The Haggada's Politics: From 2,000 Years Ago to Today

A Conversation with Senator Joseph Lieberman

On Sunday 22nd March 2015, Yeshiva University presented a conversation between Rabbi Sacks and former Senator Joseph Lieberman on “The Haggadah’s Politics: From 2,000 Years Ago to Today.”

The conversation, hosted by Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future and the Abraham Arbesfeld Kollel Yom Rishon and Mille Arbesfeld Midreshet Yom Rishon, was held at YU’s Wilf Campus, New York City. Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveitchik, director of YU’s Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought, moderated the discussion.

This conversation took place during Rabbi Sacks’ period as the Kressel and Ephrat Family University Professor of Jewish Thought at Yeshiva University and Ingeborg and Ira Rennert Global Distinguished Professor of Judaic Thought at New York University.

Joseph Lieberman represented Connecticut in the U.S. Senate from 1989 to 2013 after serving in the Connecticut State Senate for 10 years and as attorney general of Connecticut for six years. He was appointed the inaugural Joseph Lieberman Chair in Public Policy and Public Service at YU in July 2014.

Yaakov Glasser:

Good morning. Welcome to Yeshiva University. Welcome to everyone who is joining us this morning for this Abraham and Millie Arbesfeld Kollel and Midreshet Yom Rishon. Welcome to all those who are viewing online across the world, joining us for a very special programme this morning. My name is Rabbi Yaakov Glasser. I have the pleasure of serving as the David Mitzner Dean of the Centre for the Jewish Future here at Yeshiva University. It is my great privilege to introduce this morning, President Richard Joel, whose vision is responsible for coalescing the scholars of such eminence as the ones we have the privilege of hearing from this morning. Scholars from whom our students can learn and our community can share. Please welcome President Richard Joel.

Richard Joel:

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. As I was walking in, Rabbi Michael Taubes, who I didn’t know was noted for his sense of humour, said, “This is a wonderful programme we’re participating in. The Lord, the Senator, and the Mayor.” It’s very impressive. We’ve covered most of our bases this morning.

So of course, as always, I want to thank the Arbesfeld family for their inspiration that produces this event in different locales around the country and even in Israel, but in different locales here in Yeshiva. For special occasions, we get to gather in this extraordinary Nathan Lamport Auditorium. You should know, I’ve been told, I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting yet, that for the first time we have as a guest here, Ricky Haas, who is the great-granddaughter of Nathan Lamport. She is here with her husband Monroe. Are you here? Behind us? Well, welcome to your home. Please, God, you should frequent it more often. You should know that so many events of history, of sanctity, of everything that Yeshiva University and the Jewish people represents, happens, you’ll excuse me, nowhere but here. Nowhere, but here.

So it’s my great pleasure to also thank wonderful friends Robin and Shukie Grossman… Where are you sitting this morning? Very nice. And your family, for your constant support, your growing support of Yeshiva university, your historic links with this institution and the role that your family has played in it for so many years and please God, that your children will as well. This is, if we look around… Welcome to Yeshiva University. A half a block down in our gym, and I hope you’ll visit, is the semi-finals day of the Sarachek Basketball Tournament, where we have a few dozen teams of high school basketball teams from around the country, who gathered together each year to both declare basketball dominance and to share with us the ascendancy of a Jewish life. Where there is nothing that we can’t do, and almost everything that we must do.

If you also have the time, and maybe this should have come first, walk across to the Glueck Beis Midrash and see, in the midst of all of this, there are hundreds of our students learning Torah. Only a few of them sneaking out to look at the Sarachek tournament. You should also know that one of the finest Jewish high schools in the world, the Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy, Yeshiva University High School for Boys, is in this building. You might notice that the Junior and Senior classes have been invited to participate today. As have student representatives of the Sarachek tournament from around the country, who are here as well.

I’m going to leave it to Rabbi Soloveitchik to introduce our guests this morning. I will introduce Rabbi Soloveitchik. Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveitchik, or now that he’s the Rabbi of the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue, he would like to be known as Rabbi D’Soloveitchik, has graced us for over two years now as the director of the Zahava and Moshael Straus Centre for Torah and Western Civilisation, and has become almost the designated interviewer par excellence of our day. The presence here of what I’m beyond proud to say, two members of our faculty. His Lordship Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who is the Efrat and Kressel Professor of Jewish Thought at Yeshiva University, and Professor Joe Lieberman, who holds the Lieberman Chair in public policy and ethics.

