To be indifferent, says Holocaust survivor, author and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel, is to allow cruelty, evil, and darkness to prevail.
On this first night of Passover, it is the words of Wiesel, who died six years ago at the age of 88, that will define my Passover Seder.
On Passover, we retell the ancient story of Jews’ exodus from Egypt, from slavery to a 40-year-quest for the promised land, for the pursuit of freedom. And while we will retell that story, we will recognize that its message is as relevant today as it was centuries ago.
In all parts of the world, including our country, many struggle against oppression in pursuit of freedom. And, according to some scholars, freedom is declining worldwide. A website, Truah.org, says there are nearly 50 million slaves around the world.
So, it is important tonight to recognize that the struggle continues. Around our table we will celebrate freedom, retell the story, and remain determined to never suffer from indifference.
“The opposite of love is not hate,” Wiesel said, “it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference …
“We must take sides,” Wiesel said. “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Where men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at the moment – become the center of the universe.”
It’s a lesson that I hope to impart as we gather tonight, especially to the children. Not to take freedom for granted, and to defend it whenever we can.
Weisel, in the preface to a Passover Haggadah in which he contributed, said: “As we recite the Haggadah, which retells the Exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt, we have the strange feeling that, once again, we are living in Biblical times.
“More than any generation before, my contemporaries have known not only a paroxysm of evil, but also the realization of a promise; not only the Kingdom of Night, but also the rebirth of a dream; not only the horror of Nazism, but also the end of the nightmare; not only the deaths of Babi-Yar, but also the defiance of young Russian Jews, the first to challenge the Kremlin’s police state.
“Sometimes the sheer speed of events makes us reel. History advances at a dizzying pace. Man has conquered space, but not his own heart. Have we learned nothing? It seems so: Witness the wars that rage all over the globe, the acts of terror that strike down the innocent, the children who are dying of hunger and disease in Africa and Asia every day. Why is there so much hatred in the world? Why is there so much indifference to hatred, to suffering, to the anguish of others?
“I love Passover because for me it is a cry against indifference, a cry for compassion.”