‘In every generation’: Why Seder is the time to discuss a path out of Israel’s crisis


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We are instructed, in the Haggadah that we will read at Seder on Tuesday night, to retell the story of the divine deliverance of our ancestors from slavery in Egypt not as a history lesson but as directly applicable in the present.

“It is our duty, in every generation, to consider ourselves as people who personally left Egypt,” the text runs, quoting from Exodus saying that it was not only our ancient ancestors who redeemed and were brought to the promised land, but we, too, redeemed them.

I have heard distinguished rabbis praise in the last few days, while Israel is in the midst of a tragic, dangerous internal crisis, and individual families are pressing hard from within the rights and wrongs of the Netanyahu coalition’s attempt to neutralize and take over our judicial system. absolute power, we should keep politics out of the Seder, and focus instead on that ancient Exodus and the miracle of what we have achieved in our modern Israel.

But the paragraph “in every generation”, in my opinion, points us in the opposite direction.

Requiring us to retell the story of our ancient deliverance from tyranny as if we were among those rescued, the Haggadah reminds us every year how miraculous and precious our freedom truly is, that it should not be considered ever, and that it is our obligation. protect and defend it from abusive, hard-hearted leaders.

Even when – especially when, in this case – those leaders are our own.

An Egyptian soldier is swallowed by a fish in a mosaic scene depicting the parting of the Red Sea from the Exodus story, from the 5th century synagogue at Huqoq, in northern Israel, unveiled in 2017. (Jim Haberman/University of North Carolina Chapel Hill)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu granted us a brief reprieve from his looming decrees — a suspension promised through Passover, Memorial Day for our fallen soldiers, and the 75th anniversary of our independence.

He didn’t do this because he plans to abandon legislation that would politicize the judiciary and prevent them from protecting our most basic rights — freedom of speech, freedom of religion, elections and more .

Rather, as his own Likud party’s Minister of Justice Yariv Levin admitted privately, and his staunch ultra-Orthodox ally Aryeh Deri publicly, some Likud Knesset members could not be counted on to support the departure of the first, a revolutionary central law — giving the coalition almost total control over the appointment of judges throughout the court system — when it was due for Knesset approval last week. The last few remaining clean-minded Likud MKs have slowly managed to take a stand after the Prime Minister’s treacherous decision to fire his defense minister – because he had the audacity to publicly warn that the great destruction of democracy is causing huge social divisions, and the divisions are extending inwards. the military, now a tangible threat to national security — and the massive spontaneous street protests across the country that fueled this decision.

A short break allows the prime minister to go through Passover and Israel’s most resonant national days and the opposition reduced from last week’s peak, then to organize his own mass reform rallies, and therefore demonstrate massive domestic support for his march. to tyranny, defang the White House and other international criticism, and claim to have tried to negotiate a compromise in good faith with the opposition to no avail … and then push the legislation through when the Knesset returns less than a month from now now.

Many Netanyahu loyalists – including Levin, Miri Regev and Miki Zohar – have made it clear that this is the plan. Netanyahu himself, even as he announced the temporary suspension, affirmed that what he has taken to calling “democratic reform” will be done “one way or another.”

Meanwhile, the prime minister continues to play fast and loose with Israel’s most pressing needs. He is refusing to convene the key, inner decision-making cabinet (which in any case now includes theocrats and racial motivators like Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir, whose agenda is antithetical to the national interest) to discuss deal with internal and external security threats. And he is cynically, paranoidly, keeping the Minister of Defense Gallant in limbo as to whether he has been sunk or not, to the great detriment of the proper functioning of the national defense establishment.

Meanwhile, too, Netanyahu and his spineless ministerial colleagues maintain their insistence on giving unprecedented power to the most dangerous members of this government. This week, they voted for the creation of National Security Minister Ben Gvir’s unfairly titled “national guard” – a force that the oft-convicted anti-Arab rosary plans to build as a personal militia. Don’t do it, urged police commissioner Kobi Shabtai, calling the projected new force a recipe for chaos that would undermine and compromise the police. Don’t do it, pleads former commissioner, Moshe Karadi. Netanyahu should “learn a bit of history and see what happens in countries where politicians have their own armed forces,” Karadi explained. “It is a short distance between this and the fact that it is [Ben Gvir]with this power, to take over the Office of the Prime Minister and launch a coup.”

If that warning sounds like much, it’s only because Netanyahu is already in the process of launching his own.

Is all this ignored at the Seder table? Focus instead on the biblical deliverance from slavery and the many things we have to be thankful for, but avoid discussing the things that bother us now?

That is not the message of Passover. Rather, the Haggadah’s injunction is to debate and discuss, to internalize and learn from our own history, to confront the dangers we face and seek ways to prevent them, and to try to do so as a community United.

Israelis attend a Passover seder in Kibbutz Mishmar David, in central Israel, April 15, 2022. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The Seder night brings attention to our history of persecution at the hands of others, and our own wrongdoing. It aims to embed lessons learned over thousands of years, and also to highlight that we are blessed with a code of moral conduct — to guide us, especially now, to prevent leadership that destroys the tolerant Jewish ethos and democratic Zionist Israel.

In fact, the need to reflect, reflect and learn from our history certainly belongs primarily to those in that leadership — those who have the direct means to change course and heal our people.

And if we are still debating passionately at dawn — looking for the most effective, unified, restorative way out of this crisis — then, as the Haggadah notes, that is still to be commended.

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