Passover Sermonettes 2003 15 April 2003


In the first sermonette, we look at 3 different concepts in the Bible and tie them to the Passover Story. First, the story of the Exodus as rooted in the Exodus of Abraham, itself rooted in the Creation of the World; Second, the concept of Free Will as it relates both to Pharaoh and the Garden of Eden; Third, the 4 Sons and their relationship to the consequences of aspects discussed in the first two concepts. Finally, we will see relevance to Passover Today and ourselves.

I. Abraham’s Exodus rooted in Creation of the World.
 The story of the Exodus from Egypt begins with Abraham and his Exodus.
 The Genesis of Abraham’s Exodus in 12:1 is rooted in 1:1 of Genesis. God created heaven and earth and was above Nature. Till then, gods were subject to nature. This was the major revelation and Abraham needed to leave his society because it was alien to him. In Genesis, man is the apex of creation; before that, man is a post-script. The Bible is the ultimate humanistic document in that sense. Man is given divine breath, not divine blood. He can act with the spirit of God, but not become God. God doesn’t need to be fed, so man is a partner in creation, but not a butler to God. 
 These concepts carry forward with the Jewish Exodus from Egypt. At Sinai, the people became God’s partner. Sacrifice is not to feed God but to meet a human need of thanks or atonement. “Eved Hashem” means an intimate of God, not a servant of him. Prayer works in lieu of sacrifice, lest God be hungry all these years. The rest of the world until the point of Abraham and Sinai believed otherwise and this is why the story of Creation, Abraham and Sinai is different than that which was popular belief.
 Another parallel with the story of Passover appears in the first story following creation, the Garden of Eden, as it relates to Free Will, an essential element of the Passover Story.

II. Free Will and the Garden of Eden

Q. God Hardened Pharaoh’s heart: So where was his free will? 
A. In the first few plagues, Pharaoh hardened his heart. Then God hardened his heart. Rambam / Maimonides Hilchot Tshuvah Chapter 3 Law 6 (or 6:3): says the worst punishment God can give is to take away one’s free will.

 The Garden of Eden is the foundation story of Free Will. Human’s main gift is the ability to make decisions. Only in Chapter 3 of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) is there determinism: A time for this and that and God sets the time. Paradise is hell if there is too much of it, it becomes boring and without challenge – the Garden of Eden (today known as Bahrain, by the way) deals with decisionmaking and the consequences thereof – the beginning of History. God doesn’t kill Adam and Eve and doesn’t destroy the Garden. The story ends with their having a kid and starting anew and history beginning – not exactly a negative ending. There is the glimmer of hope that one could later return to Paradise. The Garden story is not so much about the apple in the tree but the pair on the ground. The Exodus is in part the consequence of Pharaoh’s decisions and the ultimate punishment of God in taking away his free will, the gift bestowed upon Man in Eden. It is also the story of the Jewish people’s decision to follow Moses into the desert and God at Sinai.

One other area in which decisionmaking and faith are pivotal is in the story of the 4 sons.

III. The Four Sons and the Vision Thing

The Wise son and the Simple son have the word “machar” (the morrow as in tomorrow) inserted into the text in the places in which they are referred to in the Bible. The Wicked son doesn’t. Rashi’s ancient commentary ascribes short-term and long-term vision to the Wise son and only short-term vision to the Simple son. Vision meaning something beyond the demand for instant gratification and the ability to cling to faith and a vision of the future. These are needed to build things like democracies, institutions and an Israel. The NY Times, 24 hour cable news networks and popular opinion all demand results NOW and they are almost always wrong over the long-term. It is especially timely this year to consider the value of vision when the US has, for the first time anyone can remember, seized the offense to change the status quo and not simply to hold the line in order to maintain the status quo and – despite all the negative horror stories and risk-averse nations who could not see past the next day and assumed that the leader of the Free World was a Simple Son who could not see past the next day – was in fact victorious in its effort, and the world today is different than it was last Passover.

On a personal note, to end this discussion, Karen and I have both been under the Here and Now pressure for the past decade and there was pressure to settle, race against the clock and not to hold out for what might be the right thing. In the context of the 4 Sons, we both feel that our vision was correct and has been rewarded.

