For the last year and a half or so, I’ve been meeting some friends once a month for Kiddush Levanah, the sanctification of the new moon. It’s great fun–we meet late Shabbat afternoon not long after the month has begun, do a little learning, and once it’s properly truly night out, we go out into my friend’s amazing garden and do the Kiddush Levanah liturgy under the big white sliver in the sky. (Another friend from this group has actually been writing his own KL liturgy, so we’ve started experimenting with that as well.)
Anyway, this last Shabbat, we had rather an interesting conversation about geulah (redemption) and the Pesach seder. As B. pointed out, the notion of redemption as an interior process evolved in the Hasidic world at a time when Jews had no real chance of being redeemed politically. The way to be able to stand the pain of exile and sometimes rather unfortunate circumstances vis a vis their Gentile rulers was to go inward, to take control of the redemption within since there, anyway, some change could be effected. Hence, the Exodus from Egypt became the individual’s exodus from his or her own, personal “narrow place” (as tzar, the word for narrow can be found in the Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim.)
B. posed, I think rightly, the question: “What about now?” What is geulah for us now, in a time and place where Jews do have control over the land of Israel, where Jews have more autonomy in America than they have in most other times and places accross history. Is it perhaps time for us to begin thinking again about what communal redemption might mean?
The implications for this line of thought can be fairly complex when parsed through the lens of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Certainly, one of the ways that we’ll know we’re redeemed is when everyone, on all sides, is safe and able to work, play, study and thrive. But how to get there? How can the Haggadah be a guide for that process? How do we understand God’s role in the Pesach’s story as a guide for this? As we got heavy into this conversation, through Liberation theology to its problems and back again, and it became clear that there are no easy, or obvious answers. Our attempts to sort through all of this began to get so tricky that someone wryly suggested that this sure makes the internal-liberation model look appealing, doesn’t it?
The internal liberation model is certainly appealing. And important, in the sense that we all have to do that work, over and over. But the work does not stop there. We are not just discrete individuals–we’re part of something much bigger. And, sometimes, more challenging. I don’t know what the answers are today, what redemption in the larger sense, in the communal sense, through the lens of this holiday and this seder, means in light of our present-day circumstances. But I do know that one of the difficult passages that we must cross over the course of the next week and a half is, in fact, this–crossing from being concerned about only our small, isolated selves into the sticky, challenging and necessary land of community, of peoplehood, of citizenship in the whole big world. It’s a lot harder over there, but it is that way that redemption lies.
This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. In my Hasidism class last night we spent our time on some passages about galut and geulah, and I think bumped up against some of the same challenges you’re describing here.
In my own life, the focus on personal liberation was important as I moved into active engagement with Judaism and with God. Pesach felt like the perfect metaphor for my own journey. And I don’t want to knock that — nor the wealth of Hasidic teachings about geulah which I think still have amazing resonance today. But at the same time, the question of what geulah means on a communal level looms large — and I don’t know what the answers are or should be…
Anyway. Thanks for this. Wishing you a zissen Pesach.
although i’m not a Jew, and don’t have access to the same sets of info/associations as you do on this, it really spoke to me. so thanks. chag samach.
I think the internal redemption is important. When we move from internal to external, I think it is important to keep it in universal theological terms. I explicitly reject the state of Israel as reishit smichat geulateinu. With this albatross around our necks we are more enslaved now than even before. We suffer the slavery of masters, rather than the slavery of serfs.
Redemption is bigger than freedom. Its more than being able to do what you want when you want. Its even bigger than the freedom to worship THE ONE. It is about being pulled out of the cycle of history, the cycle of suffering, into a state where the apparent division between GOD and world dissolves. Not for an individual, but for everyone. It’s nirvana for the whole ‘olam, not just the bodsatva/chassid.
In that sense the Zionist return to history is a huge step backwards, because it turns the whole thing back around. Faced with a particular political position, the chassidim turned geulah on its head, and create a system that works from the inside out, or from the bottom up (and by up I mean way up). Liberalism allows us to universalize that inside-out system so the Jews are not at the center of the world, just a part of it. The State of Israel (which is both soulless and illiberal) turns it all back jumping over 2000 years of history to redemption by the sword.
danya- thanks for this post, it got me started thinking pesach thoughts this year. and chag kasher v’sameach