Beginnings and endings: Deuteronomy’s messages for us | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Beginnings and endings: Deuteronomy’s messages for us

In every generation one is obligated to see oneself as if one who personally went out from Egypt. Just as it says: “You shall tell your child on that very day: ‘It is because of this that God did for me when I went out from Egypt.’” (Exodus 13:8)  Not only were our ancestors redeemed by the Holy One, but even we were redeemed with them. Just as it says: “God took us out from there in order to bring us and to give us the land God swore to our ancestors.” (Deuteronomy 6:23) — Passover Haggadah

Coming off of the rush of the Passover holiday it is easy, and perhaps crucial, to be swept up in the narrative of the Passover Haggadah. One that cements the birth of the Jewish people as a nation set free from bondage and on a course to fulfill an earlier Biblical promise. While the Haggadah relays our obligation to see ourselves as if we personally left Egypt, it also leaves us on a cliffhanger. “God took us out from there in order to bring us and to give us the land God swore to our ancestors.” (Deuteronomy 6:23)

Why the hesitation? We seem to be focusing our energy on the beginning of a story and yet do we ever see it through?

Eric Leiderman is a Jewish educator and Springboard fellow with Hillel Milwaukee, which serves the students of a dozen colleges and universities in the Milwaukee area.

There are three major pilgrimage festivals in Judaism, including Shavuot which is only 50 days after Passover. But that holiday is spent reminiscing about Mount Sinai and the receiving of the Torah. There is no ancient holiday or festival that explicitly commemorates the entrance of the Jewish people into the land of Israel, ostensibly the goal of the Exodus in the first place.

By the way we conduct our calendar and our celebrations we seem much more excited about new beginnings and the potential they hold than with the satisfaction that comes with having seen a task or event through to the end.

The answer to this question is stated most powerfully in just a short while later from what we quote in the Haggadah, in Deuteronomy chapter 8. Moses is recounting the experience of the Jews in the desert, from their having been fed manna, to their impending entrance into a land flowing with milk and honey. The land is a good land, there will be plenty of water and bread and fruits and even precious metals.

However, it is at this moment – with all its abundance and goodness – that the people, who should be praising God for all of their good fortune instead, say: “My own power and the might strength of my own hand have made this wealth for me.” (Deuteronomy 8:17) They seem to have forgotten where it all came from.

Maybe this perpetual quirk of human nature explains why we as Jews tend to celebrate the beginnings and shy away from the ends. Beginnings are scary, but hold a lot of potential. Whether it is Passover, a wedding, a baby naming or circumcision, our most joyous get-togethers tend to revolve around real or metaphorical births. As we try to set ourselves or family and friends on the good path, recognizing the many challenges that lie ahead with the enormous potential for greatness.

Alternatively, Yom Ha’atzmaut – Israeli Independence Day – would seem to be the natural answer to my question. We are celebrating a victory, an accomplishment, and we have a lot to look back at and be proud of. Perhaps this modern holiday is the exception that proves the rule. Celebrated by religious Zionists as a holiday with special prayers added to the regular liturgy, and Jewish schools and organizations around the world organize large scale celebrations. But are we celebrating the beginning of the Jewish State, the start of a new era in Jewish history, or the culmination of our ancestors’ journey through the wilderness?

Looking at Deuteronomy 8 we must remember the trap of once everything looks finished, once we are successful, we can easily say, “we did this.” And when we hold our successes to be ours alone we lose the potential to grow. We feel satisfied with where we are and with our own ability to make it happen. We no longer question and we no longer need to enlist the help of others. This may be the true message of the Haggadah.