What side of Jewish history are you on?

The Chief Executive of the Mizrachi World Movement, Rav Doron Peretz: There need not be any contradiction between striving for human rights and universal justice and at the same time being loyal to one’s faith, people and land.

Torah Mitzion Torani Tzioni Movement

Judaism Rabbi Doron Perez
Rabbi Doron Perez

A close reading of the text of the Haggadah provides a critical insight into who the wayward son , how he lost his way and how he can find it back . 

The Haggadah states regards the wayward son as follows:

“The wayward son asks – What is this service to you? (Exodus 12;26) By saying ‘you’ he excludes himself. And since he excludes himself from the peoplehood of Israel (KIal Yisrael), he has denied a fundamental principle of our faith (Kofer be-Ikar). You in turn should blunt his teeth (give a sharp and blunt answer) and say to him – because of what Hashem did for me when I left Egypt, I do this (Exodus 13;8) – implying for me but not for him. If he (the wayward son) had been there (in Egypt), he would not have been redeemed?”

The Haggadah describes the wayward son as the one who sets himself apart from the Jewish people and places himself outside the mainstream Jewish community. His question, “What is this service to you” implies that the service does not obligate him in any way. Issues of Jewish identity – our collective fate, destiny and responsibilities – are seen as something which has no bearing on his world view. So much so that the Haggadah uses the sharp terminology since he has excluded himself from the Jewish people, he has denied a fundamental tenet of Jewish faith.
Remarkably, what emanates so succinctly from the Haggadah is the supreme importance of a deep sense of solidarity between the fate of the individual Jew and that of the Jewish people. The community ethic is a core component of Jewish identity. One cannot call oneself a good Jew if one distances oneself from the lot of one’s people and community.

This explains a bewildering question regarding the wayward son – why is he at the Pesach table in the first place? After all, if he is so wicked, why does he want to be part of the Jewish experience? The answer is clear – he does want to have a connection to his Judaism – but he wants this to be without any commitment to and embracing of a collective Jewish fate and destiny. But the Haggadah teaches us that he cannot claim to be a good Jew, while at the same time separating himself from the pain and suffering of his own people. Of course, every good Jew must be sensitive to the suffering of all human beings. All are created in the image of G-d. This is without question a core Jewish value. But how can this possibly override the suffering of his own family, community and people? Kindness and charity must never end in the home, but they must most certainly begin there! Indeed, the Hagaddah is teaching us a fundamental principle of Jewish faith – the inextricable link between Jewish faith and the people of Israel. 

The answer given to the wayward son in the Haggadah is also most telling. We blunt his sharp criticism by highlighting the following important point: “Had you been in Egypt you would not have been redeemed.” The wayward son needs to decide what side of Jewish history he is on. If his worldview does not contain this deep sense of Jewish peoplehood, then he has missed the point of Jewish identity. Our Sages tell us that many Jews chose not to leave Egypt, but rather lost themselves during the plague of darkness. These individual Jews could not come to terms with Moses’ vision of redemption from Egyptian society: to journey to the homeland of their forefathers and to exercise their divine, religious, historical and moral right to self-determination in their G-d given land. Those who left Egypt committed to this vision of Jewish destiny. Those who chose to rather stay behind in Egypt did not accept this narrative of Jewish history.

Remaining behind in Egypt and perhaps even prioritising the suffering of the Egyptians over the tears and pain of over 100 years of slavery and death of their own people at the hand of the Egyptians sidelined them from future Jewish destiny. Instead of becoming influential protagonists in shaping Jewish history, they became a peripheral footnote.

There need not be any contradiction between striving for human rights and universal justice and at the same time being loyal to one’s faith, people and land. One can be a champion of human rights and at the same time believe in the unbreakable link between the Jewish faith, land and people of Israel.  

We all need to ask ourselves which side of Jewish history we are on .