Photo Credit: he Jewish Museum, New York
The Waters are Divided/The Egyptians are Destroyed, (Artist: James Jacques Joseph Tissot, French, 1836-1902)

This week during the Passover holiday, thousands of Orthodox Jews are flocking to the Six Flags Great Adventure amusement park in New Jersey, in what the JTA reports has become an annual Passover tradition for New York and New Jersey Orthodox and “Ultra-Orthodox” Jews. Rabbi Ethan Katz, the coordinator of the Passover amusement-park program, says, “It’s a tremendous Kiddush Hashem for so many Jews to be together in one place for such an amazing event.”

From his enthusiasm, you would think he was talking about Hashem’s splitting of the Red Sea. I can’t write what I really think about this “amazing event” because the Jewish Press won’t print the article if I do. Apparently to guard their readership, they have an “Etrog” policy regarding Ultra-Orthodox Jews in America, carefully guarding them from the educational efforts of Zionists like me.

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This year, because Passover coincides with the spring holiday of public schools, the park is also open to the general public, so the Ultra-Orthodox get to stroll around the amusement park with the gentiles as well, being careful to avoid gazing at immodestly dressed women, of course.

To me, the whole thing sounds more like Narrishkeit than Yiddishkeit. But it would seem that, for the thousands of Orthodox Jews filling Six Flags Great Adventure, having a fun time at an amusement park in New Jersey is the meaning of freedom on Pesach.  Undoubtedly, the teachings of Rabbi Meir Kahane,  an outstanding Torah Scholar and an editor and longtime columnist for The Jewish Press, will lend clarity to the TRUE meaning of freedom on Passover:

AND THOU SHALT TELL THY SON

The essence of Passover is the commandment of the Haggadah, of telling and retelling, of passing on to our children, the story of Passover, its concepts and lessons and commandments. Passover is the beginning of Judaism, its very birth, hence its direction and directive to pass on to our sons and daughters its fundamentals and teachings. However, the problem with a commandment to parents to pass on lessons to their children is that so few know what to pass on. Indeed, through honest ignorance or honest receipt of confusion from those who passed that down to them, Jews of befogged confusion do not pass on but rather pass over the basic truths, and the irony of the holiday name is glaring.

The need of Jews to understand the real and so-very-clear lessons of the Holiday of Freedom, is the tragic reality of a 20-centuries-old exile, that not only brutally deformed Jews, but far worse, perverted the Torah concepts that are so basic to knowing not only who we really are and from whence we came, but what we should be doing and telling ourselves and our children, so that we may know how to reach the final Redemption that is based — as our Rabbis tell us — on the first one, the Exodus from the Land of Egypt on that first Passover so long ago.

We are the victims of an agonizingly long exile that saw us change from an authentic religio-nation to a religion alone; that saw us learn to accept our crippling deformity, a religio-nation with a state of its own turned into a religion with no national or land roots. It is an exile that effectively perverted, warped and twisted Torah truth and we are the victims. That is why it is so essential to resurrect Passover and its lessons; to learn and understand them as they really are. For Passover is a festival of national faith, of a free people leaving an exile for a home of their own. Jews of the ghetto and the exile cannot understand Passover as it really is. They can only pass over it, never pass it on. And so, let us see the lessons of Passover, learn them, and throw off the leaven of the exile, and hallow ourselves with the simple sanctity of the matzot of freedom.

Passover tells us that the Jew who can go up to the Land of Israel and does not, will not be allowed by the Almighty to survive in his exile paradise. These are the words of the Rabbis (Shemot Rabbah 14; Tanchuma, Va’era 14): “Why did G-d bring the plague of darkness? Because there were, among the Jews, sinners who had patrons among the Egyptians, and they had honor and wealth and did not wish to leave Egypt. Said the Almighty: If I bring a blow on them openly and they die, the Egyptians will say: Just as he struck us down so did he do to them. Therefore he brought darkness on Egypt for three days so that they could die and be buried with no one knowing.” Indeed, that is the reason for the Rabbis telling us that only one-fifth of the Jews left Egypt, all the rest dying in the plague of darkness because they refused to leave Egypt to go up to the Land of Canaan (Tanchuma, B’shalach 1.)

This message echoes through the ages to each and every one who remains in the exile, where he enjoys honor and wealth. The echo declares: It cannot and will not be! A plague of darkness cometh and there will be no survival for those who despised the Holy Land and who chose their gentile patrons. We are also to learn to have real faith, total faith in a G-d who is stronger than Pharaoh or even an American President. The Almighty comes to the Children of Israel and tells them to do nothing less than take the god of their Egyptian masters, the lamb, tie it up for four days, and inform anyone who asks, that on the fourth day they will slaughter the animal-god, and then to actually do it.

