““Pour Out Your Wrath!”
I AM writing this on Friday night, the eve of Passover. At this moment, all over the world, millions of Jews are gathered around the family table, observing the Seder, reading aloud from the same book: the Haggadah, which tells the story of the Exodus from Egypt.
The Passover story does not derive its immense power from any claim to be history. It is a myth that grips the human imagination, a myth that is the basis of a great religion, a myth that directs the behavior of people to this very day. Without the Exodus story, there would probably be no State of Israel today – and certainly not in Palestine.
There are two sentences in the Haggadah that always had – and still have – a profound impact on the present.
One is the central idea on which almost all Jews base their historical outlook: “In every generation they rise against us to destroy us”.
This does not apply to a specific time or to a specific place. It is regarded as an eternal truth that applies to all places, all times. ”They” is the entire outside world, all non-Jews everywhere. Children hear this on Seder evening on their father’s knee, long before they are able to read and write, and from then on they hear or recite it every year for decades. It expresses the total conscious or unconscious conviction of almost all Jews, whether in Los Angeles, California, or in Lod, Israel. It certainly directs the policy of the State of Israel.
The second sentence, which complements the first, is a cry to God: “Pour out your wrath upon the nations that do not know you…for they have devoured Jacob and desolated his home…Pour out your wrath on them! May your blazing anger overtake them! Pursue them from under the heavens of the Lord!…”
In the Diaspora, this craving for revenge was both understandable and ineffective. But the founding of the State of Israel has changed the situation completely. In Israel, Jews are far from being defenseless. We don’t have to rely on God to take revenge for the evils done unto us, past or present, real or imagined. We can pour out our wrath ourselves, on our neighbors, the Palestinians and other Arabs, on our minorities, on our victims.
That is the real danger of the Haggadah, as I see it. It was written by and for helpless Jews living in perpetual danger. It raised their spirits once a year, when they felt safe for a moment, protected by their God, surrounded by their families.
Taken out of this context and applied to a new, completely different situation, it can set us on an evil course. Telling ourselves that everybody is out to destroy us, yesterday and most certainly tomorrow, we consider the grandiloquent bombast of an Iranian bigmouth as a living proof of the validity of the old maxim. They are out to kill us, so we must – according to another ancient Jewish injunction – kill them first.”