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  • Writer's pictureJosh Scharff

Passover, 5784

Passover is probably my favorite holiday. I love the foods, the songs, the idea that the greatest meals are accompanied by a wonderful story of bravery and miracles. This year is decidedly different from years past. There is a dark cloud hanging over the Jewish people. Many have asked how we can mark this holiday of freedom and salvation in a year in which 133 of our sisters and brothers are held captive. While it will be difficult and painful, we can still find solace in our rituals and traditions. 

One particular part of the haggadah particularly resonates this year. In any discussion of challenging Jewish texts among liberal Jews, you will inevitably find the Sh’foch Chamat’cha paragraph that is recited when we open the door to welcome Elijah into our homes. The prayer expresses a clear longing for divine physical retribution against those nations that have persecuted the Jewish people. It is all about dam hayehudi hashafuch – the blood of Jews that was spilled during the many episodes of persecution that our people have suffered, and the desire to see that suffering avenged.

I, too, have always been challenged by this piece of text. When I pray and turn to God to provide certain things and bestow certain gifts, my personal prayers are never seek to bring harm to others. I prefer to focus my prayers on peace, love and other qualities that I hope will make the world more complete, a better place to live for all its inhabitants. But this year, I admit that I am more able to empathize with the spirit of these words from the haggadah. From all sides this year it seems that the Jewish people face threats. Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran threaten the Jewish state. Violent mobs accost Jews on college campuses in the United States. The multitude of threats from Jewish history that, most years, have lurked like spectors have, this year, come into terrifying full view. I, alongside so many of my fellow Jews, am scared and enraged. 

It is relatively easy to give into that fear and anger. It is an overwhelming feeling to be under threat, seemingly from every direction. There is something comforting about leaning into that rage. It burns like a fire, it motivates us, it focuses us on keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe from harm. There is a power that comes with feeling righteous anger. 

But I must - we all must - ask: where will this rage lead us? Will it allow us to implement the lessons and teaching of Passover swiftly in our days? That, I doubt very much. 

How can we move beyond anger and fear? A 16th century haggadah manuscript offers a suggestion. As an answer to s’foch chamatch the authors of this particular haggadah offered a second text, s’foch ahavatcha - pour out your love: “Pour out your love on the nations who have known you and on the kingdoms who call upon your name. For they show kindness to the seed of Jacob and they defend your people Israel from those who would devour them alive. May they live to see the sukkah of peace spread over your chosen ones and to participate in the joy of all your nations.”  

While it may seem that enemies abound, this text reminds us of just how many allies have come to the aid of the Jewish people over the past six months. A week ago Saturday American, British, French, even Jordanian forces answered the call and came to Israel’s aId against the terrifying Iranian attacks. In the halls of Congress, administrators have been called to give testimony on how they are going to protect their Jewish faculty and students from new and dynamic threats. Those are just two examples of remarkable solidarity at the highest levels of military cooperation and politics. On the day-to-day, personal level, there has been tremendous love and care shown to Jews around the world. 

While these examples in no way minimize or change the fact that there are real threats to us and our people, more than we perhaps ever imagined - it is real evidence that we are, thankfully, not alone. We should look to these and thousands more examples as points of light, comfort, and strength in a world that seems to offer little these days. 

Abraham Lincoln once said that, “if you look to find the bad in mankind, you surely will.” There is no doubt that there is a great deal of evil and hatred aimed at our people as of late. But, if we fall into the trap of only seeing these, we run the risk of getting lost in the darkness. If we look to find the good, the allies, our caring friends - we surely will. 

May the hostages be freed soon and returned to their families; 

May the Jewish people be free from fear and threats; 

May we all escape our personal and collective Egypt this year. 

Am Yisrael Chai! 

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