Saturday, 23 April 2011

The Presidential Seder

Let me share with you a fascinating article from the Ha-aretz Newspaper: for the third year running President of the United States; Barak Obama, the leader of the free world has held a Seder in the White House.

Agreed that Kosher for Pesach food was not used, and it was only Kosher style, with Matza ball soup and Gefilte fish served up for the first time in the executive Mansion. Then again – no Jewish leaders were invited.

But-no kidding they did this properly. They used the text of the Maxwell House Hagadah which is a full unmodified traditional text. And each member of the White House staff who attended, were given a chance to read from the Hagadah in turn.

Obama’s daughters, Malia and Sasha hid the Afikoman which apparently took over 45 minutes for the members of the Secret Service to find.

This was all instigated during the 2008 elections whilst Obama was running in the Pennsylvania Primary elections for President. He walked in on the basement of his HQ where some of his Jewish staff were conducting a Seder, and instead of putting a stop to it, Obama asked to stay. According to those who were present, instead of saying at the end of the Seder; Leshanah Habah biyrushalayim, Next year in Jerusalem, Barak Obama said Leshana Habah beWhite House- which came true.

He decided from that day on to hold a White House Seder every year.

So we laugh.

This is clever politicking by the leader of the free world. Roughly 2% of his electorate are Jewish, a majority of whom are Democrats. It makes sense therefore for the President to hold a yearly Seder in the White House to demonstrate to his electorate- “maybe I’m not so anti Israel or anti Jewish as people make me out to be”.

But I believe there’s more to this story than meets the eye.

In a statement to the press, Obama said that with the Arab revolutions sweeping across the Middle East, the Passover message, the story of freedom is particularly poignant this year and the message is: quote: “We need to alleviate the suffering, poverty, injustice and hunger for all those who are not free.”

Barak Obama is not the first world leader who has used the Exodus motif in relation to the striving for freedom.

I think of Nelson Mandela in his fight against South African apartheid or black civil rights leader Martin Luther King who persistently harped back to the Exodus theme. “Let my people go” became a battle cry not just for the Israelites in Egypt but a modern day cry for freedom. Oliver Cromwell in his first ever speech in parliament, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklyn, all used the Exodus image in their portrayal of freedom from the oppressor.

So what?

In the Hagadah we read the following:

“We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. And if the Holy One Blessed Be He had not brought our forefathers out of Egypt, we and our children and our children’s children would still be slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt.”

So the question is- we make this statement in the Hagadah every year, but does this theory really hold water? Would we really still be slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt if G-d had not taken us out? Would we not have fought for the freedom by ourselves? Would freedom not have come by itself as a natural consequence of the oppression of a people?

So would we really still be slaves to a Pharaoh in Egypt?

Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook suggests the following thought: The Exodus from Egypt where G-d miraculously brought Israel out of Egypt, injected and infused an atmosphere of CHANGE in the world.

Without the Exodus story the world would remain stagnant- nobody would ever have struggled for freedom because they would never expect change.

However, the Exodus injected the motif of freedom in the world.

Therefore we can understand how any modern day movement of freedom draws its roots from the Exodus theme.

In every generation a person is duty bound to look at his/herself as if he/she came out of Egypt.

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