- Posted by Elaine Zecher
- On April 2, 2021
- 0 Comments
Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, our weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat and this week, as we are coming to the end of Passover. I share with you the D’var Torah I offered last Friday night at Qabbalat Shabbat Services. You can listen to it as a podcast HERE.
It is the perfect summary, placed between the time the Israelites rush out of Egypt, set free by an anguished Pharaoh because of the last plague of the death of the first born and the description of the holiday God instructed us to observe and to remember when we did indeed go free from Egypt.
Exodus 12:40: The length of time that the Israelites lived in Egypt was 430 years; at the end of the 430th year, to the very day, all the ranks of the Eternal departed from the land of Egypt. That was for the Eternal–a night of vigil לֵ֣יל שִׁמֻּרִ֥ים to bring them out of the land of Egypt; that same night is the Eternal’s one of vigil for all the children of Israel through the ages.
We sit on the precipice of that moment–right now.
Let us not underestimate the power of the night. As Avivah Zornberg notes:.
“It is on the night before the Exodus when God instructed the Israelites to consume the Passover offering in ready position, belted and booted, prepared to depart.” (The Particulars of Rapture, pg. 165) This moment caps the plagues before it: of the locusts darkening the earth so that it could not be seen and the palpable darkness in Egypt, save for the homes of the Israelites. The Jewish People have known darkness, degradation, and the disgrace of servitude.
And yet, the commentators tried to understand exactly what a night of vigil, Leil Sheemorim לֵ֣יל שִׁמֻּרִ֥ים really meant. They provide 4 ideas.
- While Nachmanides 13th century Spain, viewed it as the night to ensure that the Israelites did indeed exit,
- Rashbam, 12th century France, emphasized that God had been anticipating this moment from the time of the patriarchs, defining Sheemorim as waiting
while paying attention-true vigilance.
- Gersonides, 14th century Provence, saw it as observing ritual behaviors expected on that night as they consumed the Passover offering.
- But is it Ibn Ezra, 12th century Spain, who saw the grave danger the Jewish people were in while the Angel of death moved about the land. He believed God was protecting these soon to be free people.
Guaranteeing, vigilantly awaiting, observing ritual, and protecting are all contained in this night of vigil.
Throughout Jewish history, the night of watching developed an ironic tragic twist.
Passover became an experience of potential anguish from bloody pogroms. They watched to protect their lives caused by the conspiracy theory known as the blood libel- one of the original examples of totally made up fake news. I want to share how Encyclopedia Judaica describes it:
Blood libel is the allegation that Jews murder non-Jews especially Christian [children], in order to obtain blood for the Passover ritual. It is a complex of deliberate lies, trumped up accusations, and popular beliefs about the murder lust of the Jews and their blood thirstiness. (EJ Vol 4, pg. 1120)
We know how these expressions of hatred became manifest and led to murderous attacks and massacres of Jews from before the Middle Ages and continuing as fodder for heinous crimes. In Europe, Passover brought out the worst in our neighbors. Blatant lies permeated throughout the community to inspire fear, dread and horror into the hearts and minds of those already suspicious of the Jewish community. It may seem like those nefarious accusations occurred in a faraway moment, but in the hands of time of human history, they were just moments ago. And still are.
Let’s pause to assess the characteristics of the blood libel: Intentional prevarication, a conspiracy that involves violence to children, consumption of blood as some magical potion, and a specific group of people (Jews) targeted who they think has an undeserved power or control.
I see a strong correlation to QAnon whose core falsehood, as described by the (NYTimes 3.4.21) is that a group of Satan-worshiping elites run by pedophiles
and are trying to control our politics and media—in addition to molesting children. Members of this group kill and eat their victims to extract a life-extending chemical called adrenochrome.
Intentional prevarication, a conspiracy that involves violence to children, consumption of blood or here adrenochrome as some magical potion, a specific group of people targeted who they think has undeserved power or control.
We know Jews do not have a monopoly on hatred used against us. Deceitful defamation leads to violence across race, age, ability, gender, and sex. What starts as repugnant falsehoods transforms into viciousness of actions often uncontrolled and uncontained. The Anti-Asian violence can trace its source to many instances of perversion of the truth. Think Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, WWII Japanese internment camps, biased names for Covid-19, the Atlanta murders.
