Pour out your Wrath on the Others (who are your enemy)/Shfoch hamatcha al haGoyim

This year, we need to set a higher bar for the wise child. It is not enough to celebrate this child because s/he dutifully participates in the Seder ritual, unlike her siblings.

I am thinking of the line in the Haggadah that instructs us to pour out our wrath on the “others”, who are our enemy. True, many of our festivals tell tales of how Jews overcame an evil ruler. The fact that Jews prevailed becomes evidence of God’s love for his chosen people, Israel. It is an effective narrative device: good guys overcome bad guys. Sometimes, it even comes close to being historically accurate. But this year, in the face of the atrocities and slaughter that Hamas perpetrated upon Israelis on October 7th, and then the Israeli assault on Gaza, which has cost the lives of over 30,000 Palestinians, more than half of whom, are women and children, I am hoping that the wise children (and adults) at the Seder table might make a courageous break with the Exodus narrative to reject the demonization of the “other”. That narrative becomes a justification to dehumanize that “other” and, once dehumanization happens, innocent people are killed.

This was a contribution to Seder Interrupted: A Post-October 7 Haggadah Supplement. Hard copies can be ordered on Amazon; a free download is available at: https://ajr.edu/forms/haggadah-supplement-download/

As part of our congregation’s attempt to explore all sides of the tragic conflict in Israel/Palestine since October 7th, we hosted a visit from an Israeli NGO called Combatants for Peace. The panel included two Israeli Jews and two Palestinians. Each told their story. One of the Palestinians, Sulaiman Khatib, was arrested at age 14 for stabbing two IDF soldiers and trying to steal their weapons. During his 10 years in an Israeli prison, Sulaiman studied the writings of Ghandi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr. and learned that revolutionary change can happen through non-violence. He also learned enough about Jewish history and the tragedy of the Shoah that he realized that the Jews, who, he was taught, were his enemies, had also suffered greatly and that Israel was the Jewish people’s refuge.  

Chen Alon’s grandfather escaped the death camps of Poland during the Shoah and made his way to Israel. Chen was proud to put on an IDF uniform and protect the State of Israel from her enemies, as did his father during the 1967 Six-Day War. And yet, Chen started to see things as a reservist during the First Intifada that troubled his conscience—arresting a 10-year old Palestinian boy for being a “suspected terrorist”; destroying the home of a Palestinian family because they did not have the right permit to add a balcony to their second floor living area; preventing a car driven by a Palestinian from bringing sick children to the hospital in Bethlehem because they did not have proper papers. Chen came to believe that Israel’s occupation of over 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank was ethically indefensible. He joined a small group of Israelis who refused to serve in the IDF as a matter of conscience.

Both Sulaiman and Chen manifested a form of courage that is suggested by the Mishna in Pirke Avot (4:1) Mi hu gibor? Ha’kovesh et yitzro, “Who is a hero? The one who can subdue his/her evil instincts”. Chen and Sulaiman rejected the narratives of their respective people which portrayed the other side as “the enemy”. They are now part of a small but important constituency of Palestinians and Jews who are committed to the path of mutual respect and a shared society.

May this Pesach inspire many others to become “wise children”, who can see beyond the narratives that condemn us to perpetual conflict and violence. Only that way, can we all both envision and then, bring to fruition, the redemption and liberty for all peoples, which is the intent of this festival.