Has human history moved us closer to or further from Isaiah’s prophetic vision?
Table for Five: Passover Special Edition 2
In partnership with the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles
Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist
And a wolf shall live with a lamb, and a leopard shall lie with a kid; and a calf and a lion cub and a fatling [shall lie] together, and a small child shall lead them.
-Isaiah 11:6, From the Haftorah for 8th Day Passover
Rabbi Shlomo Seidenfeld, Freelance Rabbi, Scholar In-Residence Aish/JMI
What an idyllic prophecy! What powerful imagery! Can you imagine a time when there would be no predators? No prey? A time when the bestial impulses of animals and men would be utterly absent and all creatures would live in peace. This prophetic statement suggests an unrealistic reality. A picture painted on an illusory canvas. A dream that only a small child could believe in. Maybe that’s the point!
It’s not random that this verse from Isaiah is read over Passover. After all, the primary target audience of the Seder is our children and the primary objective of the Haggadah is the transmission of our people’s history and mission to the next generation of torch-bearers. To that end, the Haggadah was ingenuously designed to provoke questions and to encourage dialogue, so that in the words of our Rabbis, the Seder “keeps the children awake.”
Enter Isaiah’s prophecy. What does a child do incessantly? Question. Wonder. Dream. As we become adults, many of us lose those precious qualities. We become cynical and sedentary in our thinking. We accept realities and stop inquiring and aspiring. Passover’s Seder is not designed to merely “keep the children awake.” It’s designed to awaken the child within each of us. To rekindle within us the child that dreams of and believes in a utopian universe. On Passover, as we are transmitting to our children, they are transmitting to us. Because our children don’t only guarantee our future, they infuse our present.
“And a small child shall lead them.” Amen!
Romain Hini-Szlos, Photographer, www.rhsgallery.com
The wolf is a group-oriented animal that lives in packs, either hunting or protecting its family, while the lamb is herded into a group, rather than driven to it by instinct. A wolf has prowess; a lamb is helpless. The leopard is fearless and aware of its surroundings; a kid is oblivious and vulnerable. The calf is connected to idol worship, moving away from the path of Hashem, while the lion represents kingship and following Hashem’s path. A fatling is the embodiment of an animal that is at the end of its life, because it has been fattened for slaughter, while a small kid is just beginning its life.
These animals possess different characteristics, but, according to Isaiah, will somehow manage to live together peacefully. The Haftarah of Pesach is teaching us that even though we have differences between one another, we are connected. We are capable of living with one another and maintaining a difference of perspectives.
When we feel despair and fear that there is no hope for us — that we are like fatlings, it is a reminder of how Jews must have felt in Egypt before the unexpected arrival of Moses. This Haftarah is a reminder to believe in the unexpected, such as a small kid leading us, because Hashem’s divine hand will rise and lead us. Things are not always as they seem, the destruction of the Second Temple would be only the beginning of the Third Temple. In a world governed by Hashem, belief is everything.
Dr. Sheila Tuller Keiter, Judaic Studies Faculty, Shalhevet High School
As a child, I attended a seudas moshiach at Chabad on the afternoon of the eighth day of Pesach. I was told the messiah is to arrive on that eighth day, and, in a fit of optimism, we hold a festive meal to celebrate and greet him. Being an inherently skeptical child, I had my doubts, but part of me still hoped moshiach would arrive mid-meal. That is, until I did some calculations. It dawned on me that if moshiach were to come, he probably would not delay his arrival until late that afternoon Los Angeles time, when Pesach had already ended for most of the world. Oh well, maybe next year.
Messianism is a touchy subject in Jewish history. We have been burned by false messiahs (Bar Kokhba, Shabbetai Zvi), and yet messianism thrives in communities with more mystical groundings, most notably within Hasidism. Our definition of messiah is hotly debated. The Talmud (b. Sanhedrin) offers a range of possibilities from Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel (Moshiach is already here!) to the supernatural idealism expressed in our verse in Isaiah (Not yet, not by a long shot!).
The hope for a better world is deeply wound into messianism as well as into human nature. As Paul Simon sings, “Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance.” Whether one believes in a natural or supernatural messiah or no messiah at all, we can actualize a better world by behaving as if moshiach were already here. We want moshiach now!
Rabbi Chaim Tureff, Rav Beit Sefer of Pressman Academy, director of STARS Addiction Recovery
Passover is a time of reflection. Yet, the entire process of cleaning for Passover is an actual practice. The tireless effort to make sure your house is cleaned and that you are chametz free is very real.
Spiritually speaking, we are taught that the cleaning is also a metaphor for ridding the chametz within us. Chametz signifies issues that we have that bring conflict and challenges, specifically ego. There is a double entendre, so to speak.
This pasuk from Isaiah can be seen through this very same lens. There is the obvious understanding which the Rambam and Ibn Ezra note deals with the Messianic Era. But what about the practical application right now? Following the same idea of self-reflection which not only enhances Passover but the entire 49 days of the Omer, the wolf and lamb living together can be seen as bringing together harmony and balance with our personal attributes. Take selfishness for example. Instead of only being for yourself and focusing on your needs, have balance and know when to say no to others. But also understand that being everything to everyone is detrimental. Or take ego, which the Torah clearly states is not a beneficial attribute. Moses was seen as the greatest leader, partly due to his complete absence of ego. Unfortunately, the other extreme is constant self-criticism and lack of self-worth.
What if you can have that balance?
Rabbi Cheryl Peretz, Associate Dean, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at AJU
At the Passover seder, each of us is called to step back in time to see ourselves as part of the generation who were slaves in the land of Egypt. Through rite and ritual, we momentarily recreate the feeling of persecution in order that we also walk the path towards freedom. And, as the days of the holiday progress, we join our ancestors in crossing the sea, leaving slavery and stepping towards the dream of redemption.
The haftorah, the prophetic reading for the eighth day of Passover, invites us to leave the past behind and step into the yearning for a better, safer world. In it, Isaiah describes a complete reversal and defeat of the corrupt Assyrians to the divinely inspired king who will rise to end foreign oppression, and restore God’s utopian vision of justice and ingathering. In this verse, Isaiah promises that peace will reign between animals and between animals and people. Even the most unlikely of pairs of those who formerly preyed on one now graze together. Such is the dramatic transformation from a world of suffering, warfare, and oppression to one of peace and justice. Others will want to join this vision, says Isaiah, as it becomes the root of unity for all.
This Passover, we can step boldly and bravely towards this vision if only we realize we are not in this world to prey on one another; rather, we are here to love one another, to celebrate each other, and to see justice together.
With thanks to Rabbi Shlomo Seidenfeld, Romain Hini-Szlos, Dr. Sheila Tuller Keiter, Rabbi Chaim Tureff, and Rabbi Cheryl Peretz
Image by Trinity Kubassek via Pexels
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