New American Haggadah!

A Jew who stays on the same level has already fallen, according to Rebbe Nachman. Let’s try to ascend a bit in our understanding of what being a Jew is all about.

Tzvi Fishman

Judaism Dry Bones Haggadah
Dry Bones Haggadah

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teaches that a Jew cannot stay on the same level. He or she either goes up or down. If a Jew tries to stay on the same comfortable level, he falls. He may think that everything is OK, but by holding on tight to the same level, he’s already fallen. Rebbe Nachman reveals that the secret of ascending to higher and higher levels, is Eretz Yisrael.

Ever-higher levels in the service of G-d can only be achieved in the Holy Land, the Land of the Shechinah, the Land of Prophecy, the Land of Clal Yisrael, where a Jew transcends his private individual being and becomes attached to the exalted soul of the Jewish Nation as a whole.

So let’s try to ascend a bit in our understanding of what being a Jew is all about.

At the start of the Passover Seder, after we invite the poor to join our holiday meal, we all declare: “Now we are here (in the Diaspora); next year we will be in the Land of Israel. Now we are slaves; next year we will be free men.”

In other words, as long as a Jew lives outside the Land of Israel, he is considered a slave to the foreign country and culture where he lives. In Hebrew this is known as “shiabud ole malchuyot” or “subjugation to the the Gentile kingdoms.” Even if a Diaspora Jews lives in a democracy like America and is free to keep the Sabbath and the Laws of Kashrut, he is considered a slave to the foreign society in which he dwells. A Jew can only be free when he lives in the Land of Israel under Israelite sovereignty.

I can already hear readers saying, “Nonsense! I am perfectly free in America!” But the wise Sages who composed the Haggadah teach us otherwise. Just by dwelling in a foreign land, Ivanka Trump, Dustin Hoffman, Henry Kissinger, Barbra Streisand, Rabbi This and Rabbi That, and are slaves to the Gentile societies and culture which surrounding them.

First of all they are in bondage to the belief that they are American. Yes, they have American citizenship, but this is a technical formality. A Jew is always an Israelite, a member of the Children of Israel, wherever he lives. As it says in the Megilla, “Mordechai, the Jew.” And as the Germans taught us with their Yellows Stars – though many Jews didn’t learn. A Jew who lives in a foreign land is a Jew exiled from the Land of Israel. A Zebra cannot change its stripes and neither can a Jew. Here and there, Jews may have a decade or two of respite, but the time always arrives when the Gentiles remind them that they are strangers in a strange land.

A Jew in the Diaspora is enslaved to a foreign language, a foreign calendar, foreign holidays, foreign beliefs and aspirations – for instance, to keep up with the Jones’s and be as rich and successful as everyone else. He pledges allegiance to a Gentile government; sings a foreign National Anthem which celebrates a milestone in American history; thinks that George Washington is his nation’s founder; and that WDC is his nation’s capital. He is enslaved, bonded, and subjugated to a foreign identity, often with a foreign name and a foreign spouse.  

The Sages did not compose the Haggadah when the Jews were slaves in Egypt. The Haggadah was written long afterward. Still, they stated clearly that life outside the Land of Israel is a state of bondage. They teach, through the Passover Seder, that a Jew doesn’t have to be in actual physical bondage and servitude to be considered a slave. Subjugation to a foreign Gentile culture is enslavement as well. There are also people who are afraid to abandon the familiar and start a new life in Israel – this fear is also a form of enslavement. Look at ancient Egypt. Even though G-d opened the gates to freedom, eighty percent of the Jews refused to leave. Why? Because they were culturally enslaved. They were afraid of the unknown, and living for so long under the dominion of a foreign power, they were afraid to strike out on their own and be free – what is called “an exile or slave mentality,” as the famous Torah commentator, Avraham Ibn Ezra explains:

“We must ask: How could a camp of six hundred thousand men fear their pursuers? Why should they not fight for their lives and the lives of their children? The answer is that the Egyptians were Israel’s masters. The generation leaving Egypt had learned from childhood to bear the Egyptian yoke, and they possessed a base spirit. Being weak and unaccustomed to warfare, how could they now fight their masters? We see that Amalek came with a small force, and if not for Moses’s prayer they would have weakened Israel. G-d alone does great deeds and orchestrates events. He arranged for all the males who had left Egypt to die out, because they lacked the strength to fight the Canaanites until another generation arose who had not seen exile and who possessed an exalted spirit,” (Exodus, 14:13.)

The vast majority of Jews chose to remain in Egypt, and thus died in the Plague of Darkness – their own darkness, in the dark dungeon of their cultural and mental enslavement.

Rabbi Kook’s son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook, headed the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem for many years. Speaking to groups of visiting Bnei Akiva students from the Diaspora, he taught: “We must foster the understanding and the feeling that we must live in Israel, that this is our natural place, in terms of religion, and in terms of our Nationhood. If we are not here, we are enslaved to a foreign place. We must not forget that we are on foreign soil there. It is not our society, nor our government. Nothing is ours. Only in Israel are we at home, with family, living according to our customs, and our uniquely Jewish year, living in the holy place designed for our special holiness, and for our psychological and even physical wellbeing. We must return to our true selves and turn away from culturally and spiritually polluted places, from environments which are sometimes so polluted that one forgets who he really is, and thinks that it is normal to live amongst the Gentiles.  

“It is a tragedy,” he told his young visitors from the Diaspora, “when we fall in love with foreign lands. It is written in the Torah portion, Mishpatim, that after six years, a Hebrew slave must go free. If he refuses, saying, ‘I loved my master – I won’t go out to freedom,’ this is an awful thing. His ear is nailed to the doorpost to teach him to hear the call of the Torah. Likewise, when we fall in love with the exile, saying, ‘I love my master, the foreign Gentile nation where I live,’ this is a tragic mistake.”

This year come Pesach, everyone has a chance to break free. If not, I suggest that someone publish a new “American Haggadah” which begins:

“Now we are here in America; next year we will be in the same place. Now we are Jews; next year who knows?”