Our vigilance must remain strong.
The vigils across our country, particularly in Atlanta and Boulder speak to the importance of paying attention. They are not only gatherings of mourning,
but a statement of awareness of the ever present potential and impact of violence and hate.
We were witnesses to the January 6th insurrection fueled by trumped up lies and conspiracy theories coursing through social media. How easily it was received with open arms by groups such as the proud boys, the oath keepers, those carrying the confederate flag and others attired in camp Auschwitz T-shirts.
Lest we think QAnon is static, to the contrary, on Tuesday of last week the LA Times posted an article entitled: “QAnon shifts, spreading Chinese and Jewish conspiracy myths.”
The most recent Pew Study on the profile of the Jewish community offers a troubling trend: antisemitism may be the new normal and it is profoundly felt amidst the Jewish community. As was reported last year: “There is such a level of palpable fear, anger, and vulnerability among American Jews, with attacks—verbal and physical…coming from the far right and far left and from attackers whose only common denominator is hatred of Jews.
From where will our deliverance come on this night in our calendar called לֵ֣יל שִׁמֻּרִ֥ים , a night of Vigil?
The commentators have provided a framework. Guarantee, Vigilance, Ritual Observance, and Protection are all contained in this night of vigil and how we approach the prevalence of hatred, bias, and racism for Jews and for so many others.
Their ideas inform us.
Let’s guarantee that we interrupt hate, an instruction that appears in a recent ADL Haggadah sent out to remind us to speak up, share facts, and show strength.
We just witnessed this in Duxbury with its football coach and team.
This leads us to vigilance. Ahad Ha’Am, the early Zionist recognized that a lie is a lie especially as a conspiracy theory, regardless of how people view it. He wrote: “The accusation [of the blood libel] is the solitary case in which the general acceptance of an idea—[ideas that rest on popular logic, and have no real scientific basis]…does not make us doubt whether all the world can be wrong, and we right, because [blood libel] is based on an absolute lie…” (Selected Essays, pgs 203-4)
Conspiracy theories are not new especially when they seek to demean or to fuel hatred and bigotry. Our former governor, Mitt Romney, summed up this idea when he said. “Just tell the truth.”
From guaranteeing we interrupt hate, to vigilance against lies, we arrive at protection of the moral and ethical imperative. When Winston Churchill spoke these words, he understood the perils of deceit and dishonesty: He said “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense…”
The truth must prevail over those complicit and those who hate and seek to harm others.
The last of what our commentators described is the celebration of our beautiful tradition. That night of vigil for the Israelites was filled with pain and excitement. They heard the cries of loss. They feared for their own lives. And yet, they continued with the observance of the ritual. In our own day, we say, “let all who are hungry come and eat.” We are not alone. We invite others into the Seder, those part of the Jewish orbit and those with whom we foster friendship. Our circles grow stronger by our connections to one another.
Tonight, tomorrow night and many nights ahead are of watching out for one another לֵ֣יל שִׁמֻּרִ֥ים. For as our liturgy teaches us, we march forward into the daylight of freedom with the resolve that together we can get to the promised land of dignity, respect, and truth.
- Join us at 6:00 p.m. for Qabbalat Shabbat where we will incorporate our Seventh Day Passover Celebration and Yizkor. Following the service, we will share another virtual oneg. We can pray together HERE on the Temple Israel website, or HERE on Zoom, or even HERE on TI’s Facebook page. Or, just find it all on the website www.tisrael.org/TogetherWithTI.
- Tonight at 5:00 p.m. our littlest congregants join for Tot Rock Shabbat. Join us on Zoom here.
- Torah Study will begin at 9:00 a.m. and will be followed by an amazing adult B’nai Mitzvah service at 10:00 a.m.. To join the conversation interactively, access Zoom HERE. You can also watch HERE on Temple Israel’s website or HERE on TI’s Facebook page.
- Thank Goodness It’s Shabbat takes place at 10:00 a.m. Join us on Zoom here.
- Join the Clergy for Havdalah at 8:00 p.m. HERE.