“In every generation, an enemy will rise against us to destroy us,” my family sang last night as we sat around the Seder table, singing the same songs we sing every year. We get together this year as we do each year to retell the story of the Hebrews’ escape from slavery in Egypt. We discuss the reason behind the matzah we’re required to eat for a week straight. We get a little… jubilant towards the end as we get through the traditional third and fourth cups of wine, to say nothing of cups 2.1, 2.2, and 2.25. Year in, year out, this tradition remains.
In every generation, an enemy will rise against us. Historically speaking, this statement is not far from the truth. I can cite the pogroms, the Inquisition, or even invoke Godwin’s law and bring up the Nazis, but the Jews have had quite a few enemies over the generations. To a large extent, it both results from and results in the insular nature of the Jewish community. People go to school together, go to camp together, go see a doctor who attends your synagogue. It’s why Zionism first came about in the 1800s – why trust others to run your nation if you can’t even trust them to be your neighbors?
In every generation, an enemy will rise. Just because we say it about ourselves doesn’t mean we don’t acknowledge or fight the enemies of others. We tell the same story every year in the hopes that we as a people will stand up against injustices in the world. This resonated with 20th century rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a well-known figure in the civil rights movement. Alongside Rev. King, Rabbi Heschel marched in Selma, Alabama to demonstrate against segregation and effect some change in a country so sorely in need of it.
In every generation, the notion of “tzedek”, justice, is taught to young children in the hopes that they take it to heart as they grow older, wiser, and more influential.
V’hi she’amda l’avoteinu v’lanu.
This is what has stood by our fathers. This is what stands for us.