“Hope is related to the very feeling that life has meaning, and as long as it does, we have reason to live.” (Vaclav Havel)
When the rabbis teach that Egypt had an iron wall from which no person ever escaped they are telling us that the slaves in Egypt lived with absolutely no hope of a future; not for themselves, not for their children, not for any generation; they will forever be without hope.
It was in this way that they suffered more than anyone in history. Because even Holocaust victims and survivors who lived not having hope for themselves, or their children, always believed that eventually there would be salvation; the Jews would be saved.
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz shared a story that despite the many times he had repeated it caused sobbing tears. He met a survivor of Aushwitz, whom he asked to describe some of his experiences and was shocked to hear details of this horrible suffering that despite his familiarity with so many Holocaust stories seemed to have a unique nightmarish quality.
He couldn’t help himself; he had to ask the man, “how did you maintain your faith? How did you continue to have a relationship with God?”
The man looked at him and he said, “Rebbenyu, the blessing of the New Moon – Kiddush Levana.”
The rabbi looked at him with a blank stare; ” the blessing of the New Moon?”
“Of course,” said the man. “I don’t understand,” said the rabbi, and the man explained:
When we recite the blessing of the new moon we speak of a time when the world and the Jewish people will be renewed just as the moon is renewed. Each time I made the declaration I had hope. I knew that it could happen at any moment. I knew that salvation was at hand, and I knew that I needed to hold on desperately to God so that when that moment arrives I would be ready to leap into my new life.
Hope is the one thing that changed dramatically with the exodus of Egypt.
We learned that there is no such thing as having no hope at all for the future. This is what we celebrate and acknowledge when we recite the first paragraph of the answer in the Haggadah; Avadim Hayeinu.
P.S. Rav Chaim’s wife pointed out that most of us don’t pray on Yom Kippur with the intensity with which this man said Kiddush Levana, and that’s a reason to weep!
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