Thanks be to God for Good Neighbors

April 19th: Passover
Rabbi David E. Ostrich

One of the most interesting things about Judaism is the multiplicity of voices in our Tradition—some which are known well, and others which are more obscure, some which speak to our current sensibilities, and others which come from a very different world. One traditionally ubiquitous voice which has currently gone obscure is the Haggadah passage that begins with the words “Pour out Thy wrath!” It is a concatenation of verses from the Psalms and Lamentations that asks God to execute Divine Judgement on our oppressors. It comes in the Haggadah right as we open the door for Elijah—and before we sing the song inviting him into our homes. As though daring the oppressors to hear us, the leader intones: “Pour out Your wrath upon the nations that do not know You, upon the governments which do not call upon Your name! For they have devoured Jacob and desolated his home!  (Psalms 79:6-7) Pour out Your wrath on them; may Your blazing anger overtake them! (Psalms 69:25) Pursue them from under the heavens of the Lord!” (Lamentations 3:66)”

If you have never seen this angry and vengeful part of the Haggadah, it is probably for one of two reasons. (1) Your Haggadah took out this traditional passage because it does not reflect the spirit of peace and fellowship which most modern Haggadahs encourage. (2) It was there but in Hebrew and not translated (by the leader, or at all).

Coming from times and places where Judaism was precariously perched between Rabbinic pacifism and the pain of persecution, this passage was an outlet for our ancestors’ pain and sense of outrage. “Shall not the Judge of the Universe do justly?” they asked along with Abraham. (Genesis 18.25) “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me; why so far from delivering me and from my anguished roaring?” they asked along with David. (Psalm 22.1) In the face of perpetual discrimination and frequent violence, our ancestors yearned for respite and prayed for the God of Redemption to redeem them. And, what better time to ask for redemption? Passover is the festival of freedom, and our people hoped every year to be freed from the centuries of anti-Semitism that pervaded European Jewish life.

Given that we now live in a land of equality and religious liberty, this traditional passage does not resonate with our blessings or our challenges, and so it has been put on the shelf. In so many ways, we have been given this second redemption, and we should all give thanks. We may sing, “Dayenu”—those ancient miracles would have been enough, but we really needed some modern miracles, and, thank God, they have blessed our lives immeasurably.

As evidence, let me share with you the message of Rev. Sarah Malone, speaking for the Palm Sunday Peace March that visited us this past Sunday and dedicated a tree to good interfaith relations:

 ”We come to appreciate, celebrate, love and honor you as persons. And we come to celebrate, to appreciate, to honor, and to love as well the eternal truths that Jews have sought to live by, and have kept safe for all humanity, for literally thousands of years. Each of you individually here, now, represents to us this divine gift and beautiful heritage, this treasure, of Judaism.

Furthermore, we recognize with delight that the truth of Judaism, the beautiful treasure of Jewish theology and spirituality, will never be invalidated, will never be superseded, by any other religion or philosophy, and will continue until the human effort of religion itself is no longer needed, in the very presence of the Divine.

And so, it is at this time that we followers of Jesus, confess to you as Jews, that we have long carried pain, shame, and sorrow for the many ways our beloved practice of Christianity has throughout untold years in untold numbers of places, and even especially on this sacred day of Palm Sunday, been used as an excuse or a pretext for persecution and hurt to Jewish people, individually or collectively.

And though we as individuals have not taken part in such persecution, and though significant work of repentance and reconciliation has taken place with certain Christian churches and leaders, yet continuing acts of persecution, defamation, desecration and violence still occurring in this nation and in the world against Jews as Jews, cause us pain, shame, and sorrow, and show as well that much work remains.

“Oh, that my head were a spring of waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, I would weep day and night for the slain of my people!” says the ancient prophet Jeremiah (9:1).

If there were any way that tears and love could wash away the hurt of centuries; if there were any way that a fountain of tears, and another fountain of love, could melt away and dissolve the walls of fear, pain, shame and alienation built over centuries, that have kept, and still keep Christians and Jews from fully caring, nurturing, or cooperating with each other, we would shed those tears and we would pour out that love for you, our Jewish neighbors.

So it is that we come to plant a living tree for you here at Congregation Brit Shalom—we come to plant the hope that it is a Tree of Life—and that it will symbolize a living and growing commitment, and a Covenant of Peace—to work together in loving kindness, however the Divine wills and gives us strength to do, to pluck out the roots of anti-Semitic falsehood, prejudice, violence, and hatred wherever we see them—and to do our best, as given ability, to protect you, our Jewish neighbors, from these both now and in the future.

May God bless this covenant and Congregation Brit Shalom now and from this day forward. Amen.”


Thanks be to God for good neighbors! Thanks be to God for tikkun olam! Next year in Jerusalem! Next year, may all humans be free from oppression and hate!