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Passover Optimism

Yoram Ettinger , Second Thought

"Optimism dominates the legacy of Passover, demonstrating that crises are opportunities in disguise."

Rabbi Jesse Paikin

"Jews have always responded to moments of difficulty, strife, and depression, with optimism and hope. It’s a message at the core of the Passover holiday itself, a holiday that looks to the future with hope for redemption and freedom."

Rabbi Benjamin Blech, Professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University

Our greatest contributions to the world summarized in five words: memory, optimism, faith, family, and responsibility....

To study the Passover story in depth is to recognize that the most difficult task Moses had to perform was not to get the Jews out of Egypt, but to get Egypt out of the Jews. They had become so habituated to their status as slaves, they lost all hope that they could ever improve their lot.

Without hope they would have been lost.

The true miracle of Passover and its relevance for the ages is the message that with God’s help, no difficulty is insurmountable. A tyrant like Pharaoh could be overthrown. A nation as powerful as Egypt could be defeated. Slaves could become freemen. The oppressed could break the shackles of their captivity. Anything is possible, if only we dare to dream the impossible dream.

In the story of America's Great Seal, a particularly relevant chapter is the imagery suggested by Benjamin Franklin in August 1776. He chose the dramatic scene described in Exodus, where people confronted a tyrant in order to gain their freedom.

"Pharaoh sitting in an open Chariot, a Crown on his head and a Sword in his hand, passing through the divided Waters of the Red Sea in Pursuit of the Israelites: Rays from a Pillar of Fire in the Cloud, expressive of the Divine Presence and Command, beaming on Moses who stands on the shore and extending his hand over the Sea causes it to overwhelm Pharaoh."

The motto he suggested, words based on the Passover story, inspired George Washington and the founding fathers of the American colonies to rebel against their British oppressors: “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God."

It was the biblical record of the Exodus that enabled the spirit of optimism to prevail for the followers of Martin Luther King in their quest for equal rights, because they were stirred by the vision of Moses leading his people to the Promised Land. It was the hope engendered by recalling how God redeemed our ancestors that allowed even Jews incarcerated in Auschwitz to furtively celebrate the Festival of Freedom and believe in the possibility of their own liberation.

That optimistic spirit, based on our own miraculous history, is the second great gift we have given to mankind and defines our identity.

The Importance of Faith

A pessimist, it's been said, is someone who has no invisible means of support.

Jewish optimism is rooted in a contrary notion, a firmly held belief that we are blessed with support from above by a caring God. And that faith in a personal God gives us faith in ourselves, in our future and in our ability to help change the world...

From earliest childhood every Jew identifies with these five powerful ideas that are at the heart of Passover and its message. And precisely because memory, optimism, faith, family and responsibility have become such vital characteristics of our people, we have been able to achieve far beyond what anyone might have considered possible.

Rabbi Barry Dov Katz

“I’m always optimistic.  To be a Jew is to be hopeful and optimistic. "

Rabbi Yehuda Heber, rabbi of the Chabad of Yorktown

"Our faith also encourages us to look to the future optimistically, to a time when we too will witness the tide turning for the good, and experience our former freedoms once again!"

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