Redemption, Israel, and African Migrants. By Yosef Kanefsky

והָיָ֞ה כִּֽי־תָבֹ֣אוּ אֶל־הָאָ֗רֶץ …וְיֹאמְר֥וּ אֲלֵיכֶ֖ם בְּנֵיכֶ֑ם מָ֛ה הָעֲבֹדָ֥ה הַזֹּ֖את לָכֶֽם׃

וַאֲמַרְתֶּ֡ם זֶֽבַח־פֶּ֨סַח ה֜וּא לַֽה’ אֲשֶׁ֣ר פָּ֠סַח עַל־בָּתֵּ֤י בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ בְּמִצְרַ֔יִם בְּנָגְפּ֥וֹ אֶת־מִצְרַ֖יִם וְאֶת־בָּתֵּ֣ינוּ הִצִּ֑יל וַיִּקֹּ֥ד הָעָ֖ם וַיִּֽשְׁתַּחֲוּֽוּ׃

And when you come into the land that God has promised you ….and your children ask you, “what is this service that you are doing?” You shall say, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD, because He passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but saved our houses.’”  And the people bowed their heads and prostrated themselves.

Well, not all the people. A few hands went up. “Is there time for questions, Moshe? “So you just said, וּלְקַחְתֶּ֞ם אֲגֻדַּ֣ת אֵז֗וֹב… וְהִגַּעְתֶּ֤ם אֶל־הַמַּשְׁקוֹף֙ וְאֶל־שְׁתֵּ֣י הַמְּזוּזֹ֔ת. (Place the blood upon the lintel and the doorposts.) But a few verses ago you said,  וְלָֽקְחוּ֙ מִן־הַדָּ֔ם וְנָֽתְנ֛וּ עַל־שְׁתֵּ֥י הַמְּזוּזֹ֖ת וְעַל־הַמַּשְׁק֑וֹף.  (Place the blood on the doorposts and the lintel.) Does it matter in which order I do it? And if I accidentally do it in the wrong order, do I have to go back and do it again? And with our without a bracha?

According to the Mechilta (an early Halachic work dating from the time of the Mishna), Moshe replied,

יכול אם הקדים מזוזת לתשקוף לא יצא, תלמוד לומר והגעתם אל המשקוף וגו’ הא אם הקדים זה לזה יצא

“you might have thought, based on the earlier verse that the order matters, therefore I started the second verse, to teach that you fulfill the obligation either way.”

And if you wanted to you could also infer from the Mechilta that people asked other questions too. Whether the blood should be on the inside half of the doorframe or the outside half, and whether the stipulation that the Pesach be roasted, not cooked, disqualified meat that was cooked first and afterwards roasted.  You could actually imagine, if you were so inclined, Moshe was there the rest of the afternoon and half the night answering Pesach shailos.

And while we might be tempted to say that this is nothing more than the rabbis retrojecting Talmudic methodology onto the Exodus narrative, we would be missing something huge if we didn’t understand the Mechilta’s larger point. And that is, that in the eyes of our tradition, Redemption, at its core, is not the movement form bondage to non-bondage, it is rather the acquisition and enactment of a corpus of law that dignifies, sanctifies, and elevates our thoughts and actions, both individually and nationally. The real catastrophe of the Egyptian bondage was that is suspended the project initiated by Avraham

 “אֲשֶׁ֨ר יְצַוֶּ֜ה אֶת־בָּנָ֤יו וְאֶת־בֵּיתוֹ֙ אַחֲרָ֔יו וְשָֽׁמְרוּ֙ דֶּ֣רֶךְ ה’ לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת צְדָקָ֖ה וּמִשְׁפָּ֑ט”

who aspired “to instruct his children and his posterity to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is upright and just”.  Living under the thumbs of our taskmasters and of Pharaoh, the project stalled completely. We were deprived of the circumstances necessary for developing a corpus of national law that would embody tzedakah and mishpat, and which would mold us – as a nation –  into its image.  The sudden burst of halachic inquiry imagined by the Mechilta were the first sparks of redemption.

For it wasn’t only ritual Halacha that we were now receiving and engaging as we were becoming redeemed.   Moshe was also giving us law right then about how and when  we are to include the stranger who desires to celebrate the Pesach with us, and how more generally we are to establish “one law and one Torah” for the native born among us as well as for the stranger. For Redemption – at its deepest root – is the taking possession of, and ultimately creating a society based upon, a corpus of righteous law, that embodies the way of God.

