Paul L. Caron

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Passover: Lessons For Politicians (And The Rest Of Us)

Wall Street Journal op-ed:  Lessons for Politicians at Passover, by William A. Galston (Brookings Institution):

In the middle of the Passover celebration comes a well-known song that traces the journey’s steps, starting with the Exodus from Egypt and ending with the building of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. After each stage comes the refrain “dayenu,” which means: It would have been enough if God’s grace had ended there.

This is good theology: Every blessing from God is more than we deserve, and the correct response is gratitude. But from a practical standpoint, the premise is incorrect. Liberation is a precondition of freedom, but no guarantee of it. Revolutions can go awry, and usually do. Throwing off the shackles of tyranny often ends in new forms of bondage.

The shared experience of oppression holds the oppressed together, but once the tyranny ends, so does the unity. Revolutionary leaders can claim only tenuous authority, at least at first, unless they are buttressed by character and accomplishment. Envious rivals eventually mobilized the people against Moses and revolted against his leadership.

The newly liberated Israelites weren’t ready for freedom. Confronted with the rigors of life in the desert, they yearned for the guaranteed sustenance of oppression, and they blamed Moses for failing to meet their unrealistic expectations. The Exodus generation, which hadn’t been responsible for its own liberation, lacked the courage to fight for freedom. It took a new generation, hardened by deprivation and conflict, to develop the character needed to enter the Promised Land.

During the modern era, the Exodus became an inspirational template for secular revolutions, and so it is important to understand the full and rich message of the departure from Egypt. ...

In his commentary on the Haggada, the liturgy of Passover, the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks notes that Hebrew has two words for freedom—hofesh and herut. The former means “freedom from,” the latter, “freedom to.” Hofesh is liberation from oppression; herut is a system in which each individual respects the freedom of others.

Liberation is exhilarating. A system of liberty is slower and harder; it requires restraint and forbearance. In a stable free society, leaders understand that victories are temporary and that the rights of minorities are protections that they may need when their fortunes shift. The imperative of forbearance is a lesson that politicians everywhere might remember this Passover.

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