he now helps fellow refugees.
Opening our doors to invite all who are hungry to come and eat, we remember the many doors closed to us over long years of persecution. Opening our doors on Seder eve reminds us to open our hearts AND our borders.
G. The Residents of Bir El Eid. After ten years RHR returned the residents of Bir El Id to their caves in the South Hebron Hills. But their suffering has not ended. They are allowed to return, but not to survive. First the army closed their access road. After being forced to reopen the road, they limited where they are permitted to graze their flocks and handed out demolition orders on every single tent. Of course, settler harassment is “normal.”
The Midrash tells us that the Sodomites pretended to help others, but made sure that everything they “gave” came back to them. On this Seder Eve, we remember that we are not Pharaoh and we are not Sodom. We are Israel, commanded by the Author of Freedom, “You shall not wrong or oppress the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.’
NEXT YEAR IN A JERUSALEM REDEEMED THROUGH JUSTICE AND THOSE RETURNING TO HER THROUGH RIGHTEOUSNESS
The Four Children at the Seder Table: Which Child Am I?
As we celebrate this Holiday of Freedom, the ending of slavery, we ask, “Who am I, when I hear of human rights abuses? Who will I choose to be when I know that others are suffering?”
Will I be one who does not ask? Will I close the newspaper or turn off the television so that I do not hear? Will I turn my head and heart away?
Will I ask only simple questions? “What is this?” Will I ask what, but never why?
Will I let the evil impulse, my yetzer hara ask: “What has this to do with me?” Will I let the problem belong only to the victims and the do-gooders? Will I distance myself from those in need?
Or will I strive to act in wisdom, to ask: “What are the underlying causes of the problem and what needs to be done to stop the abuse and free the oppressed? What are the laws and what does Gd expect of me?”
May Gd open the eyes of those who do not see, the mouths of those who do not ask, and the hearts of those who do not care, and grant us the wisdom to open our hands to our fellow humans when they are in need – the hand of generosity, the hand of support, the hand of peace and friendship.
The story of the people of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt with its wonder and difficulty highlights Miriam, Moshe and Aaron’s sister, as an exceptional feminine figure:
The Midrash teaches: “And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took…” How do we know that Miriam was a Prophetess? She told her father that he will have a son who will save the People of Israel from the Egyptians. “And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi etc…” (Exodus 2:1) “And when she could not longer hide him.” (Exodus 2:3). Her father reproached her and asked what had happened to her prophecy. But she intensified her prophecy as it is written “And his sister stood afar off, to know what would be done to him.” (Exodus 2:4). According to Rabbi Ishmael to stand is to prophecy as it is written in Amos 9 “I saw the Lord standing beside the altar; and He said…” in Samuel 1 3 “And the LORD came, and stood, and called…” in Deuteronomy 31 “Call Joshua, and present yourselves etc…” “And Moses and Joshua went, and presented themselves in the tent of meeting.” “Afar off” – not every where but in the place of the Divine Spirit as it is said: “’From afar the LORD appeared unto me.’” (Jeremiah 31:2): “To know” it is also a Divine Spirit as it is said in Isaiah 11:9 “For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD etc…” and “For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14). “Would be done to him.” There is no doing without the Divine Spirit as it is said: “For the Lord GOD will do nothing,” (Amos 3:7). Why “The sister of Aaron” and not “The sister of Moshe?” Because Aaron was ready to die for his sister. “A timbrel in her hand;” The question is how do the People of Israel have timbrels in the middle of the desert? The answer is that the righteous people, who trusted God, prepared them when they were still in Egypt. “And Miriam sang unto them: Sing ye to the LORD, for He is highly exalted: the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea.” The Torah teaches that, just as Moses was singing to the men Miriam was singing to the women.
This Midrash is from Mechilta D’Rabbi Yishmael, Shira Masechet – B’shalach 10, one of the most ancient collections of Midrash that we have. What do we learn about the nature of prophecy? We see that even when Miriam’s prophecy that her parents will have a son who will save the people of Israel from the Egyptians seems not to be true, the girl – a the prophetess in this instance – does not give up. This is true even when the son, her brother, is put in a box into the Nile.
The first aspect of prophecy is that the prophet or the prophetess never gives up. They continue to care for the object of their prophecy, as Miriam did for her brother. According to the Midrash, he words: “stood,” “afar off,” “know” and “to do,” express prophecy. If we will try to understand the deep meaning of the words we will see that they are words that express personal responsibility and readiness to sacrifice you own convenience for the need of the other. In our times, when there is no prophecy, we can understand from this midrash that, according to these words, to be a disciple of the prophets we have “to stand” emotionally with the people who need us, family or strangers. We have “to see” from afar and try to predict what is going to happen. “Knowledge” – we have to learn issues and understand how similar situations were dealt with in the past. “Doing” – the prophecy of the Israeli prophet must expressed by doing, not by public relations, not by publicity, but by doing things for the other.
Also in our generation, a generation suffering from “hester panim,” (The “hiding of God’s face”) because of people’s cruelty to each other, the readings on the first and seventh days about the prophetess Miriam and Moshe, the greatest prophet, teach us how the spirit of prophecy can continue have an influence.
Chag Samenach, to all the people of Israel and their neighbors and friends all over the world. particularly in our region.