Redemption: Past and Future
Rabbi Ezra Labaton ZS”L
The holiday of Passover is the most powerful national holiday of the Jewish people. It was the first holiday that we celebrated together as a nation. It forged the ties that bound us together as a family. As well, the holiday of Passover embodies the most important values that we strive to incorporate into our daily lives. This festival celebrates the right to freedom. Implied here is the very basic value of Selem Elokim. This holiday declares to us that the humiliating experience of slavery is an attack on the Divine endowment of intrinsic human dignity. The Torah confers on the human being, the right to serve God as a free person, a notion that evil Pharaoh could not understand.
Further, this national act of liberation set the ethical standard, against which, we are judged. “Treat the stranger kindly, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt;” “Do not pervert justice”: “Do not oppress the widow and orphan.” All of this because we were victims of injustice, and we were oppressed by the Egyptians. We should not perpetuate the same evil we experienced, against others. The holiday of Passover serves as the focal point of our national and ethical existence. We were liberated to bring this moral message to the world.
Yet, Jewish history has not proven itself to be a liberating experience. We were not, often enough, a people free to bring God’s word to the world. We were not free to effect Tikun Olam, to perfect the world. To the contrary, more often than not, we were enslaved by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans. Then, our fortunes were cast to the Christians and Moslems. Our history has not been characterized as “ובני ישראל יוצאים ביד רמה.” Our journey through Jewish history has not been easy.
Yet, to our forefathers’, (as well as to our) greatest credit, with all of the travail and suffering they (we) never lost sight of our past redemption as a model for our future redemption. Imagine the Jew in the concentration camp, singing “ממצרים גאלתנו” with the same fervor as the Jew who actually left Egypt. Imagine the Jew who felt the heat of the Inquisition at an “auto de fe,” singing אני מאמין with the same intensity as the Jew who experienced the deliverance from Haman’s evil proclamation of destruction.
These Jews understood that for the Jewish people, our history is not simply a chronicling of past events, forgotten once experienced. But, rather, a series of powerful images of future possibilities. We, know that the Messiah is around the corner waiting to arrive. The Exodus from Egypt taught us that redemption is possible at every moment. Even when the blows sting most and pound their hardest, the messianic moment is potentially most upon us. As Jews, we believe in the future because we believe in the past. As we celebrate on the seder nights our past redemption, let us look to the future with joy, optimism, and a sense that our future redemption is just waiting to happen, במהרה בימינו