Parasha / E-Letter

One Step Closer to Redemption

1 Comment 28 February 2018

As Jews across the world celebrate Purim, Rabbi Gideon Sylvester draws parallels between the hints of redemption in the story of the festival, and the glimmers of it we find in our current world.

“This is how Israel’s redemption will look, first it will be little by little, but as it continues, it will grow in momentum” Photo: Dawn by Jessie Eastland CC by S.A 3.0 wikipedia

Rabbi Gideon Sylvester

For British Jews and the international Limmud community, it’s been a hard week with the tragic loss of Maureen Kendler, a fantastic educator, a human rights activist, a proud Orthodox feminist and one of the kindest people I have ever met. In the final days of her life, under assault from cancer, she emailed me saying, “Teach in my name please as I can’t”.  Maureen, this Dvar Torah is taught in your name.

Human rights activists everywhere live with the constant awareness of society’s failings. We celebrate living in Israel, but we cannot avoid the news cycle which reminds us that our miraculous state is still far from perfect.

Perhaps the festival which best reflects our situation is Purim. Purim celebrates our miraculous deliverance from genocide, but it was an imperfect redemption. In the Talmudic discussion about whether to recite Hallel on Purim (Arachin 10b), Rabbi Yitzhak noted that the miracles took place in the diaspora. Full redemption for the Jewish people can only takes place in our homeland, Israel. Anything else is a poor substitute.

While Rabbi Yitzhak lamented the fact that at the time of Purim most Jews were not living in Israel, for Raba, it was not so much a problem of geography, but autonomy. At Pesach, we recite Hallel because, having shaken off the rule of Pharaoh, we can proudly proclaim the words of Psalms 113, “Praise you servants of the Lord”. We are servants of God, not servants of Pharaoh. But at the conclusion of the Purim story, although we had removed the immediate threat from Haman, there was always the chance that one anti-Semite would be replaced by another. Our autonomy was incomplete; we could not wholeheartedly praise God as his servants because we remained beholden to King Ahashverosh.

Purim is about incomplete redemption, but it also hints at future final redemption. This week, Jerusalem archeologists uncovered a seal that almost certainly belonged to Isaiah, the prophet who gave the world its most stunning vision of complete redemption. His prophecies described an era of universal peace in which the wolf would lie down with the lamb and the leopard with the young goat (Isaiah 11:6).

Isaiah’s seal was a fascinating archeological find, but it took on even greater significance later in the week when the prophet’s vision burst into life. Three thousand Jews and Palestinians united in Haifa to sing Matisyahu’s “One Day” which is a modern rendition of Isaiah’s prophecies in Hebrew, English and Arabic. Together, Jews and Arabs sang of their aspirations for the time “When the people of the world will say: ‘We don´t want fight no more/There’ll be no more wars/ And our children will play”.

Our redemption is incomplete, we have returned to our land, but we cannot yet live in peace. Still our rabbis understood that redemption takes time. The Jerusalem Talmud tells of two rabbis who once walked through the dark Arbel Valley in the eastern Galilee. Looking up, they saw the very first rays of dawn. Rabbi Ḥiyya said, “This is how Israel’s redemption will look, first it will be little by little, but as it continues, it will grow in momentum”. His source was the gradual unfolding events of the Book of Esther (Berachot 1:1).

Our redemption remains incomplete, but our generation is blessed to see the first light emerging. I am deeply grateful for the privilege of knowing Maureen Kendler and watching her take us one step closer to redemption.

Purim Sameach!

Rabbi Gideon Sylvester is a member of Rabbis for Human Rights and the British United Synagogue’s Israel Rabbi. He is writing his doctorate on West Bank Rabbis who dialogue with Palestinians

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1 comment

  1. Philip McFedries says:

    There can be no redemption for any of mankind until all of mankind are included. All live matter. God bless your work for human rights.

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