Mindboggling! Consider what the reaction of Jews would be today to a command to degrade and to flaunt victory over a sacred religious symbol of Christians or Moslems. Say, to remove the mosque from the Temple Mount . . . . One need not have much imagination to know what the reaction of Jews from left to right, from Reform to Moderdox, would be. Terror, outrage, indignation. But Passover teaches us differently.

In order to sanctify the name of the L-rd, G-d of Israel, as against the nation who mocked Him and knew Him not, the Jew is ordered not only to take, degrade, and manifest his mastery over the religious symbol of the Egyptian — he is told to do it in the most public way possible! “And they shall eat the flesh that night, roasted . . . . Eat not of it raw, nor boiled in water, but roast with fire; its head, with its legs and its inner parts complete” (Exodus 12:8-9.)

Why? Because you are sacrificing the god of Egypt, you might say, let us not roast it completely lest the Egyptians see us; therefore the verse says “eat not of it raw.” And if you say, for the same reason, let us boil it and put it into a pot, the verse says, “nor boiled in water.” And if you say, let us cut it up so they will not recognize it, the verse says, “its head, with its legs….” Here, in the Torah, you will find no nonsense about fear of agitating the gentiles, a Chillul Hashem in a state where the Almighty demands of the Jew a proclamation and demonstration of the utmost of faith, a faith in the face of apparent danger, a faith that manifests the essence of Kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of G-d, that is total and undiluted. In the totality of faith and sanctification of G-d, there is no compromise — it must be complete and absolute. Pharaoh has just refused the Israelites permission to take their children with them. Now, with the plague of darkness, he breaks down and agrees. He surrenders almost totally. “Go, serve the L-rd, only let your sheep and cattle remain behind; even your children may go with you” (Exodus 10:24.)

Consider, dear Jew. The Israelites have been slaves for decades upon decades. They have suffered and cried out unto G-d to free them. And now, finally, Pharaoh agrees to allow them to leave. Freedom now! And he only raises one minor condition — leave your cattle and sheep. Picture the scene: the joyful Jews, rejoicing in their soon-to-be-gotten freedom, embrace Moses and thank him. And then, to their horror, to their consternation, Moses shakes his head and tell Pharaoh, NO! You too, will give us sacrifices and offerings and our flocks will go with us!

There shall not remain a hoof.

Dear moderate, non-fanatical, normal Jew. Was there ever a more fanatical, extremist, dangerous man than this Moses who refuses to compromise and insists on a stubborn policy of not one inch! Give them the sheep, Moses, give them the flocks! For freedom and peace, one must compromise. Freedom now, shout the Jews, give him the sheep! But no. Moses knows what Judaism is, what Kiddush Hashem is: total surrender and capitulation before the L-rd — for only thus does the gentile admit his acceptance of the L-rd as the one and only G-d. Sanctification must be open, unafraid, proud and tall. The tenth plague strikes Egypt. Panic, terror. In every home there is death. Pharaoh surrenders totally. There is no thought of anything except total surrender. Go, go but above all, leave now, immediately. At midnight he races to Moses and cries out: Get up, get away from my people! You and the Children of Israel . . . take your sheep and cattle, too. Finally. Surely now, Moses is satisfied. Even the worst of extremists and fanatics must surely now accept this capitulation. Hardly. Thus says Moses: “Are we then thieves that we go out at night? We shall only leave with a mighty arm, before the eyes of all Egypt” (Tanchuma, Bo 7.) And: “G-d said to them [the Egyptians]: You take My children out in the middle of the night? You will not take them out at night but rather openly in the middle of the day!” (Shemot Rabbah 18.. And: “Moses said to Pharaoh: We have been warned to leave only openly” (Mechilta, Bo, 13.) The lesson is so clear, even to all the gentilized and Moderdox. Sanctification of G-d’s Name, by its very essence, is a declaration that He is supreme, that no power on earth can touch Him or harm those who trust in Him. The slightest thought of hidden or quiet, non-provocative sanctification is a contradiction in terms. An admonition to do things quietly carries within it the seed of fear of gentile reaction and that, by its essence, is the very antithesis of Kiddush Hashem.

How many lessons there are in Passover! How many lessons that we pass over. Let us instead learn and pass them on.

 

Rabbi Kahane published this essay in the Jewish Press in 1986. Strange, he doesn’t mention the “Kiddush Hashem” of thousands of Jews flocking to Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey on Passover. I suppose we still have some lessons to learn.

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Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon. His recent movie "Stories of Rebbe Nachman" The DVD of the movie is available online.