Praying for Redemption

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Rabbi Etan Mintz
Photo by David Stuck

By Rabbi Etan Mintz

During this Passover holiday, the promise that this is a season of redemption brings us great hope. As the rabbis write in Tractate Rosh Hashana 11a, “In Nissan they were redeemed, and in Nissan they will be redeemed in the future.”

Indeed, we are all praying for Divine intervention in the form of a revealed miracle like the ones 3000+ years ago; just this year we are praying for a vaccine to greatly reduce the coronavirus pandemic.

But now that we are moving beyond the first part of Passover, in which we celebrate the manifold revealed miracles that brought us out of bondage, the focus is on another redemption — not the one from Egypt — but the ultimate messianic redemption. The rabbis purposely linked the Exodus from Egypt to the messianic dream to make sure that a one-time climactic moment doesn’t quickly fade. In fact, the seder itself concludes with a focus on this ultimate redemption by inviting Elijah the Prophet to our tables.

Albeit less observed, there is also a beautiful Hasidic tradition to host a Seudat Hamashiach, Meal for the Messiah, on the final day of Passover. The rabbis understood that human nature is such that life-changing moments leave us little changed even shortly thereafter. Even after the splitting of the sea, the Jewish people immediately reverted to their old ways, complaining and asking to go back to Egypt. While it’s too early to really have a sense of how life will change post-corona, the scariest possibility is that it may not change us much at all.

The pandemic has shed new light on our society’s systemic weaknesses — in our health care system, in our economy, and in social safety nets. The heroes on the front lines include not only doctors and nurses, but those essential workers — grocery clerks, Amazon delivery drivers, and hospital workers — who are placed in harm’s way on a daily basis. While many have the privilege to work from home, so many of the most vulnerable from our society do not have this luxury.

“In Nissan we will be redeemed.” Let it be for us during this time as well. But the type of redemption we should be praying for shouldn’t be limited to an episodic one, but tied to a long-term shift in our societal realities. Let’s not just work to overcome COVID-19. Let’s dream big to welcome Elijah and pray for a more redeemed world.

As Maimonides writes, more than a one-time redemptive moment, the Messiah will be about a shift in society.

“In that era, there will be neither famine or war, envy or competition for good will flow in abundance, and all the delights will be freely available as dust.” With prayers for a more redeemed world, wishing you all had a joyous final days of Passover.

Rabbi Etan Mintz is the spiritual leader of B’nai Israel Synagogue Baltimore.

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