By Simon Jacobson
April 2, 2002
Let my people go and they will serve me –
As in the days when you left Egypt, I will
show you wonders – Micha 7:15
Behold, the guardian of Israel neither slumbers
nor sleeps – Psalms 121:4
The eyes of G-d are upon it [the land of Israel]
from the beginning of the year until the end of the year
– Deuteronomy 11:12
As Israel reels from the Passover massacres
and has since declared war against terrorism, there is much
we can learn from Passover, when we celebrate the first victory
of the Jewish people against Egyptian aggression and oppression.
Lessons that can help us face our challenges today.
But first let me share with you a personal experience.
I just took the subway to Manhattan – something
I haven’t done in a while. In a brief instant I felt the urge
to return to my (inner) childhood (maybe it’s Passover, which
evokes the celebration of the child). So I sauntered off to
the front of the train, and stood staring in the front window
at the dark tracks ahead. The labyrinth of the New York underground
world never fails to amaze me. An intricate maze of train
tracks makes up this city beneath the city.
What struck me most this time was the fact that
the rails are in place and lead the train along its tracks
from one location to another, from your point of departure
to your destination. Then I thought to myself, how simple
life would be if we had such tracks in our lives than can
help us navigate our way as we search for happiness. How confusing
life can be without any bearings to guide us.
But as I was staring as the train was snaking
through the dark tunnels ahead, I realized that perhaps there
are such invisible tracks beneath the surface of our
lives. Perhaps we have inherent coordinates that run like
railroad tracks within our inner spiritual arteries. But we
need to discover this internal compass.
And this brings me to Passover and to the events
of our times. The Torah is precisely as its name implies:
A blueprint for life. The Torah is a guide that provides us
with direction how to reach our goals and objectives – how
to navigate the journey called life and reach our destination.
The way the Torah achieves this is by illuminating for us
the ‘railroad tracks’ within our psyches and souls, so that
we can discover ‘rails’ that can guide us along the often
shrouded passageways before us.
By listening to the message of Passover – by
looking to the past and how those before us traveled from
oppression to freedom – we can discover the spiritual pathways
that can help us face and tackle the challenges of our times.
Let us begin with war. Is war good or bad? No
sane person likes war, not the warrior and not the adversary.
Normal people want to live in peace. We are repelled by bloodshed
and would do anything to avoid getting hurt and expend so
much time, money and energy – not to mention, lives – in battle.
What is the Torah view on war? Torah – which
is called Torat Chesed and Torat Chaim, Torah of love and
of life – tells us that of all blessings, peace is the greatest.
Yet, when faced with an enemy we must prepare for war if necessary.
War is an option of last resort, but when necessary it becomes
the way of peace and the way toward peace.
Had Pharaoh freed the Hebrews willingly as G-d
commanded him via Moses no war would have been necessary.
However, after Pharaoh remained obstinate, there was no other
choice and G-d went to war against the Egyptians on behalf
of the Jewish people. After each plague, one more intense
than the previous one, Pharaoh continued to persist in oppressing
Jews. In defiance he even intensified the bondage of the Jewish
War became the only option. And when it is the
only option – it becomes the way toward peace. Why?
Because recognizing evil and doing everything possible to
eradicate it is a blessing – the blessing of truth and peace.
Denying the existence of lurking evil or being fearful and
not wanting to confront the evil is in itself a form of evil.
Yes, we all wish that there be no murder and
terrorism in the world. We pray for the time when peace will
prevail, and people will respect each other while maintaining
their diversity. But, when there are people who wantonly abuse
the sanctity of life, who despite all attempts persist in
killing innocent civilians, then we must not fear to confront
this growing menace. Indeed, by not confronting it we feed
the cancer and allow us to kill many others.
One of the lessons we learn from these 49 days
(between Passover and Shavuot) when we count the Omer is the
need to balance chesed and gevurah, love and discipline. True
love is possible only when it respects and preserves the boundaries
and space to allow the love to flourish. To spoil a child
in the name of love and give him/her everything without limits
is actually one of the cruelest things a parent can do. To
suffocate a spouse with love and not respect his/her space
is another distortion of love. Among the reasons why we fear
using gevurah include: fear of confrontation, fear of the
unknown (as opposed to the known evil), laziness, naively
believing that things will just be fine, denial and other
factors that cause us avoid the sometimes inevitable need
War is the ultimate manifestation – and last
resort – of discipline necessary to create a loving world.
