It’s Up To You

Our parshah starts with a text which also appears in the Passover Haggadah, and which we read during the Seder night.In this text, we find a peculiar and twofold statement in the Hebrew, which reads: “Arami oved avi.”

This three-word proclamation, can be interpreted in two very different ways. One way, the conventional way, is to read this verse as describing the genocidal agenda that certain antisemites plot against the Jewish people. In this context, the Torah’s words “Arami oved avi,,” would mean – “An Aramite tried to destroy my father.” This alludes to Lavan, who tried to hurt and undermine his nephew Jacob, who is our “father,” the Jewish patriarch, after whom we are all named as a people (“Israel” being the spiritual name and vocation, which Jacob received later in life from G-d Almighty).

This interpretation alludes to the fact that there are always demonic geo -political powers in the world, which have a genocidal agenda against the Jewish people – from Pharaoh, to Hitler, to Stalin, to the overt attempts of today’s regime in Iran to wipe Israel off the map, and destroy and annihilate the world’s sole Jewish State.

The second way to understand this verse is that “Arami oved avi” means – “My father was a lost Aramian.” This interpretation is not about external enemies who wish to annihilate us as a people, but about how we ourselves can spiritually “get lost” in the false temptations of the world, and lose our Jewish identity.

It would be very easy, G-d forbid, for us to “get lost” in the world, forfeit our moral and spiritual compass and conscience, and succumb to the alluring false idols of a hegemonic culture which deifies image, physicality and vulgar materialism.

In today’s America, we basically have two chief existential choices to make. We can either harness the blessings of America – equality and opportunity, in order to thrive and deepen our spiritual and moral robustness, or conversely – we can lose our focus, forfeit our vocation, and become “a lost Aramian/Jew,” entrapped in the cultural pollution and spiritual bankruptcy of certain soulless aspects of mainstream American culture, with its exaggerated and imbalanced cult of productivity, and its material idolatry of consumerism and conspicuous consumption.

As another Jewish year draws to a close, it is incumbent upon the self-reflective and evolved Jew to ask himself or herself, whether we are “getting lost” in the American cult of productivity, and just end up every night defeated and depleted in front of a screen watching mindless TV shows, as mere escapism from the exhaustion and famine of our soul, or whether we existentially capitalize on the manifolds blessings of America in order to grow in soul, and to become a blessing to any human being who comes across our way in life.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Sessler

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