First Day of Pesach
- Shabbat Shalom and Hag Sameach
- One of the hardest commandments associated with Pesach is the Mitzvah that we should conduct our Sedarim as if we were the ones being liberated from Egypt. The only way possible to understand the meaning of freedom is to experience the slavery and once again know the moment of liberation, the sweetness that comes when we leave behind the darkness in our lives and once again stand tall by the light of day.
- This is why we have to eat the Maror dipped in Haroset; to know the bitterness even if it is covered in the sweetness. The symbol of the matzah, a poor bread that had to be baked in a hurry because we had a master who demanded every moment of our time, turns into the bread of our redemption. We are still baking bread in a hurry, only now it is not a master who calls us but the spirit of liberation. We must not keep the miracle of freedom waiting.
- Modern Sages do not talk about liberation from slavery nor from Egypt. There is still slavery in the world and there still is a nation of Egypt. Mitzrayim, the Hebrew word for Egypt, can be translated as “the narrow place” the place of constriction, of bondage, the place of imprisonment. It does not matter if we are no longer physically slaves of Pharaoh, but we are still slaves to our habits, our emotions; we are still slaves to our past and to our fears. The entire Torah is about how the physical slavery came to an end but the psychological slavery, the conviction of our people that they could not conquer the land, could not overcome their obstacles, could not be masters of their own destiny; this slavery remained with them. You could take the Israelites out of slavery but it was much harder to take the slavery out of Israel.
- So it is in our lives. We who live in freedom all too often allow ourselves to be enslaved by the way things always have been. We stay in the narrow, restricted place and refuse to move into the open light of freedom. We repeat the slogans we hear on television or read in the news and never stop to think about how narrow our horizon has become.
- Do we really think about what liberation means? Take Gilad Shalit. The soldier who spent five years as a captive of Hamas and was liberated this year. What kind of a Pesach Seder did he have last night? Five years as a prisoner, finally, at home with his family, can we see the meaning of freedom in his eyes? Can we experience the way he tastes the Maror and how he enjoys this year the taste of matzah? If a mixed multitude of assorted riff raff accompanied Israel out of Egypt, so too over a thousand convicted terrorists found their freedom with his. Last year he was a prisoner, today he is free. Gilad Shalit should be the face of Pesach this year.
- Or maybe he was the face of Pesach last year. He has completed his journey from the narrow place to the promised land. Gilad Shalit does not say “Next year in Jerusalem”. He has already been redeemed. He has returned to his family and has rejoined their Seder. We celebrate with the Shalit family their liberation. Who then is the one who is still in darkness who needs us to show him the way out of the dungeon?
- There are many who could serve as the face of our Pesach this year. There are the citizens of the many Arab countries, especially Syria who live in the darkness of dictatorships and who long for the fresh air of freedom. There are the child slaves of Indonesia, who work for virtually no pay producing the goods that sell so well in Western countries. They are in the darkness of the greed of their masters and who yearn to be in the light of freedom and dignity. There are the child brides of India and other countries who are sold to their husbands by their own fathers, who endure rape, torture and slavery every day as they yearn to live normal lives, in freedom to live and love as their hearts demand.
- But there is one Jew who is still a prisoner. One who has languished in jail for over 26 years. He is not a prisoner of terrorists or of a rogue nation. He is a prisoner of the United States. His name is Jonathan Pollard. He was convicted of spying and given a life sentence. He continues to serve his sentence long after other spies were long ago set free. The anger of some in our own government is as strong today as it was way back in 1985 when he was first convicted.
- Do we even remember the story of Jonathan Pollard? He was convicted not of spying for Russia or N. Korea, our enemies of the 1980’s. He was sentenced for giving state secrets to an American ally. He gave top secret information to Israel, a nation with whom we often shared important intelligence. The normal sentence for this crime should have been 14 years in prison. Instead he was given a life sentence. To fully understand his fate, we have to fully understand his crime.
- It was against the law to give to the government of Israel classified documents. Jonathan Pollard felt that the United States was not being fair to Israel, by withholding information that he felt was crucial to their security. We do not know what information he released. That remains classified information. What we do know was that the information he released contained the identities of many intelligence agents working for the United States. It was possible that their work could be compromised and their lives endangered. As far as we know, no operative lost his life in this breach of security. But the possibility of putting their lives in the open brought about calls from American Security personnel for harsh punishment.
- He was given a life sentence. And since 1985 he has been serving his time as a model prisoner. He was not permitted to attend the funeral of his father in Israel. Now his health is in decline. We now have to ask ourselves why, after 27 years, Jonathan Pollard is still in prison?
- There are now a number of former government officials who have asked our President to grant clemency to Jonathan Pollard. Former CIA Director James Woolsey has written a letter and gone public with his support for Pollard. He says that there is no security or national interest in keeping Jonathan Pollard in jail. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and George Schultz both have written that Pollard should be released. After 27 years, the Soviet Union is no more, our enemies are now terrorists not Communists and our methods of collecting intelligence is so different that whatever state secrets Pollard once knew, they are now all irrelevant.
- Vice President Joe Biden said recently that he does not believe that Jonathan Pollard will ever deserve clemency. There are now a growing chorus of officials who disagree. Today, spies who pass information to allies or neutral countries are only given ten year sentences. Justice is not served by keeping Jonathan Pollard locked up anymore. What does our country gain by keeping this man in jail?
- Please send a card or letter to President Obama asking for clemency for Jonathan Pollard and ask our congressman and senators to put his release from prison on their agenda. Who knows, maybe our efforts will tip the balance and convince our government that the time has come to forgive and let justice give way to compassion.
- This Pesach, let us reach out and help Jonathan Pollard as he seeks to leave his place of confinement and find freedom. If we celebrate our freedom today, let us be determined to help Pollard find freedom as well. May he soon taste the bread of redemption. May he celebrate Pesach next year in Jerusalem, and may we merit to celebrate it with him there as we say …
Amen – Shabbat Shalom and Hag Sameach