(To be read during the Passover Seder, after the account of the ancient Seder of the sages gathered in Benei Berak)
As we read about this ancient Seder that took place in Benei Berak, we think of our rabbinic sages observing Pesach (Passover) in Judea, in ancient Israel, what is now called the modern State of Israel.
We put the Matzah of Judea on our Seder tables as we think of the continuous presence of the Jewish people in Judea, in Israel, from ancient times until today.
Like Pharaoh in Egypt, the ancient Romans, during the time of these sages, were great oppressors of the Jews. The Romans destroyed the holy Temple in Jerusalem and erected a pagan temple on its ruins; they murdered over one million Jews, including our beloved Rabbi Akiva of whom we read in our Hagaddah. The Romans made the practice of Jewish life a crime punishable by death; they exiled the vast majority of Jews from the land; they changed the name of Jerusalem to a Roman name, changed the name of Schechem, where Joseph is buried, and changed the name of the Jewish homeland itself, nearly two thousand years after the first Jews began to live in Judea, in Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel. These oppressors of our people did all of this in an attempt to rob us of our homeland, our history, and our heritage.
The Jewish people worshipped for over 400 years at the Temple that King Solomon built in Jerusalem; they lived, at that time, as a free and sovereign nation in the Land of Israel for 700 years, from the time Joshua re-entered the land with the Israelites, until the Babylonians destroyed the Temple in 586 BCE. Seventy years later, the Jews rebuilt the holy Temple, which then stood for centuries until the Romans destroyed that Temple in the year 70 CE. The Temple Mount in the holy city of Jerusalem has remained the holiest place within Judaism, and unto this day, every Jew turns towards the Temple Mount to pray.
Many conquerors tried to incorporate the Land of Israel into their own empires: the Babylonian empire, Persian and Greco-Assyrian, Roman, Byzantine, Arab Caliphates, Turkish, Crusader, Ayyubid, Mameluke, and Ottoman.
But despite these attempts, the Land of Israel, this ancient land of Judea which bears our name, remained the country of the Jewish people, and Jerusalem has served as the capital of only the Jewish nation.
Through every banishment and forced exile, the Jewish people continually looked to their ancient homeland and prayed to return, included the mention of Israel and Jerusalem in daily prayers, and imbued each life-cycle celebration and festival gathering with the yearning for Shivat Tzion, for a return to the land of their ancestors.
For centuries, Jews living in exile joined their prayers together with the prayers of She’arit Yisrael, the remnant of the Jewish people who remained in the Land of Israel, from ancient times until today, to express the enduring yearning for their ancient homeland. Nearly two thousand years after the Romans destroyed the holy Temple and tried to destroy our people, our Jewish way of life, and our connection to the Land of Israel, we are still here; and our prayers and yearnings have been answered in the founding of the modern State of Israel, which signifies Reisheit Tzmichat Geulateinu, “the beginning of the dawn of our Redemption.”
As we behold the Matzah of Judea, we devote ourselves to ensuring that the history and heritage of our people is remembered and protected. The war that numerous empires waged against us continues, even in our day. The tactics employed by the ancient Romans are being used again, as historical places are renamed, as artifacts are removed and desecrated, as Jewish rights within the Land of Israel are regularly subverted and the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel is repeatedly obscured and dismissed, as adversaries conspire once again to rob us of our history, our heritage, and our homeland.
We stand firm against our adversaries; they will not defeat us, just as the Pharaoh did not defeat us in days of old.
At one time, we added the Matzah of Unity to our Seder table as we prayed for the freedom of Jews from the former Soviet Union. Today, many of these Refusniks are living in the Land of Israel. At one time, we added the Matzah of Hope to our Seder table as we prayed for the freedom and survival of Ethiopian Jews. Many of these Jews of Beta Israel are now living in the Land of Israel. Today, we hold up this Matzah of Judea, and we look with hopeful eyes towards the day when our Jewish people can live in our ancestral, historic homeland, in freedom, in safety, and in peace.