Celebration and Remembrance
This is a time of holidays, celebrations and remembrance. As Jews, we are a people of passion and extremes. We remember our history as a people in repeating cycles of weeks, months and years. We always seem to be remembering something from our long history. Our memorials and celebrations are often framed by death, destruction, suffering and loss. We remember that deliverance comes at a cost. Thus, in our celebrations and remembrances, deliverance and victory do not stand alone. They are interwoven in a perspective that unites suffering and death with deliverance and victory. There is also a prophetic aspect of our cyclical celebrations. We look forward to the future. The great visions of the prophets are an undeniable part of our heritage and the festival cycles mandate that we remember not only the past; but also the forward promise of a renewed, redeemed future. Hope is an integral element in the liturgical life of the Jewish people. In the chaos and corruption of contemporary life, this perspective is easily lost or rather overwhelmed by the grinding reality of life in the seemingly everlasting, escalating intractable conflict.
As the Jewish people, our greatest celebration is Passover when we remember the mighty deliverance from the suffering and bondage we endured in Egypt. This is definitely a case of new life coming out of oppression, darkness and death. For the people who left Egypt as newly freed slaves, the journey was fraught with constant challenge, discontent, and failure; even as the hand of God consistently led them through every stage to the journey’s end – entrance into the “promised land.” It was in this extended trek across the desert that the people were transformed from being a population of controlled slaves to being a cohesive community.
In this season, we remember the miracles, the victories, the fulfilled promise of a new life in a new land. We remember that we were once oppressed slaves, our lives ruled by “overlords” for their own benefit. The heart of the Passover celebration is that each one who celebrates must identify with the experience of his ancestors in seeing himself as not only one who received the promise, but also as one who experienced the oppression and bondage of another nation’s rule. Our remembrance of victory and deliverance must be equal to our remembrance of bondage and oppression.
Those of us who are people of faith in Yeshua as Messiah, Lord and Son of the Living God, regardless of our ethnicity personally know “the” great deliverance. We fully identify with the story but we also know that the story is unfinished. The promised land was not a redeemed earth. It was given as the context in which our challenge was to now live righteously as the people of the God, who by His own hand, had brought us from the oppression and bondage of slavery to freedom.
When I ponder this celebration of remembrance, my prayers for my people Israel are to not only remember our own deliverance, but to again consider the collective experience of having been a people subjected to the harsh rule of another, stronger people; to feel in our bones the weight of bondage; to know the longing for release from an unchosen life of subjugation to the will and whim of a greater power. And this, while we sit today in “freedom,” in the midst of a people in our “promised land” for whom the experience of oppression and subjugation is a daily reality.
Each year we sit at tables laden with symbols that evoke the experience in Egypt. We tell the story to our children and grandchildren and we feast in celebration of this great deliverance. But there is also a sense that this is an unfinished story. An element of the Passover celebration is a full cup of wine, set to the side and left undrunk. This is the cup of Elijah; the prophet who is to return before the final redemption. We remain a people who await the final deliverance. This longing and our hope is expressed in the cry at the end of the Passover celebration: “next year in Jerusalem.”
In the words of Rabbi David Hartman,
“Every year, Jews drink four cups of wine and then pour a fifth for Elijah. The cup is poured, but not yet drunk. Yet the cup of hope is poured every year. Passover is the night for reckless dreams; for visions about what a human being can be, what society can be, what people can be, what history may become. That is the significance of ‘Le-shanah ha-ba-a b’Yerushalayim’ – Next year in Jerusalem.”
From: The Leader’s Guide to the Family Participation Haggadah: A Different Night