How can we guarantee our Jewish survival?
We will give an answer to this question at the seder table. We will raise our cups and declare:
“Vehi she’amda la’avoteinu velanu.” – “It is this which has stood by our ancestors and us.”
We recognise that it wasn’t only Pharaoh in Egypt who sought to annihilate us but that sadly this has been a recurring theme of our history. “HaKadosh Baruch Hu matzileinu miyadam.” – Almighty God has always saved us.
But when we say the word ‘vehi’ – ‘it is this’ which has stood by us. What is the ‘this’ that ‘vehi’ refers to? Many of our commentators answer with reference to the song Echad Mi Yodea (Who Knows One?) at the end of the Haggadah.
So let’s have a look at the four letters of ‘vehi’: והיא.
ו – Vav is six and that stands for the Shisha Sidrei Mishnah, the Six Orders of the Mishnah which is the Talmud.
ה – Hey is five, representing the Chamisha Chumshei Torah, the Five Books of the Torah.
י – Yud is ten and that represents the Asarah Dibraya, the Ten Commandments, and finally,
א – Alef of course is one, representing God.
And it’s true. This is what has saved us! It’s Hashem. It’s our obedience to the ten commandments. It’s our awareness of everything in the Torah, and it’s our study of the Talmud which have guaranteed our Jewish survival.
But notice the order of the four. You see, everybody knows that we believe in one true God. Fewer people than that can tell you what the Ten Commandments are. Fewer than that know that there are 613 commandments and are aware of everything in the Torah and even fewer than that have studied Talmudic texts.
‘Vehi’ teaches us that when it comes to guaranteeing our Jewish survival, Jewish education must be our top priority and we need to deepen our knowledge. We must have an awareness of Talmudic texts, followed by the Torah, an awareness of the Ten Commandments and of course we must believe in Hashem. The deeper and more comprehensive our knowledge, the greater will be our Jewish awareness and the stronger our Jewish identity.
So therefore, a great lesson of the Pesach Seder is not just that we should have a lovely and inspirational evening in its own right, but also that it should inspire us to study more throughout the whole year. That’s why the passage immediately after “Vehi she’amda” starts with the words, ‘“Tze ulemad” – “Go out and learn”. That should be our motto for Pesach: Tze ulemad: let’s appreciate that our commitment to Jewish study and to Jewish education must be a feature throughout the entire year, because the greater the quality of our education, the greater our chances of Jewish survival.
I wish you all chag kasher v’sameach.