We are in the midst of Passover and I am delighted to be sharing the festival with so many children and grandchildren. At the same time, that means that my computer and I haven’t seen a great deal of each other this week. My head is full of menus and cooking timetables, leaving little room for pondering current world affairs. One main focus of Passover, however, is realizing that without continually keeping an eye on the past, present and future, humans are prone to mess up. With this in mind, I’d like to share a Musing from April, 2012 that is no less relevant today.
“In each generation every person must view themselves as if they left Egypt.” A few nights ago, Jews around the world recited a sentence expressing this thought at the Passover Seder. Shortly before the holiday started, my son, Ari, saw one aspect of this idea come to life.
I think most of us picture ourselves on the right side of history. Had we lived in different times and places surely we would have stood with the abolitionists rather than the slave-owners; would have joined the Resistance rather than the Nazi Party; and would have opposed Stalin rather than embracing him. We more easily picture ourselves following Moses through the sea rather than ignoring him and the God he represented. But the majority of Jews did not leave Egypt. Eighty percent chose loyalty to Pharaoh and the status quo. Bad choice.
Being courageous and noble is always easier with hindsight. If we were all virtuous, wise, discerning and proper-thinking people, there would be no evil to defeat in the world. It is obviously quite easy to follow a wrong ideology and be swayed by misguided and evil philosophies. Ideas which sound good can be awfully destructive. Fully aware of how courage is contagious, our son, Ari, took time from an incredibly busy schedule to go hear Ayaan Hirsi Ali, one of the brave and heroic women of our day. If you have not read her book, Infidel, I highly recommend that you do. An outspoken activist against the worst manifestations of Islamo-fascist behavior, particularly as it affects women and children, she risks her life by speaking out and has been forced into exile for her views.
Hearing her speak was a mixed experience. Ari appreciated her words and was glad to support her as she addressed the students at a major university in Maryland. The student reaction, however, was demoralizing. Ms. Ali and America were attacked. Listening to the questioners, one would be forgiven for thinking that the Moslem world is a bastion of women’s rights and peaceful coexistence among all religions while America is a bigoted, repressive society. In Ari’s words, “The questions and questioners were uniformly dumb, rude, antagonistic and illogical. What was incredible is that the moderator, the president of the university, allowed and encouraged their behavior. It was truly childish and embarrassing.”
In every generation in which evil triumphs, many who side with it are ‘useful idiots’ or swept along with the crowd. We should never stop looking deep inside ourselves and asking ourselves whether we are on the right side of issues and will be able to look back and declare that we, indeed, did align ourselves with those who chose God rather than Pharaoh.