Drash on Acharon Shel Pesach 2019
Rabbi Kim Ettlinger
Temple Beth Israel
St Kilda, Victoria
There is no other holiday in the Jewish calendar that is called - “last day of [fill in the name]”. There is no Acharon shel Sukkot or Acharon shel Shavuot.
One reason it is called “Last day” of Pesach or “acharon” (the last) is because we demonstrate our faith that this Pesach will be our last Pesach in exile, living in the Diaspora. More conservative forms of Judaism believe that when the Messiah (Moshiach) comes, we won’t celebrate Pesach as we do now, which is why we refer specifically to the last day as the Final Day of Pesach. Progressive Judaism does not believe that the Messiah will come as a human being but more as a Messianic era. An era of peace. Regardless, the essence is the same, Pesach will be celebrated differently, I’m sure of this.
Some of the last words of the Haggada are - L'Shana Haba'ah B'Yerushalayim (לשנה הבאה בירושלים) - Next year in Jerusalem. Implied in this is the Messianic vision.
While the ideal is that next year we will be in Israel, I don’t believe many of us live our lives focussing on aliyah to Israel (moving to Israel). We may love and support Israel, yet living there permanently isn’t on our individual or collective agendas.
So what do we take away from this vision or value, when we almost deem it irrelevant? It is not that we don’t appreciate the sentiment and the value behind it, but the reality is far from being real.
This week we have been in collective shock as we have watched the tragedy in Sri Lanka unfold with numerous coordinated terror attacks on hotels and churches with hundreds killed and even more injured. The heinous nature of these attacks leaves us feeling angry and sad. Who could be so cruel as to instigate an attack on a holy day? It easily could happen on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, and it has. In 1973, Israel went to war as she was attacked on Yom Kippur. To me, this is an act of Amalek, attacking the weak or frail. While people who are in prayer are not weak or frail, the attack is cowardly. Amalek was a coward. He could not face his enemy head-on.
Freedom means to be able to pray and practice one's religion in peace and security. To be free of the threat of harm and savagery.
I’d like to share with you part of a statement about the terror in Sri Lanka that my colleagues, who serve on the Executive of the Moetza - The Rabbinic Council of the Union for Progressive Judaism, wrote: “There has been a disturbing spate of terrorist attacks on people at worship across the globe. These attacks have targeted Jews, Muslims, and Christians at times of prayer. People praying for peace and love were met with death and destruction. At times like these prayers are only a first step. People of all faiths must take up the challenge to change the world to make it a better place for our children and grandchildren. We must never stand silent or fail to act in the face of hatred, bigotry, and violence. Indeed, we must examine our own traditions and ensure that they can never be utilized as an excuse for violence.”
The Torah reading for the Last Day of Pesach which this year falls on Shabbat has many relevant themes. These include the giving of tithes; cancelling debts; freeing slaves; and the mentioning of Pesach and Sukkot. Embedded in all these themes is indeed the essence of Pesach and freedom. They are all socially just and endeavour to free people from the bonds of economic and social slavery. The moral imperative, is to ensure that freedom isn’t only seen in the obvious, but in anything that can be religiously, socially or economically oppressive. Therefore we must stand up in the face of injustice, we must not be bystanders.
May we see each other next year in Jerusalem, and may it continue to not only be a metaphor for religious freedom, but a reality for a safe space for all religions, and by extension the world.
L'Shana Haba'ah B'Yerushalayim - לשנה הבאה בירושלים