As we merited to make the journey, yet another year, from slavery to freedom, from the constraints of Egypt to the open desert, it is incumbent upon us to find the relevance of Passover in our lives.
There is a remarkable piece in Gd’s method of preparing the Jews to leave Egypt. Gd commands every Jewish household to take a lamb into the home for a few days, then slaughter it and mark the doorpost of the house with its blood. Imagine being in that place for a minute. Take a lamb, the very animal that is worshiped as a deity in the hostile society in which you live…care for it, then risk your life to kill it so that its blood will protect you from Gd’s final devastating blow. To take this action required such a deep trust in Gd, that most of the Jews didn’t do it. Most assimilated and were lost and only a minority followed Gd’s word and left Egypt.
This marking on the doorpost – it was the first mezuzah! Jewish Egyptians were challenged to distinguish their homes, not with a subtle mark, but with a bold, emphatic and risky statement. Gd clearly had an eternal message in this and it applies to us today.
As educators and investors in Jewish education, we are partners with the holiest institution since the beit hamigdash stood – that is the Jewish home. Many Jews, I would guess, the vast majority, have no idea that the holiest place is in fact, not the synagogue, but the home. Some even think, “I am a bad Jew because I don’t go to synagogue!” When in fact, every Jewish home has equal potential to instill the Jewish identity and values that sustain the Jewish people. The Jewish institutions that we devote ourselves to are extensions of the home. School is not a substitute for, but an essential limb of the home. When families choose to entrust their children’s education and direct their dollars to Jewish day schools, they expect an experience that, like their homes, is distinctly Jewish. Distinction is in our DNA and has enabled our survival throughout the ages. Scattered to all four corners of the Earth, distinction is the unifier that has made survival possible. Gd said, “mark your houses” because the values that you hold inside, are the hallmark of the Jewish family that will distinguish you for all time. When Gd commanded us to make ourselves distinct, it was by the unit of the home, not the individual.
Courage is a vital trait for Jewish growth and expression. It took an unimaginable amount of courage for those Jews in Egypt to paint their doorposts with lamb’s blood. It takes courage to move from one culture to another, to change practiced customs, to transform ourselves, our institutions. And courage is so rare these days in leadership that when it shows up, it gets attention and admiration. I attended AIPAC policy conference in March. From the lineup of prestigious speakers, the most talked about speaker was Nikki Haley. She said, “The most important thing is to not be afraid to stick with the fundamental principles, even when they go against entrenched customs. Some of those outdated customs have gone unquestioned for years.” Ambassador Haley presents a courage that is refreshing in politics. She dares to buck the status quo, stands up to bullying and speaks up for what she believes is just. She is a true hero. This type of courage is not foreign to Jews. From the lamb’s blood on the doorpost to Nachshon bravely walking into the Sea to his nostrils, we the Jewish people have courage embedded in our core. If we choose to access this courage to become leaders in the education field instead of followers, we will enable our future generations to fulfill their mission in this world.
Nikki Haley continued with a simple retort that inspires me deeply. She said, “Some of you might've seen that the top Palestinian negotiator recently had some advice for me. He told me to shut up. Mr. Erekat, I will always be respectful, but I will never shut up.” Well, I’m not about to either. I am committed to fighting courageously for what I know is right, for the values that distinguish us and for future generations of Jews to choose and to own their Judaism. Let us ALSO have the courage to say what needs to be said, to do what needs to be done, and in doing so connect those dots that will actualize our efforts to evolve Jewish day schools into the distinct greatness befitting the Jewish people.