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Why is this Seder night different from all other Seder nights?

The story of the Jewish people is that of a nation born into slavery and emancipated to freedom.  Freedom with a purpose.

We entered Egypt as a family.  We collectively experienced the miracles that fulfilled the ברית בין הבתרים, the covenant between G-d and Avraham, and journeyed forth via Sinai into the land of Israel as a nation.

Our nation continues to experience those miracles as Israel under attack did just yesterday.

Seder night allows us to relive the Exodus through the structured text of the Haggadah.  If you look very carefully at the Ma Nishtana you will see that we don’t actually have four questions.  Careful examination of the text shows that there is one question, followed by four statements/examples/answers.  That one question is “why is this night different from all other nights?” 

Furthermore, the Haggadah responds by juxtaposing the experiences and emotions of slavery and freedom in a compelling lesson that we further extrapolate through the rest of seder night.

Last year I had the privilege of spending Pesach in Jerusalem, the most uplifting of experiences.  The freedom to queue for many hours at Osher Ad on erev Pesach.  Witnessing the ingathering of nations at the Seder table and in the Batai Knesset.  Feeling the reverberation of the birkat Cohanim at the Kotel.  Participating in the cognitive dissonance of Israeli politics, the economic marvels of hi-tech, the incredible depth of Torah thought. 

Came isru chag and the joy of Yomtov continued to carry forward with unfettered growth.  This in fact continued right through until the day of Simchat Torah where the illusory complacency and sense of invincibility of modern Israel was shattered.

So much has happened since, and here is the irony.  As we now enter Pesach 5784, the Jews in Israel are actually gaining more freedom as the western world around us starts to lose theirs. 

For almost 76 years Israel has been both a bastion of refuge and the land of opportunity for the Jewish people.  We are עם חפשי בארצנו – a free people in our land.  We live in an auspicious time in history where the Jewish people have an effable self-determination, cultural revival, and resilient self-defence.  Hundreds of drones and missiles, and not a single fatality.

As we get strengthened by this the world around us is in peril.  Even amongst the allies of Israel political freedoms are being eroded as the early signs of fallibility, even the loss of democratic freedom and ineffectiveness of law enforcement start to emerge.  Technological dependence is an unmitigated risk.  Ai is delivering social media algorithms that read the volume of followers ahead of their values. 

On Pesach last year it was quite evident that Israel was also losing its way, reaching a point where even the Israeli family around the Seder table was not able to agree to disagree, fracturing familial relationships that were spiralling towards an intolerable state of disrepair. 

The world is changing, but it was October 7 last year that marked the turning point for all humanity.  This day compelled us to instantly rediscover Jewish unity.  Our shared fate is inescapable, but sadly we always seem to require our enemies to remind us of such an inescapable truth. 

This serves as a partial answer to our Mah Nishtana singular question and the contrasting responses which mix the emotions of suppression and freedom together in what might seem to be a confusing narrative. 

This is also why this Seder night is different to all others.  Because of the historical echoes and reverberations.  We have been reminded by the terrorist massacre and irrational anti-Semitism that has exploded around the world that we are one people.  Not only are we a nation that dwells alone, but also that we are a nation with interdependent responsibility and purpose.  This is how the nation of Israel was born and this is our shared destiny.  It is the same mixture of bitterness and sweetness that is embedded into our Seder.   

From the second night of Pesach we start counting and measuring our progress towards מתן תורה.  We climb from our historical conception to our historical revelation.  Pesach gifts our national birth, liberation and freedom, but that is only where the story starts.  The gift of freedom must be properly exercised, a virtue which must be earned.    

There is no point in having the freedom of a Jewish State at the centre of the Jewish world if we do not know how to use and apply our freedom.  From the joy of Simchat Torah to the sudden trauma of fighting a war, our new reality seems normalised.  But it is anything but normal, and must never be resigned as such.  We can never allow the relentless campaign of physical barbarism accompanied by geopolitical and media insanity to overcome us.  Or to define us.

To stop us from falling into such a rut, we are now gifted the journey from Pesach to Shavuot through the rhythm of the Jewish calendar, מקדש ישראל והזמנים.  

This is the national journey that the Jewish people must now experience with unity of purpose.  The Jewish world is awakening in ways that have not been experienced for 3,336 years.  More than ever our expression of sfirat haomer must be a modern and contemporary manifestation of what it truly means to be free.  Free amongst the nations of the world.

To be free is to be able to discern the truth, even when immersed in a cesspool of media distortion and lies.  To be free is to fight for and protect Israel, no matter where we reside.  To be free is to sit at the Seder table, knowing that the unbroken chain of Jewish tradition and the discomforting call of שפך חמתך flows from millions of Jewish homes around the world with greater realisation.

Elie Wiesel Z”L tells the powerful story of a traumatised Holocaust survivor visiting his Rebbe to try and comprehend meaning within his continued life.  The Rebbe slapped down the approach by cautioning against trying to spoil a perfectly good question by providing it with an answer.  “The essential questions have no answers.  You are my question, and I am yours – and then there is dialogue.  The moment we have answers, there is no dialogue.  Questions unite people, answers divide them. So why have answers when you can live without them?” 

This year the Seder night is different to all others because there is an element of the Ma Nishtanah that we perhaps cannot answer.  At least not yet. 

At the same time, this year the resonance of unity and the realisation of our shared destiny is a force that is stronger than it has ever been.  There is one constant that will not be different this Seder, and that is our joyous exhortation of the song לשנה הבאה בירושלים, the great privilege of our generation.    

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