Torah Thoughts for Today
Thursday, April 02, 2009
Liberation from Egypt - Liberation from the first concentration camp!
Past as Prologue in Passover.
The first time the Jewish people, the Children of Israel, were liberated from bondage was when they were liberated from the slavery of Ancient Egypt over 3,300 years ago.
A historian has said that "while it is true that some say history repeats itself, but it is never exactly" so that while, as in our case, the Children of Israel have suffered bondage at various times as a people, as when the Ten Tribes were taken into captivity -- and were lost -- by the ancient Assyrians, and the kingdom of Judah was taken captive by the ancient Babylonians about 2,500 years ago, and Judea exiled by the Romans 200 years ago, yet each phenomenon was unique, although it did hark back to an earlier blueprint.
The classical Jewish sages teach an important principle of "ma'aseh avot siman lebanim" that the "deeds of the forefathers serve a sign/plan for their descendants” so that while subsequent events take place in circumstances unique to themselves yet in all cases of national catastrophe and later liberation, the roots and precedents for those events were already pre-determined and pre-ordained and set in place in blueprint form connecting all later similar events with the master-plan event usually explicitly described in the Torah.
In the case of the miraculous liberation of the Children of Israel from the clutches of the Pharaoh and his minions, and the unheard of event of one nation breaking loose in the name of Freedom and Serving the One and Only True God, the events of the Exodus were historical groundbreaking events, a huge ma’aseh avot siman labanim.
Seventy years ago, in 1939 the Nazi Germans unleashed World War Two and the Holocaust against the Jews that came with that. The Nazis had already officially commenced persecuting, robbing and enslaving German Jews in the days following Kristallnacht in November, 1938 and a little under one year later they unleashed the same terror and worse across all of Europe.
It does not take much imagination to see and understand that the persecutions the Jews suffered during the Holocaust as a people is based on the same pattern that their ancestors suffered in ancient Egypt. There too Pharaoh as Hitler fretted and was paranoid about the growth and loyalty of the Jews accusing them of being a fifth column and ready to ally with Egypt’s enemies (all fabricated lies reflecting his megalomania, egomania, paranoia and xenophobia), he stripped the Jews of the high offices they had known, he used psychological warfare against them by ordering them to build bricks without straw, and he started a full infanticide genocide strategy by ordering that all Hebrew male infants be tossed into the Nile. He not only defied God but taunted Him and he was convinced that he was endowed with abnormal super-human powers that he could get away with crushing and annihilating a defenseless people under the yoke of his powerful slave state with its frightening chariot-powered army.
Yes, all that came to be "bayamim hahem bazman hazeh" -- "in those days at this time, meaning in this Hebrew calendar month of Nissan, but there is also the connection within connecting the thought that what happened then, in Ancient Egypt, also happened "now" in the Twentieth Century under the Nazi German Holocaust against the Jews, and each event was linked with and mirrored the other.
How is such a connection to be made real?
It occurred to me when thinking about the matzah we eat on Pesach that is called "lachma anya" "the bread of poverty/affliction" that the classical rabbis teach is literally “the bread of a poor man” as it’s ingredients consist of only water and wheat baked in a hot furnace in a big a rush and having a simple appearance and flavor.
Today, most Jewish people are VERY comfortable. Thank God, the Iron Curtain has fallen and the Jews of the former USSR are free. Likewise the Jews who lived in Muslim lands are almost all free. The vast majority of Jews all over live in open societies and in great democracies and have risen to the heights of political, economic and social influence (not always being the best personal examples of Judaism), the point being that Jews are currently riding the crest of a wave materially if not spiritually.
So how then can today’s high-flying and high-living Jews ever be "brought down to Earth" so to speak and made to "eat humble pie"?
The Yom Tov of Pesach has the answers from the Torah as prescribed by God. Jews are commanded to eat simple things at the Passover Seder: Matzah. A little bitter vegetable. A boiled potato. A hard boiled egg dipped in salt water as reminiscent of the tears shed. And so on.
So the thought occurred to me that when the survivors were liberated from the Nazi's concentration and death camps in Europe they were almost all gaunt as scarecrows. Those who gorged themselves on food died from their stomach's shrunken and weakened inability to digest food for so long. They had no choice but to eat SIMPLE foods until they could become healthy again. A few crumbs of this and that, a little to sip, and slowly they gained some weight.
On Pesach we healthy Jews REVERSE the above process. Our stomachs are thank God in good working order. Gastronomic Judaism is king. So what does the Torah instruct? In order to "feel liberated" you must subject yourself to a program of “re-enslavement” as it were, and in that vein you must eat the food of slaves, especially the matzah and when you do that with "kavanah" the "right intention" you will be transported, transposed and transformed into a veritable ancient Hebrew belonging to the Children of Israel who ate such food in Egyptian bondage and as they fled from that horrid place, then you too will begin to hopefully get that feeling (oh ever so minutely perhaps, hopefully) of what it means to be freed and liberated, be it from ancient Pharaonic slavery or from a 20th century concentration camp.
Ending on a humorous note, there is the famous parable about the starving gentile beggar who had heard about the great Passover Seder the Jews enjoyed on Passover night and only wanted to join one to eat some great food. So he posed as a Jew and got himself invited by a Jewish family. Expecting a great and luscious repast he found himself being frustrated. First they keep on going on and on and on and on in Hebrew reading and singing from a book called the Hagada which he could not read. Then they brought out some cold boiled potatoes and dipped that in salt water and they were all happy. This really made him more frustrated. Then they brought out matzah which was dry and tasteless and they munched and ingested volumes of that. He was fed up by now. Next they brought out bitter herbs and started feasting on that. At this point he lost his patience and fled the mad Seder he had joined. When he got back to his friends they asked him how he enjoyed the meal. He told them all that happened and that he lost his patience and had fled in frustration. They laughed at him and told him, "fool, had you waited a few more minutes you would have seen and enjoyed that they also serve a magnificent full course meal with all the trimmings."
The moral being that often people are too hasty and make judgments based on unfinished events. The Children of Israel themselves still had a slave mentality and were afraid to enter the Land of Israel, but they missed the point that the land would be a fruitful and bountiful land and good to them. Modern-day people get upset about the Holocaust and reject God and Judaism, but they also shut their eyes to the fact that after the bitterness of the Holocaust the Jews witnessed to see great success for themselves in the lands of the West and that they would soon live in freedom as in the ancient past in their own Land of Israel once again.
May we all merit to live in the Land of Israel soon in the spirit of the Hagada's closing words: "leshana haba'ah be'Yerushalayim" -- next year in Jerusalem!