I must hasten to say that it’s the Lieberman Chair, because it was so established by Ira and Inger Rennert, and we prevailed upon the Senator Lieberman to be the occupant of that chair. Senator Lieberman spends time, both in public presentations and teaching courses to our undergraduate as does Rabbi Sacks, Lord Sacks, and it’s really very special. Look, I’m not on the schedule today, but this is Yeshiva University. This is about our history. This is about our destiny, and there is no place like here that can provide that, and that we must see continues to do that. The education is, par excellence, a commitment, as I say, to our history and our destiny, is profound and loud here. The academics are superb, and it’s all based on an ineffable commitment to Torah. It’s my great pleasure to welcome you and to those of you who are listening around the country in the world, and my pleasure to present for this conversation, Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveitchik.

Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik:

Can everybody hear me? Okay. Thank you, President Joel. Not just for your wonderful words, but for your leadership, and personally, for the friendship you have shown me, and the strong support that you have constantly shown for the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought. I’m going to be very brief in my introduction, just to allow us to establish a framework for our discussion.

It was the Rav zt”l who noted that the central mitzvot of the Seder, tzippur yetziyat mitzrayim, is usually wrongly translated as the obligation to tell the story of the Exodus. But the truth is, in Hebrew, that would be mitzvah l’saper et yetziyat mizrayim. Rather, in our Haggadah, it is mitzvah aleinu l’saper b’yetziyat mitzrayim, which is not in the accusative, but rather in the ablative form. The point is, that our obligation is not just to tell the story, but to delve into it. This, in part perhaps, because this story teaches us what it means to be a Jew. Not just as a member of a faith, but as a member of a nation.

The point being that the Haggadah is itself, a work of Jewish political thought. Perhaps, for much of Jewish history, the only work of Jewish political thought. Thus, there are many great works of mediaeval Jewish philosophy. Nevertheless, with the possible exception of Abarbanel, very few actually address political matters. Metaphysics yes, ethics certainly, but politics very rarely. Therefore, the Haggadah is all the more interesting because it is a work of Jewish political thought. One which evolved over the centuries and which addresses the nature of freedom, of state in society, the founding and the origins of the people, their eschatological aspirations, the political nature of the good. All these come up in the Haggadah.

Our goal is to bring this perspective to bear in a discussion between two extraordinary individuals who, perhaps more than any other observant Jews on Earth, are famous for their bringing their respective religious personalities into the political and public sphere of the Western world. Senator Lieberman, Lord Sacks, good morning. It’s an honour to have you here at Yeshiva University.

The Seder begins with the Kiddush’s proclamation of Jewish chosenness, asher bachar banu mikol am. At the same time, we know that the story we tell that night has had an impact far beyond ourselves, in the larger history of the world. To take one example, July 4th, 1776, important date. For you, very sad date, obviously.

Rabbi Sacks:

We’re getting over it…

Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik:

Too soon. Too soon to joke about it.

Joe Lieberman:

Rabbi Sacks is a gracious Lord. He has risen above that.

Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik:

We appreciate the bi-partisan spirits. July 4th, immediately after the declaration’s approval by the continental Congress, John Adams reported to his wife Abigail, that he had been put on a committee with Franklin and Jefferson to design a seal for the United States. He describes, “Dr. Franklin proposes a device for the seal. Which is Moses lifting up his wand, dividing the Red Sea and Pharaoh, in his chariot, overwhelmed with the waters. With the motto underneath, “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God”.” “Mr. Jefferson”, he continues, “proposed instead, The children of Israel in the wilderness. Led by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.” Of course, ultimately both suggestions of the committee were ignored, and instead they chose that creepy eye on top of the pyramid. But nevertheless… Seriously, what’s up with that?

Joe Lieberman:

That should be your next book.

Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik:

Yeah. I’m on that. Apparently, it’s linked to a treasure map on the back of the Declaration of Independence.

Joe Lieberman:

My guess is it’s something Masonic going on there.

Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik:

Yes. I’m on it.

Joe Lieberman:

Okay. Thank you.

Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik:

But nevertheless, the story is extraordinary. In what way is this a story? The story of the Exodus. In what ways is this a story that relates uniquely to us as a people? And what about the Haggadah, not just as a religious story, but as a political text, gives it its extraordinary and universal impact and appeal?

Joe Lieberman:

Thanks, Rabbi. It’s a great honour to be here with Rabbis Sacks and with you, and with all of you. The story of Pesach, Passover, is both in one sense, a uniquely and very importantly Jewish story, but it’s also obviously, as your examples from early American history show, a universal story. Since we’re talking today about the politics of the Haggadah, I do want to say, I won’t dwell on this too much, that we experienced the story not just with the Haggadah, because obviously we read it in the Torah, the Hebrew Bible, but most of the non-Jewish world, including Franklin, Jefferson, and the founders of this country, know it from the Hebrew Bible because, as Christians, it became part of their texts.

