Every year I write a message for Pesach that urges us to reflect and praise Yahweh for our safe delivery from Egypt. My holiday messages of the past have been encouraging, uplifting and joyful messages but this year something different happened. I have felt a foul wind blow across the back of my neck, raising my hackles as it pricked my skin. Perhaps it was the shooting in Kansas, or the general increase in anti-Semitism throughout the European Community. Perhaps it was looking upon the blood moon last night and rather than enjoying the beauty of this universe and the marvel of it, instead I felt the chill run up my spine. Whatever the cause for my being disheartened this Passover, there was no mistaking the pressing urge to read Jeremiah chapter 50 because there I knew I would find the answer to the cloud that suddenly hung heavily over my thoughts. I have learned long ago not to ignore these feelings, for they certainly have been true to their message and have guided me in the steps I have taken along my path. I ask only that you think about these words this Passover and know that the wind is about to become a howling storm.
By the Rivers of Babylon
Babylon was once a great nation, a land where people from all different backgrounds came together in a melting pot and forged an Empire that spanned most of the known world. It had a mighty army, it had trade and enterprise that spanned the globe, and it extended freedoms to the mixed hegemony of peoples that populated its lands. Though freedom to come and go as you pleased may have been restricted, freedoms of worship were not and as a people, though we may have wept by the Rivers of Babylon, we still flourished and we still survived. Many rose to positions of prominence such as Daniel and his brethren, many grew wealthy, and many chose not to leave the land once the Persians came to power.
ב הַגִּידוּ בַגּוֹיִם וְהַשְׁמִיעוּ וּשְׂאוּ-נֵס, הַשְׁמִיעוּ אַל-תְּכַחֵדוּ; אִמְרוּ נִלְכְּדָה בָבֶל הֹבִישׁ בֵּל, חַת מְרֹדָךְ, הֹבִישׁוּ עֲצַבֶּיהָ, חַתּוּ גִּלּוּלֶיהָ.
2 Declare ye among the nations and announce, and set up a standard; announce, and conceal not; say: 'Babylon is taken, Bel is put to shame, Merodach is dismayed; her images are put to shame, her idols are dismayed.
From the message in this verse we can appreciate it was a land where many religions flourished and worshipped together, not always in harmony, but still with the freedom to seek their own gods, a privilege preserved by the King’s law. But over time, something changed. The rights and guarantees of those personal freedoms became threatened, and her constitution upon which she built an empire became worthless. The rights and civil liberties were gone, and all that Babylon had once taken pride in was being torn asunder. It was no longer a land where all men were created equal. It was no longer a place where people could enjoy the pursuit of liberty and happiness. Its downfall began with a single event, followed by another, and then another until all the freedoms, all the liberties were replaced with the devastation of death and destruction. An individual walks into a Jewish community centre and fires a gun killing three and narrowly missing several others. The gunman was a known spreader of hate and contempt, arrested and charged back in the 1980s for establishing a paramilitary unit to take down the government of Babylon. An act of treason, an act of hate, punishable with life in prison or even death. Yet here he is, wandering through the streets of Missouri, with weapon in hand, free to do as he pleased, his past completely erased so that he could commit this one crime, this single event, which will be followed by another and another. Most papers hardly gave it two lines on the front page, some buried it in the back, and others didn’t even bother to give it a mention. The story was not about a white supremacist attempting to go on a shooting rampage and killing Jews randomly. The real story was how this man was even out on the streets? How was he able to acquire a weapon with his history of treason? How is a known terrorist permitted the freedom to even threaten innocents that live in modern Babylon? Where the real story resides in uncovering those men, officials, organizations that made this possible. This man, though referred to as a lone gunman was surely not alone. Others made this possible. Others in positions of power and with authority to see that he had the means and the opportunity to carry out his murders. Bel should be put to shame and Merodach should be dismayed, because what was once a great nation is disintegrating before our eyes and like those in Babylon of old, there are many amongst us that have risen to positions of power, amassed great wealth, and will not leave even as the writing appears on the wall.
Ours is a history of repetition. We are rewarded, we sin, we are saved, and in His mercy Yahweh rewards us again. The Lord has accepted this as our fate; He forgives us for our trespasses, but He yearns that we learn something of our future by studying our past. That is why we sit around the seder table and recant our history. Not to look with a magnifying glass upon events long buried but instead to look in a mirror and see what will be.
ז כָּל-מוֹצְאֵיהֶם אֲכָלוּם, וְצָרֵיהֶם אָמְרוּ לֹא נֶאְשָׁם; תַּחַת, אֲשֶׁר חָטְאוּ לַיהוָה נְוֵה-צֶדֶק, וּמִקְוֵה אֲבוֹתֵיהֶם, יְהוָה.
7 All that found them have devoured them; and their adversaries said: 'We are not guilty'; because they have sinned against the LORD, the habitation of justice, even the LORD, the hope of their fathers.
There is nothing different under the sun. It is the same old cry of our enemies. They say, "They have sinned and we took them in. We gave them a place to reside, we gave them new gods to worship, and we gave them new hope when all had been lost because of their sins of the past." But could those of us residing in New Babylon truly leave if they wanted to. Could the Jews of this reincarnated empire truly pack up their belongings, their herds and their household goods, their gold and their wealth and take it from the land that gave them shelter? The answer is no. Pharaoh’s heart in Washington would harden and he would not let my people go. Economically, it would be a disaster. Politically, it would be the ruin of a government based on principles it sadly no longer adheres to. Dynamically, it would be a victory to all those that have sought so long to bring down the columns of liberty and justice within the ailing land of democracy. I cannot foresee this Exodus in the near future. Though the plagues have begun, there will be none packing their belongings at any time soon. Like Pharaoh, their hearts are hardened as well. Only when the final plague hits the nation will they see that theirs has been a folly of sloth, gluttony and avarice. And those that see it will be pardoned. For the Lord in his mercy as expressed in Sentence 20 of this chapter will forgive all of His children that come to recognize their folly and return to the path of righteousness.
We are living in a time of prophecy. Much of what has been written in the past is about to bear fruit over the coming decades. We must understand that the reasons we have incorporated the prophets into the Tanakh is not because they provided us with a history of our past, for if that was the case it would not be prophecy, but because long ago the Wise Men of our people realized they were stories of our future. Our destiny is laid out before us.
Praise be The Most High in his mercy. Praise be the Lord for he shall deliver us with a mighty hand.
This Pesach, let us think of the Exodus, not the one of the past, but the one that is coming.
Avrom Aryeh-Zuk Kahana