Thomas Jefferson and Yachatz by Abby Fifer Mandell

During the Yahatz portion of the Seder, we break the middle matzah in half and put away one half to eat later as the afikoman. In doing so, we are reminded that a journey to freedom also involves a break with the past. Like Moses before him, Jefferson understood that the founding of our nation was both the fulfillment of an ideal and a painful separation from Britain. Breaks are not always clean, though they may be necessary. Breaking takes courage. For all Jefferson’s idealism, we must confront the fact that he himself was a slave owner. Despite articulating a vision of the “consent of the governed,” he harbored a blind spot to that very vision. We continue to wrestle with significant inner contradiction of our founding fathers.

Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence July 4, 1776

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States."

Questions for Discussion

Which is harder for a leader to do: provide a vision for the future or declare a break with the past?

How do you reconcile the inherent contradiction upon which our country was founded: that America is to be a nation of free people, yet many of its founders owned slaves?

haggadah Section: Yachatz