At its essence, Judaism is about belonging. As Jews, our identity is grounded in a profound and powerful sense of being intimately a part of the same family, community, and people. It is about sharing a storyline and a tradition. Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan taught that Belonging can lead to behaving, and believing, but one should first feel a sense of belonging.

We belong to those who were slaves in Egypt, and to those who stood at Mt. Sinai. We belong to those who are bound to one God, and those who wrestle with, interpret, evolve, change, reform, preserve, reject, renew, repackage, and re-imagine our tradition year in and year out.

This year I can’t focus on slavery in Egypt. It just seems too abstract, and way too removed from present-day reality.’ It also just feels strange to sit back and recline, enjoy a lavish meal, and sing songs of freedom while 133 people (some of whom are no longer alive) are in captivity. This year, I would like to suggest that we say something different than we have before, that we see ourselves in a different light since October 7th.

This year all of us belong to the post-Simchat Torah world and, I suggest that we are obliged to see ourselves as if…

… we hid in our safe room in a Kibbutz near the Gaza border.

… we fled the Nova party.

… we were called to reserve duty.

… we were in a police station in Sderot.

… we can’t return to our homes.

… our daughter, son, mother, father, sibling, and friend, are being held hostage in a tunnel under Gaza.

… we were evacuated from our homes in Khan Yunis, Gaza City, and are living in a tent in Rafah.

The late Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik called what we have experienced since October 7 as Brit goral, the Covenant of Fate. Fate is what happens to us based on our history as a people. It is the story we tell ourselves about who we are and where we belong. It is about belonging to our people during times of joy and times of tragedy. It is about mourning together and rebuilding together. We can infer that a Jew who does not say “You/Them” when Jews or Israel are under attack, but rather says “Me/We,” has made a fundamental affirmation – to be part of a people, sharing in its responsibilities, identifying with its hopes and fears, celebrations and griefs. That is the covenant of fate which summons us this Pesach.

The Rav offered an additional covenant: Brit Ye’ud, or the Covenant of Destiny/Purpose. This is a code of action, a set of behaviors, and a collection of beliefs that takes us forward as a people. A moral and ethical code to which we, as Jews, adhere. It is about taking what happened to us in the past and making conscious decisions about what our future will be.

In thinking about Pesach this year, poet and liturgist Alden Solovy offered the following poem[1]:

Elijah is with the Hostages

The prophet who will announce salvation and peace,
Will not visit your Pesach Seder this year.
Don’t fill the cup. Don’t waste the wine.
The prophet is exhausted,
Pleading with the heavens for the hostages
Pleading with the heavens for the displaced,
The grieving and loss.
Find hope in your own hands,
In deeds of repairing the world
And acts of lovingkindness.
Elijah is not coming to your Seder.
The work of healing the world,
And bringing redemption,
He has left to us.

Our story tells that God needed “יָד חֲזָקָה וזְרוֹעַ נְטוּיָה” “a strong hand and an outstretched arm,” to redeem us from slavery. Our later tradition teaches that strength comes in many forms. We were reminded this week by Rachel Goldberg-Polin – mother of Hersh Goldberg-Polin who has been held hostage in Gaza since October 7 – yes, strength comes in the form of self-defense and being physically stronger than one’s enemy, but strength is also about restraint. The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot teaches:

אֵיזֶהוּ גִבּוֹר? הַכּוֹבֵשׁ אֶת יִצְרוֹ…

“Who is mighty? One who conquers their inclinations, as it is written, ‘One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and one who rules over their spirit than one who conquers a city’ (Proverbs 16:32)”  – Pirkei Avot 4:1

We must ask ourselves when do we need a ‘strong hand’ (like God in the Exodus from Egypt) to defend ourselves and strike back against those who wish us harm, and when do we use the strength to resist the temptation to act with force even when attacked?

As we break the middle matzah at our Pesach Seder this year, let us be especially mindful of the brokenness in our world – and of our collective responsibility to repair that brokenness, one piece at a time – including the brokenness in Israel and the suffering of the Palestinians. We draw strength for that work by belonging to the Jewish people and knowing we are not alone. Our Brit Goral and our Brit Ye’ud together give us the wherewithal and the ethical compass to join in Elijah’s work and bring the world and humanity closer to peace and redemption.

Shabbat Shalom and Hag Pesach Sameach!