“Doesn’t it get a bit depressing after a while?”
That was the question I was asked this week when discussing the seder. We were looking at the line “Next year in Jerusalem!”, and thinking about how we always look forward that perhaps next year the Messiah will have come, that perhaps the world will be fully redeemed, finally perfect. And yet, every year we say the line again – Next year in Jerusalem – always next year. The future is always coming and never arrives. Doesn’t that eventually start wearing us all down?
It’s been my honour to write bi-annual articles for the Essex Jewish News, both for their Rosh Hashanah and Pesach issues, alongside many other leaders of the different movements. Looking back at last year’s contributions, I was shocked to see how many of us had written about the line “next year in Jerusalem”. Last year we were still having Seder under lockdown, our second year having Seder alone or in very limited numbers, still dreaming that perhaps next year everything would be back to normal. Two years of pandemic seders was already unbelievable. Surely, I thought, it wouldn’t be three!
Next year has arrived, and in many ways the world is in a different place, and in others it’s the same. Thanks to vaccinations and incredible life-saving treatments, Covid-19 is no longer as deadly as it was a year ago. We no longer live under strict regulations of lockdown and limited numbers. But there is still a lot of Covid around, and for many people contracting Covid is still life-threatening – we haven’t returned to ‘normal’. I and many others I know have chosen to have smaller seders this year than we might have done in years past, limited to close family members. It’s better than doing seder alone, but the redeemed world seems quite far away.
Human beings are sometimes capable of incredible optimism. A traditional prayer for Rosh Hashanah says: “May the year end with all its curses, may the new year begin with all its blessings”. Looking back we see the hardships, the challenges, the things that went wrong, but looking forward we see potential – the blessings that are yet to come.
As we remember the Exodus from Egypt, we reenact the night of the 10th Plague, when the Israelites ate the paschal lambs in their own homes as Death stalked the Egyptian firstborns. We don’t reenact the first night of freedom, but the last night of slavery – we try to put ourselves back into the last night of subjugation, when freedom was a dream. Over the course of seder we taste suffering (the salt water tears, the bitter herbs) but freedom doesn’t have it’s own special food, unless it is the afikomen, the last morsel of matzah that we eat. At seder we recall suffering, and imagine freedom.
I don’t find it depressing to be once more in my home praying “next year in Jerusalem”. Being able to look forward and imagine a hopeful future is itself energising, imagining a redeemed world is a kind of blessing in and of itself.
The world is full of so much pain and suffering. The pandemic has caused so much hurt and loss, there are so many refugees fleeing war and persecution, food poverty is on the rise here in the UK, climate change is causing incredible harm, and on, and on. It’s easy to get lost in the suffering – but if we can imagine a better world, then we have the chance to build towards it, always striving.
This year may we all be able to imagine that redeemed world, and find the small parts each one of us can play to bring it a little closer.
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