The Continuing Peril
A Pesach sermon by Rabbi Benjamin H. Englander
The late Professor Buber once wrote, "We Jews are a communtiy based on memory. A common memory. A common memory has kept us together and enabled us to survive...
One generation passed on to the next a memory which gained in scope--new destiny and emotional life were constantly accruing to it. The expanding memory was more than a spiritual motive, it was a dynamic power which sustained, fed and quickened Jewish existence."
We are dealing here with an awareness of history which is common to all modern nations. The universal awareness of history is a reflection of human experience in the unfolding of life's panorama. In our case, Professor Buber points out, the characteristic potency of our Jewish collective memory is the very origin of our particular history. The core of this history does not consist of a series of objective events, but a sequence of essential attitudes. Our Patriarch Abraham is recalled for his concept of God, and Moses as the great law giver and teacher. King David is remembered more as the author of the Psalms than as the great soldier.
Heroes in Jewish folklore are heroes of the spirit and intellect--the prophets, the sages, the poets and philosophers. The moral teachers for all times!
For generations, on Passover, we were asked to read about the events of the past and recall the great miracles God did work for His chosen people. The Exodus, far from being a test of strength on the battlefield, was fought in realms of the Divine. U'B'eloheihem asah Hashem shefatim. "The Lord executed judgement on their gods."
When the Jewish people stood at the Red Sea--we read in our Torah portion this morning--seemingly trapped in a natural ambush--the sea was to the front of them, the desert on their right and left, whereas the enemy was at their rear--the Israelites were as clay pigeons for Pharaoh's forces to annihilate at their will and panicked, but Moses called to them: Hityatzvu u'reu et yeshuat Hashem--"Stand by and watch the deliverance which the Lord will work for you this day--for the Egyptians whom you fear today you will never see again. The Lord will do battle for you and you hold your peace.
Ma Nishtanah--"How differerent" things are today than they were in the many centuries that Jews have been reciting the Hagaddah and singing their songs of imaginary triumphs! Ma Nishtanah--How changed is the international situation than it was a short nine months ago when the Arab nations mobilized against the State of Israel. Jews throughout the world were hysterical. How will Israel withstand such pressure? Who would have dared to dream of successful resistance let alone victory? Astounded, we saw et yeshuat Hashem, "the salvation of God," as one after one, enemies were thrown back in confusion.
Surely this was a victory vouchsafed by God to the descendents of thos whom He did lead safely through the waters of the sea and did cause their erstwhile Egyptian taskmasters to drown!
Thus in the concept of Professor Buber, Jewish memory on this Passover gains in scope--there is a new sense of destiny pervading our ranks--a new meaning has been given to our survival. The future of the Jewish people would not be bartered over the counter of international intrigue. The viability of the State of Israel is not expendable. Its borders, whether as they are now at Suez and the Jordan River, or fixed by negotiation at other points must be secure. All the inhabitants of the land from Metulla in the north to Eilat in the south must be safe against infiltrators. Israel has always extended the hand of shalom. It has met only belligerency.
My friends, this is the Continuing Peril, as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the State of Israel. The recent Jordan-Israel clash brough the Security Council into emergency session once again. The members found it expedient to condemn Israel for her self-defense action against the Al Fatah based in the Kingdom of Jordan, but refused to name them or use an equivalent term for guerilla bands as having committed a prior violation to the cease-fire resolution.
In essence, the Security council gave tacit approval to brigandry and sanction to violence. They condoned ruthless belligerency--they acquiesced to arson, pillage, and murder, permitted the mining of public thoroughfares where a school bus was recently blown up--killing two adults and wounding twenty-eight teen-age children. But they outlawed the reprisal directed solely against the perpetrators of this ghastly crime!
The State of Israel through its pyrrhic victory last June is confronted with a host of serious problems. True, the Arabs and Russia are convinced that a fourth round would be unwise at the present time. However, they seek to accomplish that which they failed to do on the battlefield through harassment. The Al Fatah hit and run tactics can disrupt normal growth and development and lead Israel into financial embarrassment or bankruptcy.
On this Festival of Remembrance it behooves us to hearken to the admonishment of the Hagaddah, Chayav adam lir'ot et atzmo k'ilu hu yatza miMitzraim -- "Everyone must look at himself as if he had participated in the Exodus from Egyptian bondage." We must identify ourselves personally with the great historic experiences of our people in the past as well as of the present.
The same sense of identification with Israel which gripped us in thedays of crisis last June, must continue to be a motivating force. As in the days of Ezra and Nehemia, our brothers in the State of Israel guide the plow with one hand and in the other hold the arms for their defense. We are called upon to back them up morally and financially.
Our voices must cry out against injustice. We must continue to call upon our government to stand firm in its support of Israel. Our contributions to UJA Emergency Fund and our purchase of Bonds for Israel must be commensurate with the critical challenge with which we are confronted.
The victory of last June is not measured in the series of events that brought us to Suez and the Golan Heights but in the reunion of the old and the new Jerusalem.
The attitude of the Jew to this holy city is incomprehensible to the rest of the world -- but Jerusalem the "City of Gold" in the eyes of the Jew -- will be the highlight of any Jewish history of the June war.
To have been in Israel for Passover this year would have been to join in the greatest celebration since days of yore. To have been in Jerusalem for the Seder would have meant filling the cup of joy to overflowing.
Jubilation was muted in some homes where an empty chair stood at the Seder table -- a father, a son, or a daughter who did not return from the war. Joy was more sober in the homes where the wounded or maimed joined in the traditional songs and recitations of the Passover ritual. Nevertheless all were dreaming a dream -- hoping a hope -- that the Messiah will come and with him peace to a war-torn world.
When will Elijah herald that new era of peace? The Talmud relates:
Rabbi Joshua met Elijah the Prophet and asked him "When is the Messiah coming?" Elijah replied, "Go ask yourself!" "Where do I find him?" "Before the gates of Rome," Rabbi Joshua is told. "He is sitting among the poor, covered with wounds. The others unbind all their wounds at once and then bind them up again. But he unbinds one wound at a time and straight away binds it up again. He tells himself "Perhaps I shall be needed (to appear as the Messiah) and I must not be late."
So Joshua went and found him. "Peace be to you master and teacher!"
"Peace be with you, son of Levi!"
Then Joshua asked him, "When are you coming, master?" and he answered "Today."
Thereupon Joshua returned to Elijah and said to him, "He has deceived me! He told me today I am coming and he has not come.
Thereupon Elijah said to him, "Thus did he say 'today if you would hearken to His (God's) voice!"
The Jew does not despair. He sings: Ani ma'amin b'emunah sheleimah...
"I believe that he Messiah will come. Though he tarry
I still wait for him. I believe the Messiah will come!"