“Hillel said: Do not separate from the community” (Pirkei Avos 2:5).
The Talmud teaches: “Whoever participates in the suffering of the community will merit to see the comfort of the community.” (Taanis 11a)
Torah has many levels of meaning, and with this awareness, we shall discuss another radical insight concerning the “wicked child” of the Haggadah:
“The wicked child – what does he say? ‘Of what purpose is this service to you?’ He says, ‘To you,’ thereby excluding himself. By excluding himself, he denies the essential principle.”
As the Haggadah indicates, he separates himself from the People of Israel; moreover, through this separation, he denies the essential principle. The great sage known as the Maharal of Prague (1512-1609) stressed the following Passover principle: Through the Exodus of Egypt, we were born as a people (Gevuros Hashem: 3,52). Someone who separates himself from the People of Israel is therefore denying this essential principle. We were reminded of this principle when the Redeeming One proclaimed to us before we left Egypt:
“I shall take you to Me for a people” (Exodus 6:7)
In this spirit, the Redeeming One sent the following message to Pharaoh regarding the “birth” of our people: “My firstborn child is Israel. So I say to you: Send out My child that he may serve Me” (Exodus 4:22,23). As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains, Israel is the firstborn in the spiritual sense, as Israel’s journey is to lead to the spiritual birth of all peoples. The Redeeming One is therefore telling Pharaoh, “With Israel, the womb of humanity will be opened.” This message also expresses the essential principle of the Passover journey. An Israelite who separates himself from his people - the pioneering people of human history - is denying this essential principle.
Through my work in the Jewish community, I have encountered Jews who separate from their people in certain areas of their lives. I am not speaking about Jews who have totally assimilated. I am speaking about Jews who identify in some ways with their people, but who occasionally exhibit a coldness or insensitivity to Jewish concerns. For example:
1. There are those who ignore the needs of the Jewish poor in the diaspora and in Israel. Their newsletters, websites or blogs will discuss the suffering poor of other peoples, but not the suffering poor of their own people. Some of them give generous contributions to help the needy among other peoples, and they fail to give anything to help the needy among their own people.
2. There are those who publicly express anguish and pain over the suffering of other peoples, but who fail to publicly express anguish and pain over the suffering of their own people. Their newsletters, websites, or blogs are full of moral outrage at the suffering and injustices experienced by other peoples and even other creatures, but there are no expressions of moral outrage at the suffering and injustices experienced by their own people. In fact, some of them even demand that the State of Israel continue to give land to those who are dedicated to our destruction without demanding an immediate end of the violence against our people, an end to the educational campaign of hatred against our people in the Arab media, as well as in Arab schools, and a public recognition of the right of the State of Israel to exist. These Jewish activists speak of the rights of the Arabs, including the Palestinian Arabs, but they forget that Jewish men, women, and children have a right to live in peace now - without fear of rocket attacks, suicide bombers, and other acts of ongoing terrorism. And if the Arab peoples have a right to have their many Arab States, the Jewish people have a right to have their one Jewish state.
3. There are those who make their “idealistic” cause into an “idol”; thus, they are willing to sacrifice Jewish concerns and Jewish dignity on the altar of their idol. They therefore enthusiastically support and endorse any leader, project, or book which they feel is “good” for the cause, even when this leader, project, or book is hostile or insensitive to the Jewish people and/or Judaism in some way.
I pray that the above individuals will engage in a soul-searching process of “teshuvah” – spiritual return and renewal – which will give them a deeper appreciation of their people and their heritage. They will then realize that their universal vision must also embrace the Community of Israel – a community that is destined to bring blessings to the World Community through Torah – the Divine Teaching.
May we all remember the ultimate goal of the Passover journey:
“It will happen in the end of days: The mountain of the Temple of Hashem will be firmly established as the head of the mountains, and it will be exalted above the hills, and all the nations will stream to it. Many peoples will go and say, Come, let us go up to the mountain of Hashem, to the Temple of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths. For from Zion will go forth Torah, and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem. (Isaiah 2:1-4)
As we chant at the conclusion of the Passover Seder, “Next year in Jerusalem!”
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen