Each year we all strive to find new meaning in the seder. It may seem that repeating the same formulas and melodies, comforting though they may be, lacks vitality and inspiration. This year, there is no need to choose between tradition and innovation.
The context of the development of the seder is as old as the Torah itself. The shankbone on the plate reminds us of the sacrifice. The questions of the four sons echo Scripture. The format of the meal emerged in an intensely Jewish society. All of what we do and all of how we remember may originate in the beginning of our journey – the Exodus – but came into its own only after reaching the destination – the Land of Israel.
We have spent so long as a wandering people that it is easy to forget that this central holiday is one of homecoming, not of displacement. The goal of the Exodus is neither emancipation nor mere survival. The goal is reuniting our people, our God and our land.
When we recite “this is the bread of affliction,” we make two parallel statements: now we are slaves, next year may we be free; now we are here, next year may we be in the land of Israel. The circumstances of almost two thousand years led us to believe those aspirations were independent of one another. The complacency of a generation led us to take them for granted as faits accomplis. But at this time in history, the two statements are not only intertwined, as they were originally intended, but far from unchallenged.
At no time in my lifetime has the future of the State of Israel been more tenuous. For many reasons, some few internal and very many external, Israel finds itself answering questions no other sovereign state is being asked. In spite of horrible crimes, no international tribunal has ever challenged the legitimacy of Germany, Rwanda, Cambodia or Afghanistan. Nations with official state religions – especially Islamic nations – are challenging the Jewish nature of the Jewish state as oppressive and racist. And most disingenuously, European nations that defined Jews out of an organic place in European culture now claim that the very people they have chased around the globe have no place in their native land.
The boundaries of Israel may be uncertain and the Jewishness of the culture may be in a condition of flux. The current administration may be steady or wobbly, and the civil rights of its citizens may need both clarity and enforcement. But the bottom line for every Jew and for every non-Jew of conscience must be this: a secure Jewish State of Israel must be a fact, not a question.
Our wandering in Sinai lasted forty years. Our wandering since Roman conquest lasted more than 1800 years. During those years, we were liberated, but not free. Only when we can say, “Now we are here, next year in the Land of Israel, next year in Jerusalem” are we a free people in our land or any other land.
May your seder and the preparations for it reinforce our responsibilities to Israel as a home for our people and for the values that make us a people.