Galilee Diary: Pesach in the Galilee
The mountainsides were festooned with multicolored wild flowers. The Bedouin shepherds led their flocks to graze along the lush valleys. Eighty-five percent of the Jews of Israel (according to surveys) sat down to observe the seder ritual - and among them the Hilazoner Rebbe and his flock of disciples and their families. There was warmth and light, good fellowship and robust singing in the room that evening. Delicious food, pungent herbs from the local community-supported-agriculture co-op, kosher-for-Passover tofu for the vegetarians; questions and more questions, stories and more stories. They came to the passage:
"In every generation we must see ourselves as if we, personally, had come forth out of Egypt... For not only our ancestors did God redeem - God redeemed us with them."
The Rebbe began to speak softly, and the room grew quiet.
You know, I was one of those who didn't want to leave. There were a lot of us who felt that way. No, no one likes being a slave and I certainly suffered like anyone else. But there was a certain comfort in the routine, in the structure, of knowing your place, of being taken care of. We had plenty to eat. We had our communal life. We even had a sense of professional accomplishment, taking pride in the products of our labors. Life went on, generation after generation. Empires rose and fell, Egypt won and lost wars, Pharaohs came and went (each requiring, of course, a pyramid). We read the papers and had our opinions, but history went on without regard for us. Life was pretty good in Goshen.
We did not see any reason for Moses' intervention. Who was he, anyway - one of us or one of them? Why did he have to rock the boat? What was he after? It seemed pretty clear it would not end well - and indeed, our lives became embittered as the Egyptian establishment cracked down. And the next thing we knew Egypt was wracked by plagues somehow associated with us and after a frenzied journey framed in blood and flood and a great wailing, we found ourselves free, in the desert. We were swept along by these events. We neither chose nor understood them. What we did understand was that suddenly we had nothing of the life we had had before - the jobs, the homes, the neighbors, the foods, the routine, the stability. The story we were told was that we were going to a land of our own, where we would be masters, not slaves, where we would be active, not passive, where we would implement the blueprint for a perfect society we were about to receive in the desert. Moses and his clique kept trying to convince us that having responsibility for our own fate - and that of others - was a desirable goal. I was not convinced.
But then the plan got derailed, when ten of our top leaders returned from a mission to Israel and announced their dissent from the official story. And so it happened that I and my friends were allowed to live out our lives in the desert, under God's care and Moses' leadership, and not to have to face the overwhelming challenge of entering history as a sovereign state, of applying to the messy reality of everyday life the lofty principles of Torah, of building a just economy, of living peacefully with strangers. I have gotten over my reservations about freedom. There is mannah every day (well, almost every day); we are just us, by ourselves out here. A routine has returned. God takes care of us. Life is good.
Our time will be up soon. The next generation will have to face the challenge we averted - of sovereignty, of responsibility, of coming in out of the simplicity of the desert and building a sustainable society in a world where nothing is simple, and even the most obvious moral value ends up colliding with another equally obvious one, with no Moses to resolve the conflict. I pray that my children are up to the task.
There was silence in the room for a long moment. Then the Rebbe lifted his glass and the seder continued: "Let us sing before God a new song, halleluyah!"