As Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman writes (in this week’s issue), the Exodus story is not one in which humankind is the protagonist. It is the hand of God that creates the circumstances that permit the Hebrew people to escape bondage and, after a time, find freedom.
Still, this did not abrogate the need for human action. The people needed to recognize the successive messages being sent to them and, then, take the opportunity to escape – take that first step into the roiling Red Sea, for example, even before God parted it. A jailer may leave the key within reach of the unjustly imprisoned, but the inmate still needs to reach out and unlock the cell door.
Central to Judaism is the concept that God left the world unfinished and imperfect. It is the work of humankind to complete the work. Bringing about that ideal is the purpose of our existence.
Often, lately, it seems that the global trajectory is moving in the wrong direction. The reelection of Vladimir Putin – by an entirely anticipated landslide, assisted by his control of media and the murder of his opponents – moves Russia further away from the nascent democracy that emerged in the late 20th century. Across the former Eastern Bloc, tyrants and hyper-nationalists are rising. Even in Slovakia, one of the finest examples of democracy emerging from the communist past, people are rising up – this is an encouraging reality – as their government appears to be moving away from its promise.
The fate of the Rohingya people (addressed by Independent writer Matthew Gindin in this issue) is a flashpoint of inhumanity and yet we continue to argue over nomenclature. Is it genocide? Words matter. But, for heaven’s sake, let us take action.
Sadly, almost anywhere one looks in the world, including, of course, in Canada and in Israel, there are injustices, inhumanities and tragedies. The uncertainty facing African refugees in Israel, and still-unaddressed issues of the most basic human rights for First Nations communities – like the right to clean water, education and opportunity – remain scars on Canada’s conscience. To our south, angry rhetoric and divisive leadership sow discontent, distrust and falsehoods in pursuit of political and social advantage. There are literal or figurative slaves needing redemption on every continent.
Jewish tradition emphatically calls us to pursue justice, but perhaps never so ardently as at Pesach. Through our enjoyment of the holiday and the reminders of our bitter history and the components of the seder, the order of our remembrance, may our resolve be strengthened to pursue justice in this year and in the decades to come.
May we strive to not be disheartened by the magnitude and breadth of the work to be done, but inspired by the inestimable number of examples we have before us, locally and elsewhere.
So many in our own community are pursuing justice in their unique ways, from the day school kids who assembled and delivered hundreds of mishloach manot recently to those in need, or Rose’s Angels, who made Valentine’s Day special for hundreds more, or for the hundreds of individuals in our community whose every day is devoted to making the world better for seniors, students, people with special needs or those who just need a comforting companion.
We can be overwhelmed by the ferocity with which news comes at us, and it can seem that whatever we do could provide only a tiny drop in the required ocean of goodness to make this world a better place. But what is an ocean but billions and billions of tiny drops?
This is our mission. We do not repair the world by despairing. We redeem it by our actions. It is, perhaps, up to Canadians who are, by any measure, among the most fortunate people in the world, to rededicate ourselves during this season of remembering and reliving our time in bondage, release and redemption, to finding ways to play our small but irreplaceable part in the enormous work to be done.
Chag Pesach sameach!