For Jews, of course, the Passover story has a powerful and central place because it tells us that the God of creation and the God of the covenant with Abraham, our father, didn’t forget us. That in the Passover story, God entered history because God saw the affliction of the Jewish people, and through Moses liberated them from freedom. Perhaps we’ll get to this since we’re talking about the politics of the Haggadah… The point to take off from, and what I want to say now, is the second night beginning of the counting of the Omer, that Pesach leads to Shavuot. Passover leads to the Festival of Weeks. I’m going to end up giving a long sermon here. I have to control myself.

Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik:

I don’t have any divrei Torah prepared.

Joe Lieberman:

No, but obviously, the story that is told for us in the Haggadah, is the critically important beginning of the story. But as we know, and Rav Soloveitchik writes beautifully about this, that the Exodus, the liberation from slavery in Egypt was for a purpose. Not just for freedom, but to go to Mount Sinai to receive the law, the values, to receive our mission. Which is to become as best we can, as humans or holy people. All that is involved for us as Jews. And interestingly, just to come back to the point, we get into this on Pesach, through the Haggadah. Which, if you were writing the Pesach story today, I don’t know that you would present it the way the Haggadah does. It’s a teaching document. Five Rabbis in B’nei Brak, four questions, four cups of coffee. I’m going to see if I can keep these numbers going. Three pieces of matzoh. Who knows? Two nights, one God, fortunately, in both texts.

The essential story, the dramatic story, which we find in the Torah, you have to search for in the Haggadah. But that’s because the mitzvah we’re carrying out is to teach our children. It’s through that pedagogy, through that teaching, the Haggadah and Pesach have sustained. Both for religiously-observant Jews and, fascinatingly, for non religiously-observant Jews, the values, the history of Judaism.

Now, just briefly as to go back to it, how did all this become universalised? Well, because it’s about freedom. I think there’s an inherent desire in people to be free. In the Passover story as related in the Hebrew Bible, and I use that term because now I’m talking about the broader world, particularly Christians, it’s God is on the side of freedom. That’s why Franklin could talk about rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God. The story, to put it bluntly, ends happily. The Jewish people are freed.

As a result, this compelling story has been a standard, not only for personal conduct of a lot of us over the centuries, but for freedom movements and individuals who were fighting for freedom throughout the world. It’s fundamental to the abolitionist movement in this country, to the civil rights movement. Even, although you have to search a bit, for politics in the Haggadah because Moshe, who’s the political leader in one sense, is not there. Hashem is there, God is there.

Obviously, we begin by asking people, inviting people who are hungry to come in. A lot of it… If you wanted to stretch a bit, I don’t think it takes too much of a stretch. This may begin to run counter to some of your political views. One might say, Rabbi, that certainly there is an argument for treating your workers fairly. I’m not here to explicitly endorse the Labour movement, but those political values are there. Anyway, it’s had an amazing connection. The final point being, this belief, I think expressed more and carried out more recently among Christians, that the Last Supper of Jesus was a Passover Seder, now a desire, actually, to re-enact the Seder, to understand what Jesus observed. I’ll just end by telling you that several years ago the chaplain of the Senate, it probably during the 90’s, came to me and said that he taught a group of my fellow senators who were Christian Bible every week.

He said, when they were studying the Last Supper, that this was a Passover Seder. “Have any of you been to a Passover Seder?” They all apparently said no. He said, “Would you like to go to one?” and they said yes. And then one of them said, “Why don’t you ask Senator Lieberman? He seems to know about this kind of stuff.”

So we held what you’d call a model Seder. We did it three times over a period of probably seven or eight years. It was quite remarkable, quite unifying, very interesting to see them get into the rituals of the Seder. Ultimately, the compelling part of it is freedom and the quest for freedom.

Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik:

Fascinating. We’re going to have to talk later about how you get that job, Senate Chaplain. That was always very interesting to me.

Joe Lieberman:

We should probably talk off-stage about that.

Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik:

Offstage about that. Probably. That’s fascinating. Yes, Lord Sacks.

Rabbi Sacks:

I realised what made the Jewish approach to this different when we used to, from time to time, sit and study Torah together, myself and Tony Blair. Tony Blair, as Prime Minister, read the Bible every night and he once asked me, “How come your book is so much more interesting than our book.” And I said, “You know the answer to that, Prime Minister. There’s more politics in our book than your book.”

And that actually is the key issue. That Judaism is not, like Christianity, a text for the salvation of the soul, it’s a text for the redemption of society. That is what makes it so powerful. The history of the Western world in the past four centuries, was determined by two phenomenon.

Number one, the reformation and Luther saying sola scriptura. If you want to be serious about God, get back to reading the Bible. Number two, the invention of printing that made it possible. So that in 1640, when the population of Britain, of England, was no more than maybe two and a half million, there were 1 million copies of the Bible in circulation. It’s extraordinary how every single family in England had a copy of the Bible in English translation.

