During the month of April, coinciding with the first month in the Hebrew calendar, Nisan, three holidays link our origins to where we are now in history. The first is Passover, which itself provides such linkage in that we are taught that in our Seders we are celebrating 3 points in time: the original Exodus from Egypt; the second is the Passover we are in, a time of precariousness for Israel and our world; and the third is the Passover of the future, when the world is redeemed and our problems are resolved.
In tandem with Passover are two recent holidays, the first more a commemoration, in that there is little to celebrate when addressing the destruction of European Jewry in the observance of Yom HaShoah. The 2nd is arguably miraculous in the celebration of the reemergence of the State of Israel.
Since the destruction of the 2nd Commonwealth of Jewish autonomy, by the Romans in 70 CE, until the mid-20th century, the month of Nisan was home to Passover, as wherever we dwelled during that 2000 year period we dreamed of the possibility of a Jewish return to the ancestral home while surviving in the various countries of dispersion.
Then, tragically, the near destruction of world Jewry (it would possibly have been complete destruction had the Nazis won the war, which some historians suggest would have happened had they not prioritized train usage to transport Jews to the death camps rather than their troops to front lines) mandated the importance of a day to acknowledge the Holocaust. Thus Yom HaShoah has in our times eclipsed the other day of observance of catastrophe, Tisha B’Av, marking the loss of both previous iterations of Jewish independence in Israel, with the destruction of both Temples on the same day, 586 BCE and 70 CE respectively. The latter marked our dispersal throughout the world lasting until the 20th century with the beginning of return to the Promised Land and the official reemergence of Israel in 1948.
These holidays demonstrate vividly that our people are not simply part of history, nor participants in ritual observances that pertain primarily to keeping a tradition alive; we are part of the story of human continuity that permeates the daily news headlines. The world faces the same kinds of threats and unknowns that have characterized Jewish existence throughout the ages; nothing is certain and times of wellbeing are not conditions to take for granted.
In observing Passover and Yom HaShoah (for which we will join our sister congregation, Beth Shalom in Napa on Sunday afternoon April 12 for a very special program) and then celebrating Israel’s 67th year of what is now the third iteration of independent Jewish statehood in our promised land, we are left with the mandate to not only observe these special times but to absorb the lessons that they hold for us and humanity. As Passover indicates, freedom alone is not enough; Passover without the gift of Torah fifty days later with the holiday of Shavuot (for which again we will join Beth Shalom at Diamond Creek Vineyard the first Sunday of June) is not enough to be and remain free. The teaching of the Seder is a start: we must remember the bad and how bad it tasted, i.e. the Maror/bitter herb; and we must treasure the good, the freedom to relax at our Seders and sing the songs of freedom in anticipation of the upcoming gift of Torah which provides the blueprint for maintaining and growing freedom.
And, so it goes with Yom HaShoah and Yom Haatzmaut, Israel Independence Day, holidays that are separated by a week. They are distinguished by the former confronting the worst that happened to our people and the latter celebrating the impossible to believe (at least for nearly 2000 years of Jewish dreamers) miraculous return of the dynamic state of Israel with Hebrew once again a living language.
So, when we celebrate our Jewishness, we go far beyond ritual that is for many rote and purely ceremonial. These observances mandate pauses to reflect on the heart and soul of life meaning as we and our families and communities absorb it and interact with it.
The teaching of Passover indicates in the telling of the story that you go from despair to exultation, the trauma of having been slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt to the unbelievable heights of independence and freedom. It is uniquely special and meaningful for our generations in that it gives context to unbridled joy of the restoration of the Jewish state, home to all Jews who desire to live there and destination for all Jews that would like to experience being in the majority culture simply by visiting for a week, month, year or more.
May we learn and absorb all the teachings that can enable and empower us to do our part to restore balance and wellness to a world that is sorely in need of our insights and truths that have transcended the ages and outlasted all the nations that attempted to destroy us. May our light bring light to all those in darkness and may we find much to rejoice in having such values to hold and share.