Precisely 70 years ago, during the Seder of 1944 in Auschwitz, 10 Jews were seated — including my grandfather, blessed be his memory — quietly singing, almost silently, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” Their grief was boundless, their pain acute. No child was left behind to ask the Four Questions, for all the children had been carried off to the heavens, lost in the plumes of black smoke billowing off the crematoria smokestacks at the concentration camp.
Their night was long, too long. They had no wine, nor matzot, nor Haggadot, just a full helping of bitter herbs — raw, pungent maror that pierced the soul. As the night wore on, they told the story of the exodus from Egypt. Not a soul arrived to inform them that dawn was approaching and the time had come to recite the morning prayers. Actually, no morning prayers, indeed no morning at all, was stretching across the horizon, simply dismal black skies signaling yet another day of work at the camp. The Prophet Elijah had not come to knock on their front doors, the sea had not split in two before them. They hobbled, in an unsteady march, beaten, battered and torn toward another day of forced labor. They were utterly convinced that this was their last Seder on Earth. Barely a glimmer of hope remained, for the final candle had been snuffed out.
Tomorrow evening in Nahariya, I will join my fellow soldiers, disabled veterans from all of Israel’s wars, in sitting around the Seder table as free men in our homeland, to which we returned despite all odds.
The grandchildren sitting around the table will ask the Four Questions. Together we will drink four glasses of wine and recall at length our forbearers’ exodus from Egypt after hundreds of years of slavery. We will retell how a large group of slaves came together, deciding to become a nation, and rose up, setting off on the arduous journey toward salvation.
Yossi, a disabled veteran who was injured as a paratrooper fighting in the 1967 Six-Day War, will recreate the legend of Jerusalem’s liberation, crowning our joy with the holiest of cities. Together, we will conclude the Seder with a triumphant rendition of “Next Year in Jerusalem.” Immediately following, we will recite the poem “Karev Yom” (“The Day is Approaching”): “Place guards over Your City all day and all night / Lighten the darkness of the night with the light of day.” Indeed, a brilliant light to illuminate our lives as a nation after so many gloomy years.
A meager 600,000-person community stood against all the Arab armies. Millions of Jews have immigrated to Israel and have been absorbed within its borders. Despite the wars and a complex security environment, one of the world’s leading centers for industry, science and medicine has flourished. Above all else, Ezekiel’s prophetic vision has been fulfilled in our time: “But ye, O mountains of Israel, ye shall shoot forth your branches, and yield your fruit to My people Israel; for they are at hand to come. … And I will multiply men upon you, all the house of Israel, even all of it; and the cities shall be inhabited, and the waste places shall be builded” (Ezekiel 36:8-10). The Land of Israel, for thousands of years lying in wait, stirred as its sons returned home. The Land of Israel has been developed everywhere.
The true meaning of liberation is having responsibility. At the root of responsibility is concern for others, and this chain can never be secure as long as there is a weak link.
The Passover Haggadah starts out by extending an invitation for all who are needy to come and partake in the Seder meal. We should extend that invitation throughout the year as well. The battle against poverty is a struggle over the essence of society, its values and its strength.
Free men should not be frightened by foreign threats. Our close neighbors and distant allies must understand that Israeli citizens are determined and strong — nobody can threaten us. Our days as downtrodden slaves are over. Passover’s spirt of liberation must communicate to the world that the Jewish nation has come together in the Land of Israel; it has risen up with no intention to surrender.