I was listening this week to a discussion on Radio 5 Live about football. Now, I enjoy the game (as much as is possible now as an Arsenal fan!) but not in the way it was described on 5 Live. One of the panellists stated that nothing in life gives him such joy and ecstasy as when he is at a match, and his team scores!
Is football really the ultimate simcha! Surprisingly I disagree and want to share with you what I think gives us our simcha – not simply joy but a realisation of what we should be doing on this planet.
Imagine being a Jew in Egypt – 210 years of slavery, back breaking labour – never known anything different. Then K’heref eyin – In the blink of an eye – we were free – we had been redeemed.
A mighty nation that tried to destroy us, enslaved us, persecuted us – yet we overcame with the help of God.
Of course, this week’s Parsha is very well known, it is one of the central texts of Pesach – Vayehi B Hatzi Ha Laila – and it came to pass at Midnight – we left – bound for Har Sinai and then the promised land – Israel.
In his book ‘Living Inspired’, Rabbi Tatz brings the Sfat Emet who expresses the connection between that midnight of miracles and the rest of Jewish history – which includes 2018 in the most beautiful manner. He asks why we call the procedure of seder night a ‘seder’. The word ‘seder’ means ‘order’, a regular, predictable series of events. Strange that we celebrate the most potent series of miracles, the sharpest departures from the normal order, with the name seder, ‘order’!
His answer is unforgettable. For the Jewish people, our natural order is the miraculous! We have a seder of miracles. We were forged in impossible circumstances, conceived in a blaze of miracles, born beyond time.
And Egypt was just the beginning!
Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders, Spain, Nazis, Soviet Union. All of the tried to destroy us and failed. This little tiny nation, which for most of our history had no home, no rights and no friends, yet we survived.
However, it is more than that, much more than that, look at what we have given to the world.
A few years ago a study was done. Nearly 2000 individuals were questioned, asking people to list the fundamental values and principles that they felt were needed to uphold in order to make our world as perfect as is humanly possible.
The predominant six answers were the following:
Respect for Human Life
Peace and Harmony
Justice and Equality
I think we would largely agree, but who gave the world these values, these ideals? It certainly wasn’t ancient Greece or Rome, beautiful in their art, culture and philosophy, but lacking in values and morals.
Let us listen to the words of the 2nd US president– John Adams. “I will insist that the Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation … fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations”.
Also historian Paul Johnson “Certainly, the world without the Jews would have been a radically different place. Humanity might have eventually stumbled upon all the Jewish insights. But we cannot be sure. All the great conceptual discoveries of the human intellect seem obvious and inescapable once they had been revealed, but it requires a special genius to formulate them for the first time. The Jews had this gift. To them we owe the idea of equality before the law, both divine and human; of the sanctity of life and the dignity of human person; of the individual conscience and so a personal redemption; of collective conscience and so of social responsibility; of peace as an abstract ideal and love as the foundation of justice, and many other items which constitute the basic moral furniture of the human mind. Without Jews it might have been a much emptier place”.
However, I disagree with the statements of Adams and of Johnson above for one reason. The Jewish nation had nothing personally to do with inventing the values that ran against the grain of the world around them, and indeed were totally unknown to other peoples.
These values came from God and His Torah, and we were merely the people chosen to disseminate them worldwide.
Despite all odds, the tiny Jewish people not only outlasted the great Empires of Greece and Rome but the unique ideology of Judaism ultimately triumphed over the paganism of the West.
Directly and indirectly through the Torah; Christianity, Islam and modern democracy and the vast majority of humanity has been profoundly impacted by Judaism and the monumental quest of the Jewish people to perfect the world.
So as we read Parshat Bo this Shabbat, ask yourself a question. Why did God take us out?
He didn’t take us out of Egypt, so we could relax and live our lives without a thought of our mission and our destiny.
No, God took us out of Egypt for us to receive His eternal message for humanity and be the bearer of that message for all eternity. 3330 years later – it is a message that desperately needs to be heard.
We need to realise what we are in possession of, realise that the Creator of the world bequeathed us a mission, a holy mission, to live our lives as bearers of that mission. To be an am kadosh, a holy nation, and an am nivchar, a chosen nation – not because we are better but because we have a job to fulfil.
So yes, I like football, but I’m sorry, if you really want joy, ecstasy, passion, highs and lows and true purpose – you won’t find that in any goal, but you will find it in every Jewish soul, if we live our lives devoted to the purpose that it was created for.
Rabbi Andrew Shaw