By Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf
Biblical story of Pesach, the story and the very notion of
exodus from Egypt, stand at the root of what is today known as
"liberation theology," faith ideas about a Divine imperative to
free the slave, the weak, the small, the few, from the master,
the strong, the giant, the many. From here, many peoples
throughout the developing world have conceived ideas of
rebellion against colonizing powers; those struggling for a
resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rightfully also
recognize parallels between the oppression of the Israelites,
and the horrors of the occupation -- and the Divine imperative
to end the occupation and seek true peace.
Where liberation theology often fails, however, is in
forgetting the completion of the Passover story: Shavuot. The
Israelites were not freed from Egypt to wander the desert in
some imagined anarchic bliss. They were freed to receive Torah,
and be made a people. Exodus leads to Sinai, Passover leads to
Shavuot, freedom leads to law and obligation.
Thus, the holiday of Passover doesn't truly end until seven
weeks later, when the Jewish community remembers our stand at
Sinai, before the ineffable power of the Creator. Each night of
the intervening weeks, we count the Omer, a small
reminder of the struggle in which the Israelites were engaged to
leave behind the vestiges of slavery and the mindset of
subjugation, and prepare themselves for the awesome
responsibility of living godly lives. This is where liberation
theology is often half-hearted -- it is often very strong on
liberation and freedom, but far too weak on law and
The Palestinians are right to demand their liberation; the
Jewish people need look no further than their own history to
understand the wrong of the occupation. But it must not be
forgotten that Israel is also right to demand the end of
violence coming from some segments of the Palestinian community.
Liberation is not enough -- we have also the obligation to live
Both sides, then, must recognize the humanity of the other,
and work together toward their mutual freedom, their mutual
obligations. We learn in Exodus 12 that the Israelites went up
from Egypt with a mixed multitude -- they were not alone as they
shook off their oppression, and, we can presume, they were not
alone at Sinai.
God does not speak only to the Jews. The Creator speaks to
all Creation, calls on each of us, individually and in our
communities, to live in freedom and responsibility. Israel and
the Palestinians must talk with each other, in honesty and
mutual respect, and achieve a durable peace agreement, if either
people is to know real liberation.
In this season of celebration, we wish all Jewish communities
and all Palestinian communities true freedom, and we await a new
Sinai that will bring law and justice to us all.
- To reawaken hope as we retell the story of
the Exodus, consider incorporating passages from the following
resources into your seder:
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Jacob Wolf serves on Brit Tzedek’s Honorary Board and Rabbinic Cabinet. He has spent his life
drawing the lines between religious imperative and social
action, insisting in both word and deed that Judaism calls us to
pursue justice on all fronts. Rabbi Wolf's teachings have played
a formative role for many thousands of Jews.In the 1940s,
Rabbi Wolf served as the American representative to Brit Shalom,
joining other renowned Jewish leaders including Judah Magnes,
Martin Buber, and Henrietta Szold in calling for "Jewish-Arab
cooperation, as both necessary and possible." In 1949, he was
instrumental in founding Israel's Givat Haviva Educational Institute, created to
educate for peace, democracy, coexistence and social solidarity.
In 1973, Rabbi Wolf served as founding chair of
the American Jewish movement "Breira: A Project of Concern in
Diaspora-Israel Relations." In its first public statement,
Breira called for Israel to make territorial concessions and
recognize the legitimacy of the national aspirations of the
Palestinian people in order to achieve lasting peace.
Rabbi Wolf was invited to address the United
Nations' 1989 "Conference on the Question of Palestine," and he
continues today to be an outspoken advocate for a just and
tenable resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He
believes that the only possible solution, he said in a recent
speech, lies in "recognizing each other, and defining each other
with not just the right to exist, but the necessity to exist."
Seeing his role primarily as that of a teacher,
Rabbi Wolf has been the rabbi of Illinois's oldest synagogue, Kehilath Anshe Maarav
Isaiah Israel, in Chicago, since 1980 (emeritus since 2000)
and taught at many universities including Yale, where he served
eight years as Jewish chaplain. Considered by many to be the
finest English stylist in the American rabbinate, Rabbi Wolf is
the author of several books. He is also a founding editor of
Sh'ma: A Journal of
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