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The God of history

by Rabbi M. Kripke

A 19th century commentator, Samson Raphael Hirsch, suggested that the reminder that Pesach occurs in the springtime is not simply chance. It is a profound warning that there are always forces in life that tend to draw us away from our understanding of what God is.

What he had in mind was this: In the springtime the farmer (and everyone else) is impressed with the powers that lie in Nature. When the snows and rains of winter have passed, when the sun begins to lavish its light and warmth on the earth, when the hitherto forbidding earth begins to smell of fresh new life, then everyone who is close to Nature revels in its powers, in its mighty exploitation of the mysterious strengths hidden beneath our feet.

Ancient farmers and others worshiped Nature. The Canaanites in the Middle East posited fertility at the very core of religion. Their religious rites exalted fertility. Their psalms and songs entreated the hidden powers to give fertility to the fields, fertility to the flocks and herds, and fertility to the human family.

Israel demurred. Israel’s religious teachers taught that behind and beyond the earth’s fertility and the mysterious powers of reproduction was not only Nature, but the God of Nature. It is that God that must be worshiped, not Nature which responds to His call.

Therefore Passover, our text reminds us, is not the festival that celebrates the response of Nature to the coming of the spring season. Passover, quite to the contrary, is to be celebrated as the anniversary of the Exodus, that history shaking event that established for all time both the principle of human freedom and the kind of God who inheres in the world, a God who demands freedom for His children.