Friday, March 30, 2018

Seeing the Signs of the Times: A Thought for the Seder from Don Isaac Abravanel

Exactly 526 years ago tomorrow, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, their most Catholic majesties of Aragon and Castille, stood in the Al-Hambra Palace (once built for the Jewish Vizier of Granada, Samuel Ibn Negrela Ha-Nagid) and issued a decree expelling all professing Jews from their combined KIngdoms no later than July 31 (four months hence).

The Decree of Expulsion from Spain 

One of those who chose the staff of exile was the Royal Treasurer, Don Isaac Abravanel (whom our family is proud to call our ancestor). Over the years of wandering, he pondered the disaster that had befallen the Jews of Spain, whose glorious history ended in a combination of the Fires of the Inquisition, the Waters of the Baptismal font and the Bitter Waters of Exile. In his Hagaddah, which he finished some thirteen years after he left Spain, he expresses the despair that he and his generation felt.

              'What have we gained,' he asked, 'by leaving Egypt?' Perhaps we would 
              have been better off staying there than being exiled among the Christians 
              and the Muslims, free from the expulsions, the persecutions, the sword,
              captivity, and worst of all apostasy as a response to travail.

And yet, he adduced two lessons that he took away. 1) That there is no way to explain the Exodus except by Divine intervention.

2) In his commentary to Isaiah 49, Abravanel says that God inspired the Kings of Europe to expel their Jews (using the verb the Prophet uses to describe Cyrus), in order to being them ever closer to Eretz Yisrael. The message is, and Abravanel's generation actually failed here by either going West or stopping short, to read the signs of God's intervention in History and follow His lead.  

According to Hazal, 80% of the Israelites died during the three days of Darkness. I surmise that they didn't die physically. They died spiritually, and so remained in Egypt. They failed on both of Abravanels counts. They refused to believe that any power could defeat Pharaoh. They likely assumed that miracles weren't miracles, that everything is natural and that reasonable, sophisticated people wouldn't accept such things. In their uber-sophistication, they were blind to God's Hand in History. 

We've seen God's Hand in History, even when we don't understand it. Rav Yehudah Amital זצ"ל, himself a survivor who lost his entire family in the Shoah,  used to say that he saw God's Hand in the Shoah, when the Germans and their Henchmen ימ"ש harmed their own war effort to murder Jews. He just couldn't fathom what God was doing. Far be it from me to presume to say anything about the Holocaust. However, in our times we've seen God's Hand in History, when three years after Auschwitz, the State of Israel was born, against all political and military logic. We saw it when the great Soviet Empire came crashing down, and hundreds of thousands of Jews were freed from three generations of repression and persecution. In fact, for those who look closely, our continued existence, both of our country and our people, is due to one long series of miracles (whether hidden or revealed).

On Pesach, we thank הקב"ה for these never ending miracles, from the Exodus from Egypt until today and Please God, till the coming of משיח צדקנו בב"א

חג כשר ושמח!!!

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