Rabbinic Reflections by Rabbi Geoff
In a bizarre UK news report recently, police revealed that a man, who had been missing for three years, had in fact been living in a department store. The department store was one famous for not having clear exit signs and many suggest it was a ploy to keep shoppers shopping.
Three years trapped and wandering in a department store seems like nothing when compared with 430 years of captivity and 40 more years of wandering in the desert, but for the Jewish people, that was their experience while in Egypt long ago. Enslaved by Pharaohs and enduring all manner of hardship, God—through God’s servant Moshe—frees the Jewish people by punishing the Egyptian taskmasters with 10 plagues. God then commands the Jewish People to celebrate the Passover in thanksgiving.
Passover commemorates our freedom from slavery and oppression, but it also leads us to Shavuot and the giving of Torah on Mt. Sinai. This teaches us that freedom from slavery must lead to a life of civil and religious commitment. Often, in our past, we have been denied both and now that we enjoy civil liberties we should also commit ourselves to maintaining our fidelity to Jewish spiritual life. Too often, in fleeing from the shackles of past restrictions, we abandon our religious identity in favour of assimilating into the mainstream at the cost of losing our Jewish heritage, values and identity.
Although we have much to celebrate with the freedom we enjoy here in Canada, we must never forget our unique heritage and the mores it teaches. Other countries throughout our Jewish history looked at us with derision and disgust, denying us basic human dignities as well as rights and freedoms. Not so in Canada. Although faced with times of hardship and anti-Semitism, we never experienced Inquisition, pogrom or Holocaust within these borders. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees our ability to celebrate Judaism free from shame, persecution or pressure to assimilate and disappear as a distinct culture or peoplehood.
The best way we can thank Canada for the freedoms we enjoy, is to honour our heritage, celebrate the unique contributions we have made to Canadian life as Jews and inspire the next generation by bringing our unique values, perspectives and insights to the marketplace of ideas with pride. This is especially true as Baycrest Health Sciences becomes a global player in healthcare provision and brain research. Let us not wander aimlessly in a desert of lost pride commitment or identity, but instead march proudly to the promised land of continued commitment to Jewish life and contribution to bettering the world in which we live.
May you and your dear ones enjoy a kosher and joyous Passover! With all good wishes, from home to home,
Rabbi Dr. Geoffrey Haber
Director, Spiritual Care
Baycrest Health Sciences