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Channelling Anger towards the Nations

Pour out your wrath on the nations that do not acknowledge you, on the kingdoms that do not call on your name for they have devoured Jacob [the Jews] and destroyed his home.." Pour out your love on the nations who know You. And on kingdoms who call Your name. For the good which they do for the seed of Jacob And they shield Your people Israel from their enemies. May they merit to see the good of Your chosen} And to rejoice in the joy of Your nation.

‫שפוך חמתך על הגויים אשר לא ידעוך ועל‬ ‫משפחות אשר בשמך לא קראו. כי אכל את יעקב‬ (‫ואת נווהו הֵ שמּו" (תהלים עט, ו-ז‬ ַ ‫שפוך אהבתך על הגויים אשר ידעוך ועל ממלכות‬ ‫אשר בשמך קוראים בגלל חסדים שהם עושים עם‬ .‫זרע יעקב ומגינים על עמך ישראל מפני אוכליהם‬ .‫יזכו לראות בסוכת בחיריך ולשמוח בשמחת גוייך‬ (‫(מיוחס לנכדו של רש"י‬

Clearly this paragraph makes some people "uncomfortable" because it "seems to defy the Seder’s universal themes of freedom and liberation." I, however, love it. Why the infatuation? Simple: I always picture the many beleaguered Jews, particularly but not only in Europe, for whom Passover, with its proximity to Easter, was a dangerous time. I imagine Jews who spent much of the year, not just Passover, fearful that the non-Jewish world might turn on them in violence and they would have little recourse to protect themselves. Suddenly, for one short paragraph, they opened the door of their homes—of course it was at a moment when most of their non-Jewish neighbors had already retired for the night—and publicly told them and the whole world just what they wished for them. For one brief moment they could let their desire for justice be heard publicly. They did not have to cower in fear. They did not have to accept whatever was dealt them because they were powerless to respond. Those thirty two words constituted the one moment during the year when they unambiguously could give voice to their feelings of pain for the torment they and previous generations had endured. (Deborah Lipstadt) Three thinkers, Jan Assmann, the Jewish scholar Henri Atlan, and the Christian theologian Miroslav Volf, have something deeply insightful to say about Divine vengeance. Atlan argues likewise, suggesting that ―the best way to rid the world of the violent sacred is to reject it onto a transcendence.‖ The “transcendence of violence” results in “its being expelled from the normal horizon of things‖. In other words – vengeance is removed from human calculation. It is G-d, not man, who is entitled to exercise it. To be sure, there are times when G-d commands human beings to act on His behalf – the battles against the Midianites and the Amalekites are two obvious examples. But once prophecy ceases, as it has done since late Second Temple times, so too does violence in the name of G-d. Volf agrees with this analysis, and adds that “in a world of violence we are faced with an inescapable alternative: either G-d’s violence or human violence”. He adds: Most people who insist on G-d’s “nonviolence” cannot resist using violence themselves (or tacitly sanctioning its use by others). They deem the talk of G-d’s judgment irreverent, but think nothing of entrusting judgment into human hands . . . And so violence thrives, secretly nourished by belief in a G-d who refuses to wield the sword. I think of the Jews of the Middle Ages, who saw their fellow Jews accused of killing Christian children to drink their blood, of poisoning wells, desecrating the host and spreading the plague (the classic work is Joshua Trachtenberg, The Devil and the Jews), and then murdered en masse in the name of the G-d of love. We can still hear their responses: they are recorded for us in many of the lamentations, kinot, we say on the 9th Av. Yes, they appeal to G-d’s vengeance, which is to say, to G-d’s justice. But Jews did not seek to take vengeance. That is something you leave to G-d. There is a justice we will not see this side of the end of days. In the meantime, it is sufficient to live, and affirm life, and seek no more than the right to be true to your faith without fear – no more than the right to live and defend that selfsame right for your children. The search for perfect justice is not for us, here, now. (Jonathan Sacks)