Rabbi's Commentary

God Is Present This Holy Season

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein

April 17, 2014

Dear Friend of Israel,

Israeli and Palestinian leaders are once again at an impasse. Peace talks have stalled. But this isn’t the only standoff we see in the news today. Ukrainian and Russian leaders, and staunch supporters for each side, are engaged in a bitter power struggle. Iran is dead-set on gaining nuclear capabilities, and international pressure and sanctions seem powerless to stop them. And we see similar gridlock in Syria, Turkey, and many other parts of the world. From a human perspective, these situations seem impossible to resolve.

Right now, however, the Jewish people have their attention on another historic impasse, remembering how, in biblical times, God commanded Pharaoh through Moses to let His people go, but Pharaoh stubbornly refused. Jews around the world recall the amazing turn of events this impasse set in motion every year at Passover, which began this past Monday at sundown.

The story is familiar to Christians and Jews alike. When Pharaoh repeatedly refused to release the Jews who had been cruelly enslaved in Egypt for years, God brought a series of devastating plagues upon the Egyptians. He did things no human eye had seen before to bring about His will and to free His people.

Jewish teaching gives Israel’s redemption from Egypt as a rationale for a variety of mitzvoth, or commandments, such as the dietary laws and observance of Shabbat (the Sabbath), and even for ethical imperatives such as the duty to love the stranger, the widow, and the orphan.

Passover bids us to remember and affirm the link between slavery and redemption, between our tribulations and our joys. For this reason, we begin the seder (the Passover meal that ritually reenacts the events of the Exodus) with remarks of how our ancestors were once slaves in Egypt, but conclude it by praising God for delivering us from our suffering.

While Passover is a Jewish holiday, it is worthwhile for Jews and Christians alike to remember that from the event we commemorate on Passover come some of the most profound affirmations of both our faiths. The Exodus taught us that God is present in human lives, that He hears the cries of the suffering, and that He intervenes in history to deliver us from affliction and redeem us from oppression.

In this day and age when seemingly impossible situations abound, and when Israel continues to be forced to fight for her land and her existence, these truths are all the more powerful and comforting. It is encouraging to remember that God can work in ways we can’t even imagine. May this truth fill our celebrations and our hearts with joy this holy season.

To my fellow Jews, I wish a Chag Pesach Sameach, Happy Passover. To my Christian friends, I wish a joyous Easter. And, to all, prayers for shalom, peace.

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President