When the Allies went to War against Hitler and the Nazis it
was to protect and preserve freedom in the world. No one wants
war, but when there is deep evil that threatens life and freedom,
war is the necessary discipline within love (gevurah within
chesed), to ensure and guarantee that love can thrive.
Another lesson from Passover: Even when the
war against Egypt had to be fought, the Jewish people recognized
that it was G-d who was fighting the war, not the people.
Indeed, when the Jews felt stuck between the Red Sea before
them and the pursuing Egyptians behind them – on the Seventh
day of Passover – there was a group of them that argued “let
us go to war against the Egyptians.” Moses replied in the
name of G-d: “G-d will go to war for you.”
Even when we have no choice but to go to war,
we must always recognize that it is not our personal battle,
and it is not our human strength that gives us power to win
our battles. The only justifiable war is one that is meant
to bring peace in the world by defending our families and
communities from maniacal terrorists, willing to kill themselves
as they kill others. Even as we fight this war, we fight it
unwillingly and have always in mind that we are defending
G-d given life, and victory is dependent not on our own strength
but on the blessings and strength of G-d.
This should not be confused with religious fanatics/terrorists
that claim to be fighting a ‘holy war,’ a war for G-d. Because
G-d gave no human being permission to wage a war on His behalf
and in His name, no less one that targets innocent civilians.
Targeting and murdering an innocent person is a crime against
G-d and against humanity – against all of humanity, Jew, Muslim,
Christian, Israeli, Arab, and people of all faiths, races
And when such a war against humanity has been
declared, G-d instructs and empowers us to fight a war of
self-defense: To defend and guarantee the right of every human
being to live in peace and not in terror.
As we celebrate the holiday of Passover, the
freedom of the Jewish people from their Egyptian oppressors,
we relive the same experience today.
3314 years have passed since the Exodus from
Egypt. In each generation we are instructed to relive the
Egyptian exodus experience. Today, 3314 years later, we do
not need to be commanded. In the same region in the world
as the original exile and exodus, Israel is experiencing a
bloodbath of its own and this time the entire world is affected.
The terrorism of the Middle East now threatens all nations.
September 11 has rudely reminded us of that.
Our most human response – and Divine responsibility
– is to defend and protect life, all life – not just in defense
of the targeted civilians, but also of the attackers and their
communities, to protect them from themselves.
WHAT IS THE JEWISH/TORAH VIEW AND ATTITUDE TOWARD
All life is sacred, Jew or non-Jew. Peace in
Israel means peace not just for the Jews but also for the
Arabs. But sometimes the peace must be achieved through strength
Yet even after the Egyptians were deservedly
drowning in the sea after stubbornly pursuing the Jews, G-d
rebuked the angels for attempting to sing praise. “My creatures
are drowning in the sea, and you sing praise?!”
Even when we must go to war, we need to never
lose our sensitivity to the sanctity of life, even of our
From a Torah point of view every life, including
that of so-called “Palestinians,” is sacred. Every human being
is created in the “image of G-d” and has a right to freedom.
But no one has a right to murder innocent people
for any reason. By doing that the murderer has desecrated
the “image of G-d” in which all people are created. Once everyone
accepts this absolute law – that we cannot use terrorism and
suicide bombings for any reason whatsoever – then we can discuss
the cause of the community of Arabs living within the boundaries
Regardless of any cause, terrorism is NEVER
acceptable. If any war must be fought it must be an uncompromisable
fight against any notion that allows for linking a cause with
terrorist activity. There is and never will be any justification
for killing innocent civilians. We must do everything in our
power to eliminate any such thinking.
I submit that the single biggest question today
is this: Do the Arabs – I hesitate from using the word ‘Palestinians’
in fear that it may be another PR creation – recognize the
legitimate existence of Israel. As long as they do not, or
as long as we don’t know their true position, there can be
no peace. Period.
To understand people’s intention you have to
study their actions. What do we learn from the fact that the
terrorists – and whoever stands behind them (does anyone really
believe that teenagers just find explosive packs in the streets
and strap them to their belts?!) – attacked innocent Jews
on Passover Eve, and then made it a point to pull off a suicide
bombing on each day of Passover, when Jews celebrate their
freedom from Egyptian oppression? Let the facts speak for
themselves… (Do you recall all the talk about America continuing
their war in Afghanistan during the Muslim Ramadan?)
