Pour out Your wrath on the nations that do not acknowledge you, on the kingdoms that do not call on your name for they have devoured Jacob and destroyed his home..
Clearly this paragraph makes some people "uncomfortable" because it "seems to defy the Seder’s universal themes of freedom and liberation." I, however, love it. Why the infatuation? Simple: I always picture the many beleaguered Jews, particularly but not only in Europe, for whom Passover, with its proximity to Easter, was a dangerous time. I imagine Jews who spent much of the year, not just Passover, fearful that the non-Jewish world might turn on them in violence and they would have little recourse to protect themselves. Suddenly, for one short paragraph, they opened the door of their homes—of course it was at a moment when most of their non-Jewish neighbors had already retired for the night—and publicly told them and the whole world just what they wished for them. For one brief moment they could let their desire for justice be heard publicly. They did not have to cower in fear. They did not have to accept whatever was dealt them because they were powerless to respond. Those thirty two words constituted the one moment during the year when they unambiguously could give voice to their feelings of pain for the torment they and previous generations had endured. (Deborah Lipstadt)
Three thinkers, Jan Assmann, the Jewish scholar Henri Atlan, and the Christian theologian Miroslav Volf, have something deeply insightful to say about Divine vengeance. Atlan…suggests that “the best way to rid the world of the violent sacred is to reject it onto a transcendence.” The “transcendence of violence” results in “its being expelled from the normal horizon of things”. In other words – vengeance is removed from human calculation. It is G-d, not man, who is entitled to exercise it. To be sure, there are times when G-d commands human beings to act on His behalf – the battles against the Midianites and the Amalekites are two obvious examples. But once prophecy ceases, as it has done since late Second Temple times, so too does violence in the name of G-d. Volf agrees with this analysis, and adds that “in a world of violence we are faced with an inescapable alternative: either G-d’s violence or human violence”. He adds: Most people who insist on G-d’s “nonviolence” cannot resist using violence themselves (or tacitly sanctioning its use by others). They deem the talk of G-d’s judgment irreverent, but think nothing of entrusting judgment into human hands . . . And so violence thrives, secretly nourished by belief in a G-d who refuses to wield the sword.
I think of the Jews of the Middle Ages, who saw their fellow Jews accused of killing Christian children to drink their blood, of poisoning wells, desecrating the host and spreading the plague…and then murdered en masse in the name of the G-d of love. We can still hear their responses: they are recorded for us in many of the lamentations, kinot, we say on the 9th Av. Yes, they appeal to G-d’s vengeance, which is to say, to G-d’s justice. But Jews did not seek to take vengeance. That is something you leave to G-d. There is a justice we will not see this side of the end of days. In the meantime, it is sufficient to live, and affirm life, and seek no more than the right to be true to your faith without fear – no more than the right to live and defend that selfsame right for your children. The search for perfect justice is not for us, here, now. (Jonathan Sacks)
In the ghettos of Europe, Jews opened their doors at this moment in the seder for two fascinating and conflicting reasons. One was to let the gentiles see that, yes, indeed, the Jews were doing what they claimed they were doing, having an innocent meal together – no Christian children being slaughtered here thank you very much. At the same time, employing words not understood by their neighbours, the Jews were venting their anger at the gentiles who were making their lives a misery.
The anger of our ghetto ancestors were understandable. Why not let powerless people have their fantasies of justice and revenge? But should we pour out our wrath today, onto societies that accept us? Or, to ask the question another way, is righteous anger, even aimed at ancient enemies, and not our neighbors, ennobling or distorting? Anger channelled destructively, can lead to vindictiveness, to a kind of constricting tribalism that sees everyone on the other side of our circles wagons as an enemy. Destructive anger is one of the great dangers of our age. Technology has, among other things, enabled the instantaneous transmission of invective; the internet is used all too often to demonise and polarise. The Talmud tells us that God loves the man who does not get angry. But isn’t anger also a useful motivator? Isn’t there such a thing as righteous anger? The abolitionists were angry; the suffragists were angry; Herzl was angry; Gandhi was angry. But they poured their wrath not into vengeful violence but into new foundations of justice. But how do we know when our constructive anger becomes dangerous? Can we ever trust our emotions or is that why we have law, because we cant? (Jeffrey Goldberg)
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