Engraved deep in our memories are the countless celebrations filled with traditional foods and treasured songs, captivating discussions and contagious laughter, religion and belief. Clearest of all is the basis of the Passover holiday: the importance of memory and faith.
At the beginning of the book of Exodus, the story of B’nei Israel seems to be a success. With Joseph’s help, they had plentiful food during the famine, Jacob’s sons were reunited, Joseph became a famous political figure, and the Israelites were soon strong and numerous. However, with success comes arrogance, and the naive Israelites began to forget God. They abandoned the consistency, trust, and direction that faith brings. This proved to be a horrible mistake, as when they were enslaved and faced with adversities, they had no source of hope or guidance. When Moses shared with the Israelites the optimistic future that God had told him, “they would not listen to Moses, their spirits crushed by cruel bondage.” (Exodus 6:18) The Israelites could not even imagine a pain-free life; they were hopeless, and they had no faith to protect their spirits and restore their hope.
Throughout the rest of the Passover story, God tries to restore faith in B’nei Israel through miracles and plagues. Strangely, God also tests their fate and optimism by making conditions for the slaves even worse and “hardening Pharaoh’s heart.” Why would God both help the Israelites and test them? I believe that beliefs are not proven through miracles and heavenly deeds – faith comes from necessity. Religion’s purpose is not only to give reason for the unknown, but also to give hope, direction, and clarity in times of confusion and adversity.
By losing their Jewish faith, the Israelites were incapable of finding optimism and purpose in the vast sea of despair. Only when they were placed in crueler and more unpredictable conditions did they find the loyal lifeboat of faith. We can all learn from B’nei Israel’s mistake – may we never forget the loyalty and consistency of faith. We must have faith not only when faced with adversities and failure, but also when faced with victory. Rabbi Jonathon Sacks connected this lesson of the Passover story to an Aesop’s fable about a competition between the sun and the wind. In this legend, the sun wins through gentleness and warmth while the wind loses although it’s strong and harsh. Failure may seem more powerful and dangerous than success, but the Passover story shows us that this is not true. Challenges make us yearn for the loyalty and consistency of religion, while success prompts us to arrogantly forget our faith.
In this odd and unpredictable era, it’s comforting, whether celebrating with just immediate family or through Zoom, to sing the Four Questions, as we do every year. This Passover night will most certainly be different from all other nights, but through religion, at least we have the consistency of having the Seder every year, the discipline and guidance of Passover’s many laws, the optimism of “next year in Jerusalem,” and the memories that we pass down from generation to generation. I hope and pray that faith will help us all through this strange, strange time.
Henry Goldstein, Grade 6