And those two things, the reformation and the invention of printing, meant for the first time ever, ordinary people could read Tanach. Until then, it was only available in Greek or Latin. It was only intelligible to the clergy, and so populations didn’t have access to it. Whereas by 1640, everyone had access to it, and they began to realise exactly Franklin’s point, that rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God, and the prophets are mandated by God to criticise the established power.

The end result of this, we can trace in history. Number one, the great thinkers of the 17th century who created, for the first time, the free society with human rights, liberty of conscience, and the doctrine of toleration, those key thinkers, John Milton, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and in Amsterdam, our very own resident apicures, Spinoza, all four of them were in dialogue with Tanach.

They were not in dialogue with Plato’s Republic or Aristotle’s Politics. Hobbes, he was an atheist, quotes the Bible 647 times in the Leviathan, the founding text of modern politics. So it created the English revolution. Then in 1620, the guys go off in the Mayflower. 1630 John Winthrop aboard the Arbella delivers the founding speech of American politics, his speech about the city on the hill. And he quotes almost the whole parshat Netzavim. He is quoting the Bible absolutely, because that was the basis. The idea of covenant, the idea of escaping from the Egyptians, who were of course, the English, and Pharaoh, who was George III, and crossing the Red Sea, which was the Atlantic. And that’s why Franklin got so excited watching the Egyptians drowning in the Red Sea, because that was us, guys. We’ve forgiven him for that as well.

So at the end of the day, it’s not only Jefferson and Franklin designing the Great Seal, it is they are ringing the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. As you can see, because it cracked the first time they rang it, it was made in England so it’s… But around it, there’s the quote from Parashat Behar, “Ukratem d’ror ba’aretz l’chol yoshveha” (Leviticus 25:9), proclaim liberty to the land and the inhabitants thereof. All the way through, they’re quoting Tanach. And when the first movement for African-Americans starts, they’re singing, “Go down, Moses, to Egypt’s land and tell old Pharaoh to let My people go.” When Martin Luther King reaches the crescendo on August 28th, 1963 of the “I Have A Dream” speech, he quotes two pesukim, word by word from the King James translation from our Haftarah of Shabbas Nachamu, Isaiah chapter 40.

The two great revolutions that created Western freedom, the English revolution in the 1640s, the Americans in 1776, were both driven by Tanach. And Heinrich Heine was therefore right when he said, “Ever since the Exodus, freedom has spoken in a Hebrew accent.” And what was the revolutionary idea at the heart of yetziyat mitzrayim that has inspired everyone who ever fought for freedom? It is the radical, revolutionary, unprecedented idea that the supreme power intervenes in history to liberate the supremely powerless. And that was such a dramatic idea, that it changed the world.

Joe Lieberman:

And it does it through the instrument of the child of slaves, who obviously grows up in Pharaoh’s palace, but then is exiled and called to return. I mean, it’s a truly inspirational story.

Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik:

Yeah.

Rabbi Sacks:

And what’s really good about it is that the first time he intervenes to stop two Jews arguing, the first recorded comments by a Jew to Moshe Rabbeinu, is “mi samcha l’ish sar v’shofeit aleinu” (Exodus 2:14). Who ever appointed you as our leader?” He hadn’t even thought of leading the Jewish people, and already they were criticising his leadership.

Joe Lieberman:

Right. But later it becomes clear that God was going to appoint him. But then when God speaks to him from the Burning Bush, he’s obviously hesitant.

Rabbi Sacks:

He refuses four times-

Joe Lieberman:

He refuses, yeah.

Rabbi Sacks:

… which makes him the greatest of the Prophets, because he knew in advance what he was letting himself in for.

Joe Lieberman:

Right. And this is what I referred briefly about Rav Soloveitchik. And this point says that when God convinces Moshe to take on this assignment, he tells him, “I will bring this people, the Jewish people, out and you will then bring them to this mountain to serve Me.” And from that Rav Soloveitchik… And this is a little counter to what we’re talking about today, but not about the Haggadah. Rav Soloveitchik concludes that Moshe was not intended to be a political leader, a king, but really a teacher, which is, I suppose, why we call him Moshe Rabbeinu, that the mission ultimately was to lead the people to Sinai to receive the law and the values and our destiny.

Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik:

So we have a joining of politics and faith from the very beginning.

Joe Lieberman:

Exactly, right.

Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik:

So Maggid begins with ha lach ma’anya, and even before the dangerously liberal kol dichpin yeytei v’yeychal, we have the sentence “ha lach ma’anya dee achaloo avhatana b’ara d’mitzrayim”, in which one dimension of the matzoh is revealed, which is that it is the food of servitude eaten in Egypt. And later, of course, it’s described in the same Haggadah as the food of freedom. So in the Seder, memories of the bitter and the sweet, of suffering and freedom, seemed to be joined in deepening each other. Now, you both descend from Jews who have suffered and sacrificed over the centuries for