And throughout our exiles, even as we continued to practice our ritual laws, we recognized that we were again in a state of unredemption – not simply because we had lost our land, but more so because we had lost our sovereignty, and with it our capacity to actualize an economy, a government, an army, a foreign policy entirely built on the foundations of – and forged in the furnace of – tzedek umishpat. We were living in unredemption because our law was in exile.

And our vision of re-Redemption is no different than that of the original. The days of the Messiah, as Rambam extensively describes them, are not about lions lying down with lambs, or fiery Temples descending from Heaven, or chocolate mousse not having any calories.

אַל יַעֲלֶה עַל הַלֵּב שֶׁבִּימוֹת הַמָּשִׁיחַ יִבָּטֵל דּבָר מִמִּנְהָגוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם. אוֹ יִהְיֶה שָׁם חִדּוּשׁ בְּמַעֲשֵׂה בְּרֵאשִׁית. אֶלָּא עוֹלָם כְּמִנְהָגוֹ נוֹהֵג

It should not occur to you that during the days of the Messiah the world will function differently or that there will be something novel in the Creation. Rather, the world will continue in its customary way

 

Rather,

אִם יַעֲמֹד מֶלֶךְ מִבֵּית דָּוִד הוֹגֶה בַּתּוֹרָה וְעוֹסֵק בְּמִצְוֹת כְּדָוִד אָבִיו. כְּפִי תּוֹרָה שֶׁבִּכְתָב וְשֶׁבְּעַל פֶּה. וְיָכֹף כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵילֵךְ בָּהּ וּלְחַזֵּק בִּדְקָהּ. …. הֲרֵי זֶה בְּחֶזְקַת שֶׁהוּא מָשִׁיחַ

If a king should arise from the House of David who studies the Torah and engages in its Commandments … in accordance with both the Written and the Oral Torahs, and he enjoins all of Israel to follow in its ways and encourages them to repair its breaches … then he may be presumed to be the Messiah.

For us, the Jewish people, Redemption was, is, and will always be for us, the emergence from political and legal impotence into the sovereignty necessary to create a national project of our own, which emerges from the womb the spiritual and moral vision as expressed in our Law. This is why we refer to Medinat Yisrael as “the first flowering of our Redemption”, for although Medinat Yisrael isn’t and perhaps shouldn’t ever be a Halachic State in the strict sense of the term, it possess enormous potential to become the full flowering of what Avraham and God together envisioned, וְשָֽׁמְרוּ֙ דֶּ֣רֶךְ ה’ לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת צְדָקָ֖ה וּמִשְׁפָּ֑ט

Nowhere has the potential been more on display in recent weeks, than in the serious, difficult, complex conversation about the fate of the thousands of asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea. Yes, there have been some very “unredeemed” comments like those of interior minister Aryeh Deri, which attempt to reduce the issue to a slogan. “עניי עירך קודמים!” – your own poor come before the poor of others”.  But as everyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of how Halachic discussion works knows, the actual process is a dialectical one, in which competing halachic and spiritual values are carefully weighed against one another. And these are the conversations that have been happening in Medinat Yisrael. The Halachic and spiritual value of self-preservation is being weighed against the halachic and spiritual value of not oppressing the stranger. The halachic and spiritual value of giving priority to your own poor, is being weighed against the value of supporting the poor more broadly, consistent with the “ways of peace”. Our historical uber-value of maintaining a Jewish majority in the State, is being weighed against our historical uber-value, obtained through our blood and tears, of shielding and taking in the refugee. And all sides in the debate are now openly acknowledging the fact that unfortunately Israel never established a proper process for Refugee Status Determination, that thousands of the asylum requests have not been reviewed, and that as a consequence no one really knows how many are economic migrants and how many are true refugees.  This conversation –and may it lead soon to a proper and worthy resolution – is the conversation of a redeemed people. A conversation worthy of the “first flowering of our Redemption”

On this Yom Tov of Redemption, we resonate with the sentiment articulated by Rav Avi Gissar, the Rav Hayishuv of Ofra, “a moral and legal challenge like this must be resolved in a way that is “mat’im” fitting for us, worthy of us, reflecting the entirety of our moral and spiritual heritage.  Ken y’hi ratzon. May it be God’s will, V’nizkeh l’geulah shleyma.  and may we merit the full Redemption.

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