We cannot read other people’s minds and know
how many people in the Arab world really want the destruction
of Israel. But one thing is for sure: True peace is impossible
as long as these intentions remain intact.
Perhaps the day of truth has come. This war
will hopefully expose the most important element in this international
crisis: Is Israel’s right to exist recognized? If there are
those that want to destroy Israel they will simply not be
able to continue living in Israel. Those that truly want to
live in peace, accepting the fact that Israel is here to stay,
will be able to find ways to actualize this peace.
It’s worth looking at another one of the many
myths pervading conventional thinking: The issue of “occupied
territories.” Recently I heard a talk in Washington by Ambassador
Max Kempelman, where he argued the falsity of the State Department’s
designation of the West Bank as “occupied land,” when in truth
it should be “disputed land.” No different than Kashmir and
other disputed territories in the world. The implications
of this are quite obvious.
These are some of the messages we learn from
Passover, and especially the seventh day of Passover, which
concluded the process of freedom, when the Egyptians drowned
in the sea 3314 years ago.
War is never comfortable nor particularly appetizing.
War is bloody and ugly. And no one wants it. But once you
face evil it is a blessing to “declare war,” to clearly define
your enemy and to align you mindset to a focused objective
– rather than hanging in the oblivion of ambiguity – and get
the job done as quickly and as bloodlessly as possible.
In the first stages of a war everyone protests
because we would like to go back to comfortable denial. We
all cry during these days – for the senseless loss of life
on all sides.
As Passover comes to a close, let us hope that
the truth – and peace – will prevail as soon as possible,
with the minimum amount of loss and pain.
As a Higher Will continues to guide us toward
an intensifying alliance of Jacob and Esau in an escalating
confrontation with Ishmael, hopefully we will be wise enough
– with the least amount of lives lost – to understand the
deeper meaning of September 11 and the events in the Middle
East and act accordingly.
Every cloud has a silver lining. Every silver
lining has a shade of gray. Every shade of gray has a streak
May the prophecy be fulfilled: As in the
days when you left Egypt, I will show you wonders. Passover
opened the doors of freedom 3314 years ago. The liberation
from Mitzrayim (Egypt) is the root and archetype of freedom
from all exiles and oppressions.
May the doors of freedom finally open up in
the fullest way, bringing permanent freedom and peace to the
Middle East and to the entire world.
Let my people go. But we need to do our part
to want to go and be ready to go, and do everything we can
Here are some things each of us can do to help
our brethren in Israel:
~ Wage a spiritual war against all forces of
moral apathy and ignorance.
~ Strengthen the three pillars which holds up world – both
personal and global: Torah, Prayer, and Kind deeds.
~Intensify your commitment to Torah study – study a new text,
and designate additional time to your study.
~ Say additional prayers for the safety of people facing danger,
especially for the Israeli Defense Forces.
~ Give additional amounts of charity. Charity has a special
energy to counter perilous situations.
~ Engage your family and friends in meaningful dialogue. Reach
out to your sphere of influence and inspire them with spiritual
awareness. Encourage everyone to study Torah and add a new
mitzvah – a good deed. The Bible tells us that through Torah
study and performance of mitzvahs G-d promises: “You will
dwell securely in your land. I will provide peace in the land.
You will sleep without fear” (Leviticus 26:5-6)
~ Initiate a gathering in your home or office, promoting additional
goodness and kindness.
~ Jewish men should be encouraged to put on Tefillin each
weekday morning. Tefillin has faculties that add in protection
in threatening times. [This suggestion was initiated by the
Lubavitcher Rebbe in connection with the Six Day War and the
subsequent wars in Israel].
~Women and girls should be encouraged to light Shabbat and
Holiday candles, 18 minutes before sundown leading into Shabbat
or the Holiday. It is also customary to give some charity
before lighting the candles.
~ Encourage children to say holy verse and prayers and add
in charitable and kind deeds. Children play a particular role
in time of crisis. As the verse states, “out of the mouths
of babes and sucklings You have established the strength…to
destroy an enemy and avenger” (Psalms 8:3). [This suggestion
was initiated by the Rebbe before the 1973 Yom Kippur War].