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The Blessing of Unity

“And it is this that has stood [V’hi she-amda] by our ancestors and us! For not only one (enemy) has risen up against us to destroy us, but in every generation they rise up to destroy us; and the Holy One, blessed be He, delivers us from their hands.”

One of the most optimistic but also tragic passages from Seder night – one that has been set to many beautiful melodies – is V’hi she-amda: “And it is this that has stood by our ancestors and us!” This – the Divine promise to redeem the people of Israel – stands by us in every generation. Even when the horizon is black and enemies are rising up to destroy us, we know that God, who keeps His promises, will come to our aid. The recent and the more distant history of the Jewish people shows that both of the above pronouncements have come to pass. The threat to the Jewish people’s survival has unfortunately remained constant and has at times been quite tangible. But despite this, the Jewish people survived destruction and exile, and are back in their land.

What is the threat of which the Haggadah speaks? What could lead to our extinction? One threat, a self-evident one, is physical. For generations, both in exile and in Eretz Israel, this was the main threat. The other threat, which has also arisen repeatedly over the generations, is spiritual. Most of the peoples who appeared on the stage of history and then vanished, leaving behind them, at best, a few inscriptions engraved in stone, perished because the ideological nucleus of their existence dissolved into another culture. This threat has also persistently dogged the Jewish people – whether through coercion, or via alternative ideas competing with Jewish ones. But the deeply rooted Jewish tradition has been able to cope with this threat as well. Only one challenge has led our people to disaster after disaster: the challenge of internal disunity and the danger of civil war. The First Kingdom of Israel was divided and most of it, the Ten Tribes, went into exile and disappeared. The Second Kingdom devolved into civil war that ultimately led to destruction and exile, from which it took us 2,000 years to recover.

On the eve of Passover in 2022 the State of Israel and the Jewish people are very strong. In diplomatic, economic, technological, and other respects, we may be at an all-time high. It is true that the physical threat of antisemitism to Jews around the world has again reared its head, and  Israel remains surrounded by enemies to the north and to the south, including those who declare their desire to annihilate us. But in the face of this threat  our military power is unprecedented. The ideological threat is also still with us. Each year we lose many Diaspora Jews as they relinquish their Jewish identity and identification. Yet the core Jewish identity remains strong, and Jewish spiritual/intellectual life is more vibrant and meaningful than ever.

It seems that only one challenge exceeds our ability to cope – internal division and schism. Internal struggles have characterized the Zionist enterprise from its inception. The State of Israel has never been free of them either. And yet recent years seem to have tribalized Israeli society; distinct camps have formed within it that are mired in harsh and bitter conflict. A foreigner arriving here and viewing our national “political feed” would get the impression that these were enemies and not a single people. It appears that we have not yet found a solution to this challenge.

Surveys from recent years show that about 95% of Israeli Jews take part in a Passover Seder. For one evening each year, our entire people unites over the Haggadah. We sit around matzah laden tables and remember our national story. Each in his home, but together. This year, newly arrived immigrants and refugees who have fled the horrors of the war in Ukraine will sit around the table with us. Let this Seder night be a symbol not just of liberation from bondage, but also of the possibility of unity, and a remedy to sweeten, if only slightly, the bitterness of division.