Latest update: April 26th, 2013
“In every generation they try to kill us, and the Holy One, Blessed Be He, rescues us from their hands.”
Every year, for centuries, Jews the world over say these words at the Seder.
I paid particular attention this year as this phrase was sung by the golden-voiced Dudu Fisher, a chazzan and Broadway star, who led sedarim at Kutcher’s Hotel in the Catskill Mountains.
The niggun was beautiful, but like I do every year, I shake my head in bewildered disagreement. As a child of Holocaust survivor, raised bereft of grandparents, uncles and aunts and too many cousins and relatives to count (I will never know how many were murdered) I know that not all are saved.
And a week later, on Shabbat, the last day of Pesach, while davening with a small minyan in Texas, I found myself paying attention again during Yizkor, when another man with a beautiful voice chanted the Kel Maleh Rachamim prayer in memory of the millions upon millions of Jews, young and old, devout or assimilated, rich and poor who were murdered in Nazi occupied Europe. The chazzan repeated the same haunting dirge for the young men and women of the Israeli Defense Forces who sacrificed their lives on behalf of their fellow citizens during the too many wars launched against the tiny State of Israel during its short existence.
But he didn’t stop there. He also included the men, women and children in Israel and elsewhere whose lives were prematurely snuffed out by vile acts of terror as they went about their daily lives.
This year, somehow more than previous ones, I had a very, very difficult time reconciling the V’He she’amada declaration, that Hashem saves us from our enemies, with the Yizkor prayers detailing the horrendous loss of life that occurred in my parents’ lifetime – and that continues to this day. The hatred that can lead to another mass annihilation of the Jewish people has not abated; in fact it is a malignant social cancer that is metastasizing.
There are those in authority who would tell us that our role is to accept what Hashem has bestowed on us, both the good and the bad. That the proper attitude is to say, “gam zu l’tova – even this is for the good” and embrace it. The rationale behind this view is that as mortal human beings we are limited in our ability to even remotely comprehend or decipher G-d’s running of our personal and national existence and the world in general.
Yet this puzzles me – and I am sure many others as well. This insistence that we cannot second guess G-d sadly does not stop some indignant, arguably arrogant voices, from attributing our woes as Divine punishment for certain behaviors, such as not dressing with proper modesty or speaking lashon harah. These individuals sadly, and rather erroneously, I think, engage in selective finger pointing. Rarely do unethical business practices, such as price gouging, knowingly selling defective (treif) goods, verbal and physical abuse, and blatantly ignoring the biblical command to not putting a stumbling block in front of a blind person – i.e. withholding deal breaking information about a shidduch – seem to carry the same weight in raising G-d’s ire, as does the visibility of a girl’s elbows. At least according to those who claim to be in the know.
In the minds of those who presumptuously interpret every tragedy as a punitive gezarah, as well as in the minds of those – who with great bitachon and emunah – accept whatever afflictions or setbacks or loss they or Klal Yisrael experience as being Hashem’s will, complaining or being bitter and angry at G-d amounts to apikorsus – apostasy.
However, while we should humbly and with humility welcome Hashem’s Will and do teshuva – to repent and work on improving ourselves, and while our holy mandate is to trust in our Creator, even if we are greatly suffering, even if the physical or emotional pain is overwhelming – it would seem that is not the only way to react to Hashem’s harsh decrees.
Crying out, screaming and shrieking just might be another option. After all, it is one that was utilized by Bnai Yaakov – with great success.
As the Haggadah tells us, “And we cried out to the L-rd, the G-d of our fathers,” as it is said: During that long period, the king of Egypt died; and the children of Israel groaned because of the servitude, and they cried out. And their cry for help from their servitude rose up to G-d.”
“And the L-rd heard our voice” as it said: ” And G-d heard their groaning, and G-d remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
“And he saw our suffering,” this refers to the separation of husband and wife, as it is said: “G-d saw the children of Israel and G-d took note.”
“Our labor,” this refers to the “children,” as it is said: “Every boy that is born, you shall throw into the river and every girl you shall keep alive.”
“And our oppression,” this refers to the pressure, as it is said: “I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them.”
And the result of their cries – “The L-rd took us out of Egypt.”
Please note that the people cried out to Hashem – it does not say they accepted.
Should we not emulate their precedent, they who were just a few scant generations removed from our illustrious and pious ancestors, Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov?
For some time, they must have taken their intense suffering in stride, as they were enslaved for centuries, but at some point it must have been too overwhelming and they cried out.
And then there is Amram, a grandson of Levi, who decided that the husbands of Israel should divorce their wives in order to prevent the birth of a new generation of Jews. Conditions were so horrendous and unbearable in Egypt, that Amram, the gadol of his generation – who must have known that the primary mitzvah in the yet to be given Torah was pru u’revu – be fruitful and multiply – planned on exhorting the Israelites to not bring children into the horrific existence they found themselves in.
He himself set an example by divorcing his wife.
One would think that as a pious, G-d fearing Yid, Amram would have just unquestionably accepted Hashem’s will, declaring that all Hashem does is for the best – and would have encouraged the nation to have bitachon in Hashem, and keep on building families.
But Amram did not meekly accept what seemingly was Hashem’s will. His attitude was, “Let’s not bring vulnerable, innocent children into a world where they likely will be brutalized or annihilated (the boys). His mindset was not blind obedience, but rather dayenu – enough. And to my knowledge, Amram was never regarded as an apikorus for wanting to defy the status quo, as opposed to saying, “Gam zu le ‘tova!”
The descendants of Yaakov also had enough – and they had what some in our community would consider the temerity and audacity to cry out to G-d; they would be labeled chuzpadik for questioning their lot in life and complaining and screaming.
As it says, “vayizaku”
From the words of the Haggadah, there is a potential lesson to be learned. Perhaps Hashem wants us to call out to Him when we are suffering. He may not want us to stoically and silently absorb the blows. Perhaps crying out and shrieking and ranting against what we humans consider evil and tragic and excruciating is as potent an indicator of true faith, as is praising Him and His many chasadim.
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