Happy Israel Independence Day! by Rabbi Asher Lopatin

April 26, 2012
Here is my Facebook Status Update:
Wishing Israel a happy 64th! I pray that one day the entire world – and the Palestinian people as well – will celebrate with us this great moment in history, when a nation was reborn and millions returned to a safe homeland. Israel is a such a blessing to the world and its neighbors – and even to the Palestinians! – and one day everyone will find a way of living in peace with that blessing rather than trying to fight it! Grateful to all who fought for Israel, gave their lives for the Jewish state, and who tragically were killed in acts of violence against our State. Israel comes in peace to all mankind, and is willing to do so much for peace. There are some exciting new models for that peace – surprisingly advanced by the Right in Israeli politics – and I am confident that if we begin to think outside the box, all will benefit – including the Palestinian people. Please world, learn to love this beautiful country, and may year 65 be one of peace and security for this precious land, for the Homeland of the Jewish People, and for the entire world.
I think most people reading this blog will agree with that greeting.
Here is something a bit more controversial, but I hope it is food for thought and provokes some good Yom Ha’atzma’ut conversation.  It is from a letter I wrote to John Sakakini, who is the Program Coordinator for the General Delegation of the PLO to the United States.  I do not have favorable views of the PLO, but John personally was very nice when I met him, and he is my best link to Prime Minister Fayyad – whom the PLO doesn’t really like.  So for now, I am trying to connect with Salam Fayyad via John.  I will certainly update folks if anything comes of this, and specifically if I can find out any information about the student textbooks that are still viciously anti-Semitic.  For the complete letter, well, contact John Sakakini.
“Dear John,

On this day of Israel Independence, I just wanted to ask you to send a message to our Palestinian brothers and sisters:

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Jews, Muslims and Christians, Israelis and Palestinians:

As the Jewish people celebrates Yom Ha’atzmaut, 64 years to the establishment of an independent Jewish state, we need to remember that our moral right to return to sovereignty in our homeland came at the expense of many of the local Arabs living in the area…How I wish the State of Israel could have started with the blessings of her Arab neighbors! With the appreciation of how a Jewish national presence in the midst of Dar Al-Islam could contribute greatly to Arabs a Jews alike.  However, it is time to look forward: Time at accept that Palestinian national aspirations and Jewish national aspirations can come together in harmony and partnership.  Frankly, I think the Jews and Palestinians are linked in a common destiny, and rather than fighting each other, we have to look out for each other and help each other achieve our goals.  We deeply love the same land, we yearn the same freedoms and we are both clever and sophisticated.  I pray to God that on this day of celebrating Israel’s independence, Jews and Palestinians can recommit themselves to working together to help each other achieve statehood – even if that means in the same place, on the same land.  Our goals are not mutually exclusive.  No!  Our goals are complementary and can strengthen each other – the is room for everyone … Hand in hand let us walk together in history… to a day when both our peoples can celebrate together and can inspire the world towards peace and accommodating the dreams of national fulfillment that we all have…”

Feel free to beat me up – verbally, that is – and give me musar, but remember today is a day of celebration and joy: we said Hallel in my shul – with a brachia – and not tachanun.  So let’s celebrate together having a State that allows the Jewish people to continue on, to be a light onto the nations.
Moadim l’simcha l’geula shleima – Times of Happiness, yearning for  full redemption, 
Rabbi Asher Lopatin

The Pesach Seder: When we all must become children

April 6, 2012

“One is obligated to see themselves on the Seder night as if they are actually now leaving Egypt.”  -Maimonides

“The child at the Seder asks: “Why is this night different from all other nights?  On all other nights we eat leavened or unleavened bread but on this night only unleavened.  On all other nights we eat regular vegetables but on this night bitter herbs….””                                                                                                -The Talmud

If the Passover Seder meal is one of remembering that God redeemed the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery, why not do precisely that?  Read the Biblical account of the Exodus (which we do not); ask about slavery and freedom, divinely brought plagues and miracles, nationhood and history.  Why all the questions about why this night is different?

Children live in the present, their questions straight forward; they observe and ask, observe and ask.  According to some Jewish sources we do strange actions at the Seder meal, like dipping our food, drinking many cups of wine and delaying the meal, precisely so that the children will notice and ask: “Why is this night different?”

“When your child shall ask you: “What is all of this ritual?” Then you shall answer them, “With a strong hand did God take us out of Egypt.””        -Exodus 13:14

God did not take “us” out of Egypt, God took our ancestors out, and that was over 3500 years ago.

The past is long gone, yet always at hand.   Only the present is real, yet always a product of our past.  The Passover Seder is paradoxical, a meal of recalling the 3500 year old Exodus, an experience very much lived in the present:  “Why is this night different?”  It is the child, who always lives in the present from whom we must learn this.

One hundred years ago Sigmund Freud and his circle of psychoanalysts discovered that though we live in the present, we do so almost entirely conditioned by experiences we have had, and ways we have lived, in the past.  The past can not really be integrated or changed through remembering what is past; it must be experienced and understood in the powerful present.   The past is formative but, as a memory, impotent.  The present integrates our past.  The here and now is colored by our past but much more powerful.  Thus the present can lead us to insights about the past and about whom we are, more so that remembering and analyzing past experience.

The Passover Seder is like the process of psychotherapy.  Its function is to understand, to clarify, to integrate the exodus of the past in our present lives, yet this can only be accomplished in any real way, though living in the present.

We do not ask: Why did we leave Egypt? How did we leave? What did it mean to leave Egypt? Why did God think it so important that the Jews be enslaved and redeemed?  Such would only be an intellectual process of remembering the past.

Instead it is the child who asks:  Why are we dipping twice now?  Why are we reclining now when we eat?  Why the flat unleavened bread?

Children know how to be in the present.  All they have is now.  On Passover we must all be children.  Living the past in the fully present we must leave Egypt in our lives now -a gift from the past.