D’var Torah: Redemption from Egypt and VE Day

Written by Rabbi Josh Levy — 8 May 2020

I struggle with the geulah

Every day, twice a day, the same declaration that God has rescued us – ga’al yisrael

Like all cultures we are defined by our narrative moments, they shape our self-understanding.
And this repeated focus on the defining moment of redemption in our shared foundational story carries a risk.  The risk that it might leads us into passivity – the belief that we will be saved through no effort of our own.  The idea that belief, Torah, positive thinking will be enough.  That our task is limited to patience and gratitude.

It is one of many factors that shaped the initial inadequate charedi response to the current pandemic, this belief in passive redemption, ga’al Yisrael, God rescues.

It is important that as Jews we have another defining occasion in our narrative – revelation.
Redemption is not sufficient.  As Jews we have its other hand, the accepting upon ourselves of obligation, duty – in this Omer period we sit between the two, the journey from Pesach to Shavuot – two interdependent occasions – together presenting our core, defining idea – that Jewish redemption is purposeful, not merely ‘freedom from’, but ‘freedom to’.

As modern Britons as well as Jews we each of us hold another parallel story, another set of defining moments – today we celebrate one of those, recognising a generation that endured sacrifice and suffering, ultimately to bring rescue and redemption.

It is a defining moment that carries the same risk.  The British experience of war and ultimately victory is also reducible.  As the historian Robert Saunders has remarked, sometimes taken as a “crude parable for positive thinking”.

But it, too was not merely ‘freedom from’ but ‘freedom to’.
In much the same way as Pesach cannot exist without Shavuot, so too VE Day did not exist without that which came after it – the task of rebuilding, of creating a society worthy of having been saved, the task of which we are still a part.

Today, as we declare our gratitude to those who made VE Day possible, we also recognise that with their efforts come our obligations.

Every morning and evening we sing of God’s redemptive power.
Today we also sing in celebration of the victory brought through the sacrifice and suffering of a generation forced to be exceptional in the face of previously unimaginable conflict.
May both of those songs be songs of remembrance, songs of gratitude, and songs of commitment.