Written by Harav Hagaon R. Aaron Lopiansky Shlita,
Rosh HaYeshiva “Yeshiva of Greater Washington”
This amazing letter (printed in his book “Time Pieces”) is too good to
be kept just for yourself. Please share it with others.
My dear child, It is now a quiet moment late at night. After an exhausting day of Passover cleaning, you have sunk into the sweetest of sleeps, and I am sitting here with a pile of haggadas, preparing for Seder night. Somehow the words never come out the way I want them to, and the Seder evening is always unpredictable. But so many thoughts and feelings are welling up in my mind and I want to share them with you.
These are the words I mean to say at the Seder. When you will see me at the Seder dressed in Kittell, the same plain white garment worn on Yom Kippur, your first question will be, “Why are you dressed like this?” Because it is Yom Kippur, a day of reckoning. You see, each one of us has a double role. First and foremost we are human beings, creatures in the image of God, and on Yom Kippur, we are examined if indeed we are worthy of that title.
But we are also components of Klal Yisrael, the Jewish People, links in a chain that started over 3,000 years ago and will make it to the finish line of the end of times. It is a relay race where a torch is passed on through all the ages, and it is our charge, to take it from the one before and pass it on to the one after.
Tonight we are being judged as to how well we have received our tradition and how well we are passing it on.
It is now 3,300 years since we received that freedom in Egypt. If we imagine the average age of having a child to be about 25 years of age, there are four generations each century. That means there is a total of 132 people stretching from our forefathers in Egypt to us today. 132 people had to pass on this heritage flawlessly, with a devotion and single-mindedness that could not falter.
Who were these 133 fathers of mine? One had been in the Nazi death camps; one had been whipped unconscious by Cossacks. One had children stolen by the Czar, and one was the laughing stock of his “enlightened” brethren. One lived in a basement in Warsaw with many days passing with no food to his mouth; the other ran a stupendous mansion in France. One had been burned at stake for refusing to believe in the divinity of a flesh and blood, and one had been frozen to death in Siberia for continuing to believe in the divinity of the Eternal God. One had been hounded by a mob for living in Europe rather than Palestine, and one had been blown up by Palestinians for not living in Europe. One had been a genius who could not enter medical school because he was not Christian, and one was fed to the lions by the Romans…
132 fathers, each with his own story. Each with his own test of faith. And each with one overriding and burning desire: that this legacy be passed unscathed to me. And one request of me: that I pass this on to you, my sweet child.
What is this treasure that they have given their lives for? What is in this precious packet that 132 generations have given up everything for? It is a great secret: That man is capable of being a lot more than an intelligent primate. That the truth of an Almighty God does not depend on public approval, and no matter how many people jeer at you, truth never changes. That the quality of life is not measured by goods but by the good. That one can be powerfully hungry, and yet one can forgo eating if it is not kosher. That a penny that is not mine is not mine, no matter the temptation or rationalization. That family bonding is a lot more than birthday parties; it is a commitment of loyalty that does not buckle in a moment of craving or lust. And so much more.
This is our precious secret, and it is our charge to live it and to become a shining display of “This is what it means to live with God.” 132 people have sat Seder night after Seder night, year after year, and with every fiber of their heart and soul have made sure that this treasure would become mine and yours.
Doubters have risen who are busy sifting the sands of the Sinai trying to find some dried out bones as residues of my great-great-grandfather. They are looking in the wrong place. The residue is in the soul of every one of these 132 grandfathers whose entirety of life was wrapped up in the preservation of this memory and treasure. It is unthinkable that a message borne with such fervor and intensity, against such challenges and odds, is the result of a vague legend or the fantasy of an idle mind. I am the 133rd person in this holy chain.
At times I doubt if I am passing it on well enough. I try hard, but it is hard not to quiver when you are on the vertical shoulders of 132 people, begging you not to disappoint them by toppling everyone with you swaying in the wind.
My dear child, may God grant us many long and happy years together. But one day, in the distant future, I’ll be dressed in a kittel again as they prepare me for my burial. Try to remember that this is the treasure that I have passed on to you. And then it will be your turn, you will be the 134th with the sacred duty to pass on our legacy to number 135.
Thank you Yisroel. quite a message. I need to re read and do some serious contemplating my number. I know that my father did the best he could to pass it on to me. I took a wrong road but thankfully I am back though stumbling at times, questioning at times, feeling very lonely at times also I hope you are having a joyous Pesach. Doovid.
Shalom Rabbi Blumenthal,
Good day. Thank you for sharing this.
I understand that Passover observance is only within the Jewish community. If you don’t mind , can you share lessons that non Jews can learn from this event and its observance by the community?
Chag Sameach .Thank you
SharonS Shalom The lessons that all of mankind can draw from the Exodus story is that God hears the cry of the downtrodden and that He values the relationship of friendship with Him as He valued His relationship with Abrah
Shalom Rabbi Blumenthal,
Good day.Thank you for sharing lessons from the Exodus story.
In the Exodus story, God hears the cry and saves the downtrodden from an evil king.
Is it wrong then for a non Jew to believe , from this event-that God heard the cry of the all mankind and saved all of us from the sin and evil in ourselves?
I am sorry if this question offends. Thank you
Sharon S No it is not wrong for a non-Jew to take that message. That is the message of the exodus – that God identifies Himself as the One who takes the cause of the downtrodden, spiritual and physical.
1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >
I think there are some questions about how the message might have been passed down during the first few dozen generations. I can’t find historical clarity about the early transmission of the exodus account, and the amount of symbolism that may have made its way in as fact.
Lately I read about ambiguous loss, the type of grief that has no closure because it’s not clear what the outcome will be. For example, with a relationship breakup, a missing loved one, or a serious health concern. I think that many people who experience a faith crisis or agnosticism also go through this. And the only peace comes from accepting that both outcomes may be possible.
This reminded me a lot of the exodus experience, being alive underneath the sea and in the wilderness. Having hope but no certainty, and having to surrender to the reality of having no control. In this, I think the exodus story speaks to those who question it, yet it’s still woven into the fabric of their heritage in the way described in this letter.
People’s historical lived experience of guarding Torah is a big aspect of what holds it over the heads of their descendants, and the lack of evidence can hold distress for people, not least because if the story is mostly invented then it shouldn’t hold so much control or evoke so much feeling of infant-like dependence. But in any case, the experience of powerlessness is real for us all. We all live in the tension between what might be true and what else might be true. Instead of being a cognitive threat to faith, I think this has to be the foundation of faith, in the form of hope.