Yesterday, I attended a Passover sedar as is Jewish custom at this time of year. The sedar meal retells the Biblical story of the Exodus—the freedom of the Jewish people from the grips of centuries of slavery. Passover has had meaning, too, for many who are not necessarily Jewish but who still globally struggle with bondage and oppression. The holiday has served for centuries to offer hope to the hopeless and to convey the idea of freedom to those who are not yet free.
It is a commemorative dinner filled with good food, close family and friends and it is also a meal of symbolic ritual as evidenced by various symbolic foods on a sedar plate. The ritual, as delineated in a Passover book, the Haggadah, and as part of the commencement of the ceremony begins with the retelling of the Exodus as the youngest child asks the central question “Why is this night different from all other nights?" Amid the retelling of the Exodus story there is a portion entitled “The Four Sons” – the one who is wise, one who is wicked, one who is simple, and one who does not know to ask about the Passover story.
The wise son wants to inclusively know. Since Passover is heavy with symbolism I submit we compare it to circumstances we face in modern times. I thought the most prescient question and the one with the most gravitas for our time was one that was asked of me by Carla, the lovely young daughter of equally lovely friends.
Our discussion centered in general around the violence of the day and more specifically the killing of three innocent people at the Jewish Community Center and assisted living facility in Kansas. Carla asked me why people have to do that to one another. I starred at her blankly at first as I contemplated the answer to this existentially profound question. My inadequate response to her at first was “I do not know why man’s inhumanity to his fellow man is so prevalent but it is and it is unbelievable.”
On the ride home I thought about her profound Passover question, wondered why I could not have given her a better response and, more importantly, why I did not offer at least some solution to the sad reality of our violent time.
Part of the answer is, I think, that man has been doing evil to his fellow man since the beginning of man’s time on earth. It is, it seems, in the nature of the human beast or at least in the nature of the beast’s brain stem. The other part of the answer should have been the solution to this seemingly eternal existential conundrum. While violence may be endemic to our species non-violence and peace can begin with us too if we let it. Many men and women have shown us the path to non-violence but it is, in the final analysis, we who are responsible for our own destiny, the masters of our fate and it is we who must oppose violence and war in our own time for all time. It is at once as simple and as complex as that.
Carla asked the right question for the right time. It saddened me that I could not provide a better answer to her so I am writing this as the 1,729 post in my nine year old blog to attempt to generally do so. I thank my friends’ very sweet and humane daughter for spurring me to think about the most important question of our time—the violence of man. What better time than Passover to contemplate its answer.