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[KE CyberTorah] God Who Redeems

Here we go again!

I believe we are at the beginning of the end of the pandemic. There remains a lot of uncertainty and challenge in front of us. At the same time, the vaccine and declining case counts show us a light at the end of the tunnel. This leaves me wondering: what will the world be like when this ends? What will the new normal be?

I worry we will rush back to the way things were. After all, this tumultuous time has been so profoundly unsettling that we yearn for restoration, to go back to what was. Yet I believe we have a once in a century opportunity to do better. As we restart, reboot, and re-invent our institutions and gatherings, we can look with vision, with values, and build up a far more ethical and whole culture than the one we had before. 

At the end of maggid, the step of telling our story in the Haggadah, we bless the second cup of wine with a prayer for redemption. We thank God for bringing us out of Egypt and for granting us another Passover together. In this pandemic, I feel that appreciation all the more strongly.

The prayer also hopes for a time when “we will eat of the sacrifices of Passover, whose blood is sprinkled on the walls of Your Sanctuary.” I find this phrase more challenging. While I do hope for redemption, I yearn for something different than a return to Israel as it was in ancient times. I’m not interested in a restored Davidic line. I’m too committed to democracy and egalitarianism for that. (Even though my grandmother was convinced we were of the Davidic line…) I’m also on the fence about the sacrifices. Judaism has grown over the last two thousand years. Our prayer practices today, the ways we observe, matter deeply to me. I’m not so ready for “blood sprinkled on the walls of Your Sanctuary.”

This prayer embodies a dichotomy in what redemption means. For some, redemption means restoration. That is, Jews will be redeemed when we return to a sovereign monarchial Israel with a functioning Temple. For restorationists, change only symbolizes Exile. Yet there is also a hope for a redemption that embraces the future. Being redeemed means emerging from oppression into new light and new hope. The prayer concludes by saying we will sing a new song. We emerge with yearnings for freedom without idealizing or idolizing that which was. In this view, the Exile was instructive and we want to carry its lessons with us into the new world for which we yearn.

I place myself in the second voice, the element of the prayer yearning for a new redeemed world informed by what was in the past, what we have learned during the Exile, and what we strive towards in the future. I don’t want everything to go back to the way it was before. There was a lot that was great before, but there was a lot that was broken and problematic. I’m ready to sing a new song informed by the past.

This Passover has a particularly resonant find message. We want urgently to be redeemed from the pandemic and all its fears and disruptions. For me, that redemption includes change. I yearn for a new normal that is transformed for the better by this terrible experience. God who redeems Israel can mean: align us towards our deepest values and beliefs. Attune us to You so that we can rebuild a world worthy of being called redeemed. 

Praised are You, God, who redeems.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Booth

Mon, May 16 2022 15 Iyyar 5782