As the holiday of Passover approaches, many of us are busy planning for the holiday. Many of us will be hosting large Seders, with our own families, our extended families, friends and acquaintances. For me, I eagerly count down the days, waiting for my married daughter and her wonderful husband to come and spend this joyous time with us. I am honored, too, that my parents will be joining our Seders, providing memories that I know my children will cherish for a lifetime.
As the pace of the many preparations for Passover becomes more frantic for us Jewish mothers, within our work we find joy. A joy in remembering and celebrating the freedom we were given long ago. An appreciation for the freedom that we are experiencing in our free countries today. What better a time to celebrate such a holiday of joyous freedom than with our families, loved ones and extended guests!
And as I go about my busy preparations, I can’t help but think of another Jewish mother, whose preparations cannot be full of joy. A mother who is consumed daily with questions about when her son will be returned to her. A mother who cannot experience freedom while her son languishes in the cruel tentacles of his kidnappers. A mother who nightly, for the last 1,000 nights, has searched into the black night wondering how her child is faring.
My mind simply cannot comprehend the pain that Aviva Shalit is experiencing. The haunted fear. The agony. The torturous existence. The all-consuming emptiness each morning as she passes by Gilad’s empty bedroom and agonizes over his wellbeing, about whether his basic needs are being cared for and about his emotional equilibrium.
And so, as I joyously set my Passover Seder table, I imagine Aviva going through the same steps, but with such different emotions. A mother simply cannot sense freedom when her son is being held hostage. A mother cannot feel joy when her son is being tortured.
As Aviva sets her own Seder table, in my mind’s eye, I see an image of a broken mother suffused by an unquenchable emptiness in the pit of her soul, a sadness that does not diminish, a hurt and a longing that has been her constant companion for close to three long years.
Gilad’s empty chair reminds me of an episode that occurred many years ago, when the head of a Jewish organization came to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, shortly before Passover. “I have a proposal for all the Jewish people,” he told the Rebbe. “This year at Passover, let us all remember those who perished in the Holocaust. Let us do something to remember the holy lives of the martyrs. Let each Jewish family set an empty chair at their Seder in memory of those who were exterminated because they were Jews and who therefore cannot join us at our Seders.”
The Rebbe, however, was not pleased with his suggestion. Characteristically, the Rebbe responded to these good intentions by asking, “But why should the extra chair remain empty? Indeed, let every Jewish family set an extra chair. But let them fill the extra chair with a Jew – a Jew who otherwise would not be at a Seder. A Jew who perhaps does not know the meaning of a Seder. By filling the empty chair, we have achieved the best memory – and revenge – for the six million who perished.”
So, as these days quickly come closer, I think of Aviva’s empty chair at her Seder, set up for her Gilad. And I think, dear sisters and fellow Jewish mothers, that we cannot, must not, dare not, stand by and allow Gilad’s chair to remain empty this Passover. We must not and cannot rest complacently until Gilad is returned. Until Gilad is reunited with his family that sorely misses him.
What can we do? Honestly, I do not know. I turn to you for suggestions. I turn to you, dear sisters, for a plan of action. Each of us need not do the same thing, but each of us must act.
Whether it is to petition the Israeli government to close all the borders of Gaza and let its people feel the sting of a son who has been separated from his parents for far too long… whether it is to write to the United States government to withhold all their humanitarian aid until the most humanitarian thing is accomplished – that a young boy who simply went out dutifully to guard his country’s borders is freed from his cruel oppressors…whether it is to pray daily, say a chapter of Psalms for Gilad’s release or take upon ourselves to do an extra act of kindness and goodness daily in his merit…or whether it is to encourage another Jewish woman to light Shabbat or holiday candles to fill our world with more spiritual light…I look to you for suggestions.
Aviva understands that her son was taken only because he is a Jew. Because he was protecting his homeland. Because he was living amongst those who hate our very presence, who abhor our culture, our value system, our heritage and the G‑dly gift of our Land.
Even thousands of years ago, before we received the Torah, we were a nation that was different. We kept to ourselves. We had our own names and our own language, and most of all, our own culture. We stood apart; we held on to a different value system. We had a different genealogy and ancestry. And because we did, we were hated. We were hated by the Pharaohs that ruled the country. We were hated by his advisors and astrologers. We were hated by each and every one of our neighbors. Our very existence was a thorn in their eyes.
So they beat us; they kidnapped our children and threw them to their deaths in their Nile. And they worked us mercilessly. They tortured our bodies and our psyches. We became a frightened, downtrodden nation.
So we prayed to G‑d, and He liberated us. He showed us an outpouring of love. A torrent of kindness in the midst of an overwhelming brutal callousness. He performed great miracles to restore a semblance of justice to our world. He returned our humanity to us. From a beaten, oppressed nation, we became His beloved children, with whom He would make an eternal covenant articulating His everlasting, undying love for us. He gave us hope and He gave us a future. And He bequeathed to us our own, special, holy home and Land as an everlasting present.
This Passover, May G‑d answer our prayers again.
Watch Chana Weisberg’s two-minute videocast on www.chabad.org/intouch for your dose of weekly inspiration. Chana Weisberg is the author of several books, including Divine Whispers – Stories that Speak to the Heart and Soul and Tending the Garden: The Unique Gifts of the Jewish Woman. She is an international inspirational lecturer on a wide array of topics and an editor at chabad.org. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.