Today, Jews from New York to Jerusalem and across the world, have their eye on the next few hours. It is around this time of the year that we go through old items, consider opportunities, conduct some spring cleaning around the house, and look forward to the changing of the seasons. Pesach, Passover, is on our minds. Our families and friends all gathering, coming together, a time when we all reach out – all planning for the communal festival of liberation and for the changes that lie ahead.
As we witness seasonal change we have hope and optimism for the journey ahead. It is a time of renewal – God’s wondrous ways revealed in nature with life emerging from dormancy, and potential to be reached. And with these changes in our surroundings and potential for hope, we nonetheless find ourselves facing uncertainties not seen in many years: the economy, unemployment, and changes in political leadership and government policy – here in the United States and in Israel. We look to the future with hope and optimism, still, no one is quite sure what to expect.
In Pirkei Avot, the Book of Ethics, we learn:
“דע מאין באת ולאן אתה הולך ולפני מי אתה עתיד לתן דין וחשבון”
“Know from where you came, and to where you are going, and before whom you will give account and reckoning.”
From this the sages taught that we came from nothing and that we are going to nothingness…
I disagree — my human intellect, Jewish values, and conviction force me to believe otherwise.
In his memoirs, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, writes in a letter to General Charles de Gaulle, who castigates the Jews as an ‘aggressive’ people, following the Six Day War, Ben Gurion writes: “no other people has been so exiled, dispersed, hated, persecuted, harried from country to country and finally slaughtered en masse, all this we neither vanished nor despaired…but held fast to the conviction that we would someday regain our land.”
It is this instinct to live, not inherently Jewish, though conditioned upon the Jewish psyche by virtue of our historical experiences, perhaps wisdom of the heart that serves as a driving force to move forward, to create, to find purpose, and to live life!
But דע מאין באת ולאן אתה הולך… – know from where you came and where you are going… requires more than simply relying on conviction – it is knowledge, knowledge of self, leading us in our ultimate search – to know our purpose. The Jewish narrative requires us to internalize Jewish memory and actualize ritual, to maintain interaction with ancestors; so that when it becomes time to change, time to move forward, we find ourselves willing and able.
On Passover we are required to make a korban pesach, a sacrificial “Passover offering”. As a result of the Temple’s destruction (67CE) the sages, our rabbis, reinterpreted Jewish tradition – maintaining continuity to this very day.
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Efraim, grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Hasidism, comments on this idea of sacrifice, and explains that it hints at humanity’s desire to “elevate oneself and come closer to God”. This comment on sacrificial offering is related to the Hebrew word, Korban, sacrifice. It is not by coincidence that the root word is shared with the Hebrew word, Karov, meaning closeness/proximity; by exercising worship, whether it is biblical sacrificial rites, or modern day prayer, we bring ourselves closer…Karov.
However, I would add that it is not just about the “end” – humanity’s desire to “elevate oneself”, but the exercise of worship, the “means”, the way by which we attempt to achieve heightened awareness. Often it is “the way”, or the journey in life, that is more meaningful then the goal we previously set.
It is this journey, the challenges, and the choices we make, that I find most meaningful. As previously mentioned, the root word for Korban, sacrifice, also means Karov, closeness, and yet these Hebrew letters share a third meaning that I find significant, Krav, meaning battle or struggle. While we all prefer smooth transitions to challenges and changes in our lives as individuals, and a People, this has not always been the case.
With seasonal change on the horizon and rebirth on our minds, Passover forces us to look back and recall what brought us to this point in time. We are required to reflect and share our collective narrative with the younger generation – b’chol dor va’dor – and through this recollection we are reminded of the sacrifices of our people, the courage and creativity in overcoming challenges – while maintaining continuity from time immemorial – this is our legacy.
I hope and pray that we all experience liberation – physical, mental, and spiritual – from the shackels that keep us from progress, or even from our very families and loved ones (Gilad Shalit). G-d willing, may we all know peace, blessings, and happiness.