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Passover II 5776-2016

“The Final Days of Passover: Love and Hope”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

According to tradition, on the seventh day of Passover the sea split and the ancient Israelites marched triumphantly through the waters on dry land to freedom.

The exodus from Egypt is universally regarded as a most momentous and unique occasion in Jewish history. So much so, that G-d is often simply identified, as He is in the Ten Commandments, as the G-d who took the People of Israel out of Egypt. It is as if the fact that G-d created the world is taken for granted, and that, the most important relationship that Israel has with the Al-mighty is that He took them out of Egypt.

Among the “Six Zechirot,” the six events that the Torah commands  to always remember and that is recited by some as part of the daily prayers, the first event to remember is the exodus from Egypt. As recorded in Deuteronomy 16:3, לְמַעַן תִּזְכֹּר אֶת יוֹם צֵאתְךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם כֹּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ, so that you may remember the day of your departure from the land of Egypt all the days of your life.

Not only is the exodus regarded as a key historical component in the relationship between G-d and Israel, Jewish tradition even considers the exodus from Egypt as the beginning of the special love relationship between G-d and His people. The prophet Jeremiah exclaims 2:2, זָכַרְתִּי לָךְ חֶסֶד נְעוּרַיִךְ, “I [G-d] remember favorably the devotion of your [Israel’s] youth, your love as a bride, how you followed Me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown.” Despite the challenges and the vicissitudes that the “lovers” endured, the loyalty that the people exhibited during the exodus and the forty years of wandering in the wilderness was never to be forgotten. Consequently, the exodus is seen as the veritable betrothal of G-d to His people, Israel.

The custom of reading Shir Hashirim, the book of Song of Songs, on Passover is a reflection of the fervent love between the handsome shepherd (G-d Al-mighty) and the beautiful maiden (the People of Israel). The Passover holiday is thus, a de-facto celebration of Israel’s special relationship with the Divine.

On the final day of Passover, the Haftarah, the prophetic selection, is read from the Book of Isaiah 10:32-12:6. On the day that marks the great redemption of the People of Israel, the splitting of the sea and the liberation from Egypt, the Haftarah speaks of the ultimate redemption–the arrival of the Messiah.

Isaiah, who prophesied at the time of the destruction of the First Temple, offers one of scripture’s most stirring and defining prophecies concerning the “End of Days.” The Ten Tribes were already lost, and it seemed as if the remaining two tribes would also soon be vanquished. Rather than focusing on destruction, Isaiah looks favorably to the future, and declares, that “Out of the tree stump of Jesse” will grow a great monarchy that will, once again, reflect the spirit and wisdom of Jewish holiness. Peace will prevail, the lion and the lamb, and all mortal enemies, will dwell together in peace. The Al-mighty will gather His dispersed children from the far ends of the earth, hostility between Judah and Ephraim will cease, and love and brotherhood will prevail. The land of Israel will be reconquered from its enemies.

In his analysis of the holiday Haftarah, Rabbi Dr. Hayyim Angel  writes of the painful anguish of a broken heart, suggesting that G-d’s heart is broken whenever He sees that the Divine love between Himself and Israel has been rejected. Humanity failed G-d in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and Cain murdered Abel. This was followed by the sinful generation who were drowned in the flood during Noah’s time and those who were dispersed from the Tower of Babel. How painful the sight of the Golden Calf must have been for the Al-mighty, and the peoples’ constant attraction to idolatry and immorality, ultimately leading to the destruction of the Temple and the nation’s exile.

Rabbi Angel suggests that the Haftarah of Isaiah is read on the final day of Passover precisely because it predicts that, despite the ominous reality, the glorious harmony of nature will be restored. Israel will, once again, dwell in a new Garden of Eden, the people of Israel will live in tranquility with one another, and that despite the many setbacks, the peoples’ relationship with G-d will be restored and reaffirmed.

Rabbi Angel asks, “Is it possible to have a new love as great as the first love, when everything could have been perfect?” Quoting from the words of the prophet Jeremiah (16:14-15), Rabbi Angel maintains that when the redemption comes, it will eclipse the original exodus.

The prophet Jeremiah predicts that a time is coming when people will no longer refer to the Al-mighty as the G-d Who brought His people out of the land of Egypt, but rather the G-d Who restored the Ten Tribes of Israel who were lost.

This is the theme of the final days of Passover. The special relationship of love and hope that the Jewish people have with G-d, and that has survived through so many trials, will be renewed, strengthened and will continue forever.

May you be blessed.

The seventh and eighth days of Passover begin on Thursday night, April 28th, and continue Friday and Saturday, April 29th and 30th. For more information see NJOP’s website www.njop.org.