The Sorrow to Joy Story

In the Mishna we learn:

In every generation a person must regard himself as though he personally had gone out of Egypt, as it is said: “And you shall tell your son in that day, saying: ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt.’” Therefore it is our duty to thank, praise, laud, glorify, exalt, honor, bless, extol, and adore God Who performed all these miracles for our ancestors and us; He brought us forth from bondage into freedom, from sorrow into joy, from mourning into festivity, from darkness into great light, and from servitude into redemption. Therefore let us say before God, Hallelujah! (Pesachim 10:5)

This paradigm of “from sorrow into joy” frames many different stories of Passover.  In Egypt we were in bondage and suffering in servitude and then we were redeemed. That speaks of our physical bondage, but we also talk about our spiritual slavery being idolaters, the son of Terach.  Throughout history we have retold and reformed the motif of “from sorrow into joy” to see ourselves anew as though we had gone into and out of Egypt. Depending on which story of “from sorrow into joy” we want to tell, we start and end our story in different spots.

As move from Passover toward Shavuot, we have some noted moments along the way. Next week we will have Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut. This is clearly a close connection between this story of “from sorrow into joy.” We go from Memorial Day to Independence day. But where does the commemoration of Yom HaShoah from this past week fit in to the “from sorrow into joy” plot line?

There is really nothing redeeming about the Holocaust, it is just bad, pure sorrow. Where is the joy? It is true that the State of Israel chose to commemorate the Holocaust on a day connected to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, while changes the story from being lamb to slaughter into people who nobly fought back. Still you could not categorize that as joy.  The Holocaust is a baseline of complete moral depravity. Broadly speaking you can break Jews into two groups. While they both say “Never Again”, one group says this cannot happen again to the Jewish people and the other group say this kind of horror cannot happen to anyone. While both are noble and true, it seems that we are all to often forced to pick particularism to the exclusion of universalism or visa versa.

For the people who are in the particularism camp the sorrow of being powerless in the Holocaust is met with the joy we celebrate on Yom HaAtzmaut. There is no doubt the story of the Modern State of Israel is amazing, but we are left dealing with the peril of having power. For the people who are in the universalism camp the sorrow of the Holocaust is every bit as true, but how does this story end? Sadly, as of late, some people in this group do not tell the story of Yom HaAtzmaut as one of joy. I have no idea how the universal story which has so much sorrow will ever end with joy. We cannot afford to wait for a distant messianic era. We need to keep working for freedom, joy,  festivity, great light, and redemption for all. If we learned nothing else from the Mishna in Pesachim, our story “from sorrow into joy” can hold many different voice if we just take the time to listen and tell these stories to each other with a whole heart.

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