President Obama's Four Questions

The President's questions met with questions of our own - as Jews are wont to do. What are his answers?

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch

OpEds Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch

It’s Pesach time again, and apparently the spirit of the Haggadah’s Four Questions is affecting everyone in our Holy Land; even the US President has gotten into the holiday spirit. Thus we found ourselves ceremoniously submitted - in our very own Jewish capitol- to the following presidential queries:

“Is it fair that Palestinian children don’t have their own state? Is it just that settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished? Why do you not picture yourself in their place, with a lack of self-determination? As your founding generation heads into the twilight, why do you not try to understand the Palestinians, and take the risks needed for the goal of ‘two states for two peoples (sic)? ‘”.

It seems that a lot of Jews misunderstand the whole thrust of our Haggadah, so I guess the US President is entitled to a little ignorance on that score. Right after reciting our Four Questions, עבדים היינו לפרעה במצרים - we were slaves to Pharoah in Egypt - and the section on the Four Sons, we enter a long Maggid recitation, with a drawn-out explanation of the Bikkurim (first fruits; Deuteronomy 26;1-11) ceremony. As Rav Matis Weinberg asks, is this Temple -era story not merely a long digression from the main business of the night, i.e. the escape of those poor, wretched slaves from the unfair bondage in Egypt?

Rav Weinberg answers that he who asks such a question misses the main point of the Exodus, of Yetziat Mitzraim, in just the same way Moses did. He came to G-d and complained: “From the moment I came to Pharoah, speaking in Your Name, things have only gotten worse for Your people, and You’ve done nothing to save them!”(Shmot 5;23). Moshe Rabbeinu also was looking only at the unfairness, the injustice of the suffering, and he complained to the Lord.

The Almighty’s answer is the essence of Passover (ibid, verses 1-8). There is but a passing reference to the suffering, the torture, the murder of babies in the Nile and the use of human bodies as bricks in pyramids; and that is because that part of the story is totally immaterial to the main story here, which is the saga of the Jewish people: “ I am the Lord. And I appeared to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as a promisor who did not deliver on his promise ( Rashi’s explanation of El Sha-dai). I will surely pay Egypt back for the anguished cries of my people, but tell the Jews this: I will take you out from bondage, and save you from slavery. Moreover, I will redeem you, take you for a nation, bring you to the Land that I swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and I will give it to you as an inheritance”.

The epitome of the message: I swore to your Fathers 400 years ago that their children will live as a nation in this Land, and I have not delivered on my promise. Your Fathers ((שלשה אבות,ארבע אמהות וכוליה have not gone into any twilight; the promise to them is a living inheritance to the Jewish people- and to you alone (to the unique, distinguished, chosen people of the Mah Nishtana, which literally means, “how unique”; see “The Weirdest Things a Man Could Ever Do”,this website, April 1,2012)

The message of Passover is not that the poor unfortunates somehow beat up the oppressor, and left misery behind. It is the story, and history, of this unique people, the only one loyal to the One G-d, who are today still forging onward in the quest to live in, and develop, G-d’s Holy Land-despite the historical opposition of the world’s mightiest, and puniest(in the case of the Arabs of this Land), empires. And it’s the story of our partner, the Lord who promised us that He would help us, the genetic descendants ( joined by all those citizens of the world who care to join us) of the original promisees, in our quest. That Temple-Bikkurim declaration in Deutoronomy is simply a national, yet personal, declaration of Jewish statehood, which is the the main message on Passover, our national birthday.

You said that we should take more “risks for peace”, yet you closed our route 60 so that you and your entourage of 60 cars could go around Kalandiya-Ramallah to meet Abbas in the PA and not drive through PA areas.
So now Mr. Obama: is it fair that the Arabs of the Holy Land turned down the UN’s offer of an Arab state west of the Jordan in 1947, joined the Armies of six Arab states in an attempt to annihilate us, and lost- is it fair that such losers come back to the same United Nations of the world, generation after generation, with the same demand( give us a chance to annihilate the Jews!)? I think not.

Is it just to slander Israelis with “attacks against Palestinians(sic)”, and not mention that after we graciously, and stupidly, let arch-terrorist, Jew-killer Arafat and his PA cronies back into the Holy Land, they blew up buses, shot at passing cars, and continued a 25- year-old campaign of rock-throwing (maiming and killing) on our highways- killing a total of 1,500 Jews who would be alive today, without the phony-Peace process you, Pres. Obama, are pushing with such seeming innocence?

“Put ourselves in their place”, eh? On Seder night we are not asked to see ourselves as “Palestinian (sic)” Arabs, but each Jew is חייב לראות את עצמו כאילו הוא יצא ממצרים , enjoined to see himself as if he were leaving Egypt, a free Jew, not an Arab. No, Mr. Obama, a Jew is a Jew, and an Arab is an Arab; not by accident, but by G-d’s design did this one receive the soul of a Jew, and that one of an Arab. Mah Nishtanah, indeed.

Finally, risk-taking: How ingenuous. Not only have we Jews taken all the risks in the lunatic “peace process" of the last twenty years, but it is hard to understand the young idiots our Prime Minister found for you to give your speech to in Binyanei Hauma. Unlike 1996, in a similar forum, when Pres. Clinton faced a tough, young female questioner, not one person there challenged you; the organizers so obviously stacked the deck in your favor. You said that we Jews should be willing to take more “risks for peace”, yet you closed our route 60 so that you and your entourage of 60 cars could go around Kalandiya-Ramallah to meet Abbas in the PA, and not drive straight north through Jerusalem to the north end of Ramallah (where the PA headquarters are). You wouldn’t want to risk being shot at in Ramallah, And you knew that on roads mainly lined by Jewish communities, you were safe. Some risk-taker you are. I believe that people in glass houses should not throw stones (pun intended).

I hope that in your annual White House Seder, this Passover you ponder the real lesson of the Exodus.