A Passover Message from Rabbi Peter Berg

A Passover Message from Rabbi Peter Berg

For our Passover holiday issue, we invited members of our community to share their responses.

Rabbi Peter S. Berg is the senior rabbi of The Temple.

Rabbi Peter Berg of The Temple
Rabbi Peter Berg of The Temple

The Frogs Came Up and Covered the Land

There is a strange grammatical inconsistency in the Hebrew Bible that has always fascinated me. In connection with the Ten Plagues in Egypt, the text says: One frog came up. And then, one sentence later, we read: The frogs came up and covered the land. Was it one frog or many? The sages say that first one frog came up and nobody reacted, so he gave the signal and the other frogs followed. Soon they covered the whole land of Egypt.

I suspect our sages of old were talking about much more than frogs. They were teaching us that when one destructive force arises, those who would join him, those who would be like him, wait to see what will happen to him. If nobody minds, he climbs out of the mire. And, if nobody chases him away, the other frogs join in and soon they cover the land.

This is what happens in our world today. For we live in a world that is filled with hatred and antisemitism and discrimination. Pharaoh decrees the first-born Israelites should be thrown into the sea, Hitler gasses six million Jews in Nazi Germany, Hamas brutally terrorizes, rapes, kidnaps, and murders thousands of Israelis. It takes one person to stand up and spread filthy untruths about both Israel and the Jewish people. One frog comes out of the mud first, and if everybody in the world is indifferent, it gives the signal that the others should feel free to follow. The message goes forth that nobody minds. We have seen it time and again, others see, and they follow. That is what I believe the sages meant when they said one frog came out of the mud first, and when nobody minded, when nobody protested, it gave the signal, and soon many more followed.

Passover comes each year to remind us that moral choices require strength and conviction and risk. We cannot look back at history and go with the flow as a social reflex, but rather, we must make thoughtful and informed decisions that sometimes require protest, dissent, and principled opposition. As we celebrate the heroism of Moses, let’s remember that it was more important for Moses to do the right thing than to be seen with the right people. For him, right and wrong was a matter of conscience, not convention.

Just as the Pharaoh of the Exodus ordered a Holocaust, the Pharaohs of our time are Hamas and Hezbollah. How is it that when they come out of their holes, the world stands silent? Passover celebrates those who are willing to be outsiders. The ones who will protest evil, even if it means not being invited to the party.

This year, let us recapture the meaning of Pesach. Today’s Pharaohs – no matter by what names they are called – still do not understand it. They, too, are headed toward doom unless they implement the Divine imperative: “Let my people go!”

Peter S. Berg is the senior rabbi at The Temple.

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