This is the season of our deliverance. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb saying so.
It was in this season, tradition teaches, at the first full moon of spring around 3,500 years ago that our Hebrew ancestors staged recorded history’s first successful slave rebellion. We’ve marked the anniversary ever since by retelling and re-enacting our liberation. It’s not enough, we’re taught, merely to discuss it — we’re required to experience it each time anew. “In each generation,” the Mishnah decrees, “every person is obliged to see himself as if he himself had come out of Egypt.”
It doesn’t necessarily take a great stretch of the imagination to see oneself in that moment of liberation, if only because the moment keeps recurring. It was on the third day of Passover in 1775 that the war for American freedom began at Lexington and Concord. Three short weeks and 173 years later, with the taste of matzo still fresh in our mouths, the reborn state of Israel declared independence in 1948. The season of our deliverance, indeed.
And, lest we forget, it was on the first day of Passover in 1943, 70 years ago, that the youth of the Warsaw Ghetto began their hopeless, glorious uprising against the most wicked of modern pharaohs. They were beloved and pleasant in their lives, and in death they were not divided, and they redeemed the honor of Israel.
Emotions are probably more divided over the death of another young rebel on the first day of another Passover, 1,910 years before Warsaw. The followers of that slain rebel, Jesus of Nazareth, learned from him that redemption is of the spirit, even when the body is still in bondage. Most of his fellow Jews disagreed. Mutual recriminations followed. So began perhaps the longest and deadliest blood feud in history.
For centuries afterward the season of freedom was a time of fear and suspicion. Each year at this time, Jesus’ followers recalled his death and, all too often, rekindled their anger. And Jews remembered their ancient liberation and prayed for a second deliverance.
When did the season of our fear become once again the season of our rising? Perhaps it began on Easter Sunday in 1903, 110 years ago. In Kishinev, in today’s Moldova, a Christian mob attacked the Jewish quarter that day, as so many Easter mobs had done before, and 49 innocents were murdered. It was the seventh day of Passover.