Sign In Forgot Password

March 16, 2023

03/16/2023 04:29:51 PM


Rabbi Hearshen

We are approaching the incredible holiday of Passover. It’s a seven-day festival in the Torah and in Israel. In the Diaspora, we observe it as an eight-day festival. It’s identified by three descriptive nicknames: חג האביב (the Spring Festival), חג המצות (the Festival of Matzah) and חג החירות (the Festival of Freedom). Each of these names demonstrates the various faces and meanings of this classic and beautiful holiday. At its core, it’s a celebration of freedom. That’s why we gather for the first two nights to commemorate the beginning of our people’s process into living as free people. The Seder we meticulously observe year in and out, is a reenactment of the night our people earned our freedom from slavery through the tenth and final plague, the death of the first born. On that night, we dine not as scared slaves about to be freed, but as celebrating free people recalling we were once enslaved and now we are free.

During the Seder we formally ask four questions, or rather we assert four challenges, that are evoked by the night’s festivities. The questions/challenges are the jumping off point. We’re required to question so much more during the evenings of Seder and we do so as a true mark of freedom. When you think about it, slavery really boils down to the inability to question. At its most basic level when one is forbidden to question they’re not allowed to live freely. “Why can’t I have that food you’re allowed to have?” “Why can’t I sleep where I want to sleep?” “Why don’t I receive payment for the work I do?” “Why am I not allowed to choose what I’d like to do for the day?” These are questions slaves certainly thought in the past, and unfortunately in some areas of the world, still think today. The questions we as free people ask are a bit different. We seek to know why things are the way they are. We want to know why the world looks this way and not another. We challenge and we demand because we’re free and we’re able to embrace freedom in a way that allows us make our voices heard to the world. In the famous words of Spiderman’s Uncle Ben “with great power comes great responsibility.” We have the power, and with that power, comes responsibility.

One of my favorite questions or challenges is the old saying “just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.” I think of this as a challenge because we assert we have the abilities to do so much but that doesn’t mean we do those things. This challenge is a way to look at life and the decisions around us. I’ve been glued to the news of our Homeland, Israel, over these past weeks and months. It’s gone from worse to worse to even worse. For those who are unaware, the duly elected government of the state has made one of their core legislative goals the overhaul the judiciary system of Israel. In the US, we have a system of checks and balances enshrined in our society and our government that have, for better or worse, been able to keep our country strong and robust over the years since our founding in 1787. Our legislative branch can pass laws and the judiciary can overrule them with the basis being they’re not constitutional. Our legislative branch can pass laws and our executive can overrule them. Our executive can enact policies but is policed by the legislative branch and the judiciary. It’s not perfect, and no matter what a person’s political viewpoints are, they’ve been disappointed or angered by the system countless times. While at the same time they’ve benefited from it many more times over because of its numerous merits.

The government of Israel has the ability to change the judicial system because their government is a parliamentary democracy where the executive and the legislative are one and the same for the most part. They can enact laws without any individual or body able to override them. They have the ability to make this change, but should they? Is it right to make it so the Supreme Court can rule laws invalid but can be overridden by the same people who enacted the law in the first place? Is it right to overrule the judiciary by a simple majority? They have the right and the ability to change how justices are selected but should they “pack the courts” with people who are homogeneous? They have the ability to make laws and define them as basic or not but should they make changes to how those are reviewed? The country is at a breaking point. People are protesting daily and these protests are not only people who are opposed to the government. People from all over the political spectrum are rallying against this change. To be clear, this government making this decision to neuter the judiciary could decide in a few years that elections are too costly or too inconvenient and thus stay in power. This government could choose to place the country under martial law because of the “need” for order. This government has the ability to make these changes, but should they?

This is not merely a political issue with clear lines being drawn. Miriam Adelson (a well-known conservative in America), Ambassador David Friedman (President Trump’s ambassador to Israel) and Brett Stephens (a well established conservative political commentator) all have come out against the current legislation and the way in which it’s being passed. Numerous progressive Jewish groups, and Jewish members of the House and Senate, have come out against this process and its goals. This shows people from both sides are opposed. They each agree the government has the ability to make these moves, but that doesn’t mean they should. They have the freedom to make changes, but they also have the responsibility to act in a way that preserves our Jewish democratic State of Israel. So, the additional question I have is: is it worth it? Is it worth tearing our community apart? Is it worth harming our standing in the world? Is it worth all of this pain and struggle? This week the president of Israel, Isaac Herzog, addressed the country and offered an alternative plan for how to address issues with the judicial branch in Israel. Within moments, however, all of his proposals were rejected by the prime minister and the government. They intend to continue to move full speed ahead and not allow anything to interfere with their actions.

This year on Passover, when we as a Jewish community sit down for the most widely observed Jewish ritual during the Passover Seder, will we feel united or divided? Will we feel hopeful or defeated? Will we feel free to be ourselves in our ancestral homeland or will we be fearful of what’s happening there and what could happen to us? We formally celebrate freedom each year, but we celebrate it every day of our lives by exercising our freedoms. We celebrate by being free, and being free necessitates we question and challenge. Our freedom is only as strong as our engagement and ability to argue for how we see the world. We must ask ourselves whether just because something can be done, it should be done, and in the case of Israel, I would argue that it should not. They should sit down with the opposition, the people of Israel and the Jewish people, and hash out a way forward that will safeguard our sacred land for the generations to come.    

Mon, March 27 2023 5 Nisan 5783