The connection between the Exodus of Egypt and Present Day Relations with the Vatican

A Medrash commentary over 1,000 years ago says that the Riches of the Jews are in Rome, meaning the Vatican (and Jews of that time knew of the Vatican). It says that the keepers of the Vatican were meant to keep these treasures for the end of days for safe-keeping. The Vatican has been around longer than Switzerland and have been better custodians. People have claimed to have seen the curtain from the Holy Temple 14 levels below ground there. The leading cardinal to the Pope told Rabbi Blech without irony that he believes 6 million Jewish artifacts are kept by the Vatican. The Talmudic text we use is based on a corrected manuscript emanating from church sources because the Jews didn’t have a good manuscript on which to base the Talmud. 

The Vatican recently released a copy of a manuscript written by Maimonides which settles a major Halachic issue that has been debated for centuries. It has been authenticated by Lakewood Yeshiva. The Vatican is on the verge of allowing the manuscript to be given to Israel; just a few years ago it refused Rabbi Lau’s request and threw out the Israeli emissary who merely asked about it. 

The Exodus of Egypt ended with the Jews leaving Egypt “Br’chush Gadol” – with the riches of Egypt. And so, maybe it will be at the end of our times that the Jews will exit with the riches of Rome. The Jews are already at the Vatican – Rabbi Blech was accompanied by a gentile who was buying rosaries on the way to see the pope. The guy in the square said to Rabbi Blech “Shalom Haver” and told him he said the Prayer for Making a Living every day. Rabbi Blech mentioned that he spoke with the leading cardinal of the Vatican who told him that the Church was increasingly viewing Israel and the Jews as a counterweight to Islamic fundamentalists who say they are against Jews but, as far as the Vatican is concerned, is equally against the Christians. They see the Saudi educational system and they don’t like it. Even though the Israelis occupy Bethlehem, they see Islamic mafias running the city and not afraid to hold hostage church assets in their military campaigns. The cardinal specifically mentioned Bethlehem.

Passover is a holiday that celebrates a miracle and it is a Mitzvah to publicize not so much the obvious miracles but the ones that are Pirsumei Nisa – the hidden miracles. Here is one: The Book of Esther takes place over a 12 year period. Gulf War I ended on Purim in 1991. Bush’s ultimatum speech picked up the slack on Purim 2003, exactly 12 years to the date on the Jewish calendar. The bombs started falling just 48 hours later, at the end of the Purim holiday. And in both cases, Israel which was painted as the source of all evil along with the US against the rest of the world came out of it miraculously well. Yes, there is Britain and even Australia, but we all know that without America, they wouldn’t be taking on Iraq. Even a week before the war, Rumsfeld was letting you know that the British were soft.

The priest told the standing congregants quietly that everyone going to heaven should sit down, because he wanted to show up a congregant who was sitting and sleeping. Then he said quietly If you want to go to hell, he then loudly said to Stand Up. The one guy only heard the loud part, jumped up, realized he was alone, and he said “I don’t know what cause you are backing, but it looks like you and me are the only ones standing for it.” Right now, Israel and America are standing to back the cause of freedom in the world and it is an inspirational moment when one considers the Exodus from Egypt, a matter which began with Abraham’s stand against the world, which he began in Iraqis towns whose ancient names still appear on maps on the back page of the NY Times each day this past month as for some strange reason the world’s superpower is fated to send 18 year old kids with the ultimate in military technology to towns with biblical names because the stability of the free world and indeed our home towns half a world away are said to depend on overthrowing a modern-day Pharaoh who casts people into the rivers and made them disappear, enslaved his people, built palaces and amazing structures meant to last for a thousand years, and refused all attempts to reason with him and confounded history with the hardness of his heart. Indeed, the whole  region is confounded that it cannot win against this triage that should by all accounts be an accident of history, even though it claims to have the majority of world civilization on its side, and yet that majority proves to be hollow and irrelevant. History insists on repeating itself, thus making this annual ritual ever-so-relevant.

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