Aside from the clichéd quip about Pesach preparations mirroring Jewish labor in Egypt, a concept I can well relate to, Pesach is universally regarded as the Jewish holiday of emancipation. The precept of Zeman Cheiruseinu (Season of our Liberation) is so fundamental to our Jewish identity that it is not consecrated solely on Pesach but is repeated throughout the year in much of our davening, berachos and practices.
This idea of Jewish independence from other nations and dependence on Hashem alone has guided Jewish thinking and influenced humanity as to the innate worth of the individual. And it is a reason so many Jews have found themselves at the forefront of liberation movements over the years.
Which is why the abandonment of this course by many Jews nowadays is so baffling. Despite the enormous accomplishments of their people, in Israel and elsewhere, some Jews seemingly find it difficult to recognize their own sovereignty, frequently bowing to foreign gods rather than to God.
In his renowned 19th century commentary on the Haggadah, Rabbi Dr. Marcus Lehmann offers a description of this phenomenon that eerily portends present-day realities.
“It is an historical fact,” he writes, “that slavery produces a slave mentality…. The slave still remains a slave when his shackles are finally sundered. Even if the Israelites had been freed from the servile yoke of Pharaoh and Egypt by some political upheaval, they would have long since lost the capability of becoming a free and noble nation….Therefore the Haggadah rightly says that if God had not freed us, then we and our children and our children’s children would still have to bear the servile yoke of Pharaoh, even when Pharaoh and Egypt had long ceased to exist.”
Despite the exodus thousands of years ago and our break from the ghettos hundreds of years ago, the slave mentality follows us like a long shadow.
Israeli leaders since 1967 have exhibited that mentality in their continuous pandering to contemporary taskmasters at the expense of their Jewish brethren and homeland. Oslo, the Gaza Disengagement, “peace” negotiations and prisoner releases all point to a deteriorating pride in Jewish heritage and identity.
And the mentality is not limited to Israeli leaders. How else can one explain the subservient attitude of Jewish leaders in America who year after year kowtow to whatever administration happens to be in power? During one of Obama’s humiliating foreign policy faux pas this year, he succeeded in rustling up high-profile U.S. rabbis and Jewish leaders to petition Congress to authorize American military intervention in Syria. (This against the better wishes of the American public and at a time when the Israeli government was trying its best to maintain silence and neutrality.)
More recently, American Jewish leaders did an about-face on the Iranian threat. At Obama’s behest, they ceased lobbying congress for support of the Iran Sanctions Bill after America’s disastrous November capitulation to Iran. They furthered this ignominy by using every creative way possible to avoid discussion of the topic at the recent AIPAC convention.
Perhaps the most egregious aspect of Israel’s prisoner releases is that they constitute an elemental affront to Jewish decency. No other government prides itself on such intense loyalty to its citizens on and off the battlefield yet simultaneously mocks that fidelity in a warped political farce aimed at placating world leaders. And Netanyahu’s latest refusal to release the last batch of Palestinian prisoners was less a defiant unburdening of American shackles than a grudging recognition of the binding shackles of his own political coalition.
One member of that coalition, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, has been the government’s Jiminy Cricket, condemning further prisoner releases and threatening to resign if a release goes through.