Drash on Shabbat Hagadol 2019
Rabbi Shoshana Kaminsky
Beit Shalom Synagogue
Rabbi Yehoshua says: "In Nissan the world was created ... the bondage of our ancestors ceased in Egypt; and in Nissan they will be redeemed in time to come." (Talmud Rosh HaShana 11a)
The Shabbat before Pesach is not distinguished by any special Torah readings or prayers. The only hint that something momentous is coming is the strange, dark haftarah portion that is read from the book of Malachi. It includes the line, “Lo, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the awesome, fearful day of Adonai.” We may think of Pesach in many ways, but usually terms “awesome” and “fearful” do not come to mind. I know when I see the full moon on Purim and realise the Pesach is only four weeks away, my mind fills up with shopping lists, recipes, guest lists, and myriad other details around organising the seder. If I feel any fear, it’s the fear that my matzah balls won’t float.
But in the rabbinic imagination, Pesach became much more than a time to commemorate our freedom from slavery in the distant past. Rabbi Yehoshua anticipated that the past liberation of Pesach would one day be echoed in a future redemption. Haftarah readings prior to and during the festival are a mix of recollection and prophecy. Our joy that we were once freed is mingled with the anticipation and trepidation of what that future redemption might look like. Malachi warns that the day will burn like an oven—hardly an encouraging thought. Other prophets predicted that the laws of nature would be upended, and that the righteous would be separated out from the wicked.
Thankfully from my perspective, Progressive Judaism long ago rejected a belief in the Messiah and the upheaval that would accompany his arrival. But in setting aside this traditional doctrine, we have taken it upon ourselves to bring about a time perfect enough to be called the Messianic Era. This is an awesome challenge indeed.
There are certainly times when the world seems to be moving—perhaps even racing—away from perfection. The murders in Christchurch, the flood of dire climate news, the instability in many of the world’s established democracies—all of these can fill us with a sense of fear and dread. Progressive Judaism does not allow us the option of sitting back and waiting for the Messiah to come and save us. Instead, it places the burden for that work firmly on our shoulders. We know that none of us can possibly repair the world on our own. We need to create coalitions, build bridges, and lobby our governments to bring that messianic age to fruition.
Perhaps our seder tables can offer us a taste of what a more perfect world might look like. As we lift that first glass of wine in the presence of loved ones and friends old and new, let us commit ourselves to build a world where everyone is welcome at the table, a world where the earth is cherished and cared for, and a world where all people have the opportunity to realise their full potential. כן יהי רצון – may it be God’s will, and ours as well. Shabbat shalom and hag sameach!