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Parshas Pesach (5770)

Happy Birthday!

When I was a young boy and my birthday would be approaching around this time of year, I would ask my parents for a birthday gift. My father would always respond, half-jokingly, that celebrating birthdays is not a Jewish thing. He would explain that throughout the Scriptures you never find Moses blowing out the candles, or King David opening up nicely-wrapped presents. As a matter of fact, the only personality in the entire Scripture whom we find celebrating his birthday was Pharaoh, ruler of Egypt, who obviously wasn't even Jewish! (Of course, my folks would buy me a gift anyway!)

The truth of the matter is, though, that the word yom hu-ledet, or birthday, is in fact mentioned in the Bible in reference to Jewish people. In the Book of Ezekiel (Chapter 16) the prophet talks about our ancestors in Egypt and compares them to a baby girl that had just been born (“B'yom hu-ledes oh-sach”) and was lying on the ground all dirty and neglected. Then a compassionate young man noticed this abandoned baby and took her under his protective wing, raising her and looking after her until she matured into a fine young lady. The young man, who by now had taken a great liking to this girl, then asked her hand in marriage.

This was exactly what happened in Egypt over 3300 years ago. The Jewish people were being persecuted and abandoned, with no one to look after them. So G-d Himself picked them up from the gutters of Goshen, cleaned them up and shaped them into a mature nation. He then took them under the Chuppah (wedding canopy) of Mount Sinai, and gave them His ring - the Torah - and they became His bride for all eternity.

The holiday of Passover is, in essence, a celebration of the birthday of the Jewish nation. It represents the beginning of our national history, and is what gives us our Jewish identity. Passover carries with it a message of hope, telling us that no matter what our humble beginnings may be, if we will it, we can rise to great heights.

This is why the festival of Passover always falls out in the spring. Just as the earth looks desolate and hopeless in winter, only to sprout forth new flowers and blossoms in spring, so, too, the Jewish people have experienced many harsh winters, starting with that very first winter in Egypt and continuing throughout our long history, only to rise again from the muck and shine ever so brightly as a light unto the nations.

The Haggadah, which has been read by Jews at the Passover Seder for thousands of years, starts and ends with this exact sentiment. At the beginning of the Seder we say, "This year we are here, next year we will be in Jerusalem". And at the very end of the long Seder night, we sing together the song "L'shanah Haba’ah B'yerushalayim - Next Year in Jerusalem".

These words were faithfully sung by our ancestors in good times and in bad times. They were sung through the First and Second Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Chmielnicki pogroms of 1648-1649, and, yes, even in Auschwitz. We have been through so much, but we have never despaired, for we always knew that G-d was looking after us the same way He had lovingly taken care of our abandoned and persecuted ancestors way back when in Egypt.

Today, thank G-d, we are blessed to be living in a Malchus Shel Chesed, a country which treats all its citizens fairly and equally. There is no Inquisition or Nazi Party. And yet, our survival as a nation is being threatened in a different way - from the inside. We are losing more Jews today to apathy and assimilation than ever before in our history. Some have even suggested adding a Fifth Son to the original Four Sons mentioned in the Haggadah - The Son Who Doesn't Show Up At The Passover Seder Altogether.

The Seder has traditionally been the way that all the traditions and customs and the whole idea of what it means to be a Jew have been handed down from generation to generation. The Seder and all its implicit lessons have given Jews the strength to withstand the myriad tests and tribulations that have befallen us as a nation. Passover is that time when our children learn about who they are as Jews, and, more importantly, what our mission and purpose is here on earth.

But if our children don’t even show up to the Seder, what will become of our future?!

May G-d give all of us the strength, vision, and pride in our glorious heritage, to take to heart the lessons of the Passover Seder, and may we all merit to celebrate this and many other Jewish holidays together with our children and families, until the coming of Moshiach. Amen.

HAVE A GOOD SHABBOS AND A HAPPY AND HEALTHY PASSOVER!

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