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Pesach Shows the Radical Uncertainty of History

The Haggadah gives a sense of security, but that story is very hard to tell in the post-Holocaust world.
Shalom Hartman Institute Founder Rabbi Prof. David Hartman z”l was a leading thinker among philosophers of contemporary Judaism and an internationally renowned Jewish author. As part of his unique vision to deal with the challenges of Judaism in the modern world, Rabbi Prof. David Hartman founded the Shalom Hartman Institute in 1976 in honor of his father. He was a man who is with us no more A thinker, teacher, and lover of mankind Our

These comments are excerpted from Rabbi David Hartman’s powerful reading of the line in Exodus: “A new king rose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.” (Shemot/Exodus 1:8)

“How could the new Pharaoh of Egypt not know Joseph? What happened? It happens with every tyrant who sees a prosperous minority growing. He has a paranoid fear that this minority is not really loyal and will join a revolutionary force….Pharaoh has to convince the Egyptians to see them as a threat – to demonize the Jewish people….

“The contrast between being welcomed and then being oppressed reminds you of the modern world – of the Jews in Germany – when they felt secure in the most important cultural center of the world….

“What you see in the founding memory of the Jewish people is that history is arbitrary. The founding story is not just the liberation; it’s the fragile, unpredictable quality of human history. The certainty of history is an illusion; one has to be open to all possibilities in which life can be beautiful and which life can also be tragic….

“We can’t live with the romantic image that man is essentially good….

“The Haggadah gives a sense of security: God will always find a way to enter into the picture and liberate and save Jews. But that story is very hard to tell our children and ourselves in the post-Holocaust world. The birth of Israel after the Holocaust doesn’t compensate for the tragic destruction of European Jewry.””

Rabbi Hartman urges you not just to read the Haggadah, but to read the biblical account of the enslavement of the people at your seder, as well.

You care about Israel, peoplehood, and vibrant, ethical Jewish communities. We do too.

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