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Pesach 5781  The Ancient Promise

03/24/2021 09:06:19 AM


Rabbi Rudin


The Promise that has Stood

In ancient times, two leaders who wished to enter into an agreement would share a meal to demonstrate their amicable relationship and to mark the beginning of a close collaboration: a brit or covenant.

Over time, this meal became ritualized.  And then, on a distant afternoon in the land of Canaan, it became universalized.  The narrative is told in Genesis 12:

G-d said to Abram: this land that you walk now as a stranger shall belong to you and your seed forever.  You shall become as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sands of the sea.

Abram, old, homeless and childless responds: How shall this come to pass?

G-d responds to the doubt and fear in Abram’s question.  Take three animals and three birds and prepare them as a sacrifice dividing them in two and await Me.

Abram does so and sits waiting on the earth at the end of the line of offerings.  As the afternoon waxes on, vultures circle.  The sun sets and Abraham falls into a fitful slumber or a prophetic trance.  In his dream-state, G-d’s voice conveys a dread message:

Know of a certainty that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs.  And for four hundred years they shall be subject to servitude and oppression.  But I shall judge the nation that oppresses them and afterwards, they shall go out with great wealth.

Abram rises then and sees beside him a great, glowing flame towering over him.  He walks forward between the sacrifices and the flame figure keeps pace.  Suddenly it is dawn.  The offerings are consumed to ash, and Abraham, given a new name and a new identity, stands looking at the lightening sky.

That promise was not only a prediction of Egyptian slavery, say our Rabbis.  It was a statement that throughout history, Israel would be persecuted, attacked, denigrated for the truth that we proclaim and live.  But just as we would be subjected to persecution, so would we be redeemed over and over again.   And so has it been.  

On this night of Pesach, we recall that ancient promise.  At the beginning of the Seder, we raise our glasses and sing: V’hee she’amda….

And that promise has stood us in good stead: for not only one has risen up against us to destroy us.  But in every generation, they arise against us to destroy.  But the Holy One of Blessing saves us from their hand.

Not the story that was but the story that is still being told.  Not the story that we hear about our ancestors but the story that we live.  Iteration after iteration, the promise goes on.  And to what end?  Next year in Jerusalem.  History, says Martin Luther King Jr., is an arc that bends upward.  No, say the Prophets of Israel.  History is a spiraling ladder, a double helix of human evolution making its way upward, however slowly, however tortuously.  Israel is G-d’s witness, humanity’s witness of this truth. 

We begin the Seder in the depths of slavery and we end it with the Cup of Elijah and the hope of Jerusalem.  Hope is real.  Hope has guided us all these years one step closer, one level higher.  Next year in Jerusalem; next year in healing and hope.  Next year together.

Chag Sameach!


Thu, June 20 2024 14 Sivan 5784