Passover tells us to stop living afraid
Passover tells us to stop living afraid

The Seder that we conducted several days ago is the central ritual of the Passover holiday. It's origins are embedded in the Torah verse that says, "And you shall tell your child on that very day, saying: because of this which the A-lmighty did for me when I went out of Egypt."

The Hebrew word for 'And you shall tell' - V'Higad'ta - is the same Hebrew word root as Haggadah - the booklet that guides us through the Seder, because the Seder revolves around the retelling the history of the Exodus from Egypt.

And that's what we do - we tell our kids the story of the Exodus - hopefully engaging them with fun and excitement and smiles. The Seder itself is replete with unusual ritual practices, the eating of exotic foods, and the singing of curious songs, all designed to goad the kids into asking "why?"

One of those curiosities occurs towards the end of the Seder. Picture this: everyone's had a wonderful meal - incredible food, good wine, and witty banter. Appetites are sated, the family and friends are relaxed and in a really good place (if perhaps only a little tired). Then, right after we drink the third goblet of wine, we get stone serious for a minute. We get up from the table, open the front door and proclaim the following verses:

Pour out Your wrath on the nations that refuse to recognize You and upon those kingdoms who do not call out Your Name. For they have devoured Jacob and destroyed his high places. Pour Your scorn out upon them, and let Your fiery anger overtake them. Chase them in Your anger and destroy them from under Gcd's heavens.

What a change of mood! And what - exactly - are we shouting into the street? 

Passover night is called Leil Shimurim, the night of watchfulness, for it was on this night that the A-lmighty struck the final horrific blow to our enemies in Egypt. For once - on this one night - we had nothing to fear from our persecutors, no more fear of backlash or retribution.

So every year on this night, we relive that Freedom From Fear that our ancestors experienced, and proclaim to the public square that Jew haters really have no bone to pick with us Jews; their true enemy is the Jewish G-d, and G-d will fight His own battles. On this one night, we are basically saying to Hamas, and ISIS, and the PLO, and Iran, and CNN, and MSNBC, and NPR, and the BBC, and the British Royals, and the Vatican, and the UN, and the BDS, and all the other Jew haters out there: come at me, bring it on, because tonight you can't touch this; tonight I am protected.

Tonight I have nothing to fear.

And now for something completely different,  but connected:

Brilliantly written and acted, Fawlty Towers was arguably one of the funniest sitcoms in the history of television. And in his recent autobiography, So, Anyway..., John Cleese notes that Basil Fawlty's painfully ridiculous antics were ultimately motivated by fear. Fear of being embarrassed in front of guests. Fear of his wife. Fear of the hotel failing the health inspection. Fear of guests discovering there was no cook in the kitchen. Whatever the cause, fear propelled him into wackier and wackier behavior, crazier and more outlandish lies. Foolish behavior, all intended to prevent him from looking...well, foolish.

What is so relateable about Basil Fawlty is that kernel of fear in us all, and how, in the end, he always manages to diffuse that fear and turn it into funny.

We have Jewish sovereignty in our ancestral homeland, a Jewish Army to defend it, and sooner or later, we are all going to wind up there, to return home.
In my daily discourse with people from all walks of life, I pick up on a lot of fear floating around out there. After the boilerplate 'Hi how are you?'s and the dismissive responses of 'BH, I'm great, everything's chill', one cannot escape the sense that just under the surface, dark fear lurks. 

Some are worried for their jobs, or the ability to make rent, or the rising price of food. Some are worried about their health or the health of loved ones. Some are worried about the skyrocketing cost of higher education. Some are worried about politics or ISIS or al-Qaeda or Jihadist terrorism.

In the Jewish world, it seems that everyone's running scared. On the left, they are scared to confront the reality that all the well-intentioned innovations introduced over the last few decades have destroyed their congregations. On the right, we are mortified of social reproach if one doesn't embrace every faddish new chumra (stringency) under the sun. To quote my friend and mentor Rabbi Mordechai Escovitz, Rabbi Emeritus of the Touro Synagogue: for many, Yirat Shamayim is nothing more than Yirat Shcheino.

Like Basil Fawlty, our fears sometimes drive us to do painful and ridiculous things.

Passover teaches us to be less fearful, and instead to be more courageous and bold in following our own unique path in Torah and mitzvot. It takes guts to yell into the street: come at me, bring it on, because tonight I have nothing to fear.

We don't live in the ghetto anymore, and never again will we be forced to the gas chambers, unable to defend ourselves. Miraculously, after a two thousand year hiatus, we have Jewish sovereignty in our ancestral homeland, a Jewish Army to defend it, and sooner or later, we are all going to wind up there, to return home.

So stop living afraid. Stop acting out of fear. Act out of courage and conviction. As the ultimate redemption unfolds before our eyes, Passover, the Holiday of Redemption, reminds us that everything will work out just fine. 

Chag Same'ach: a very happy, healthy and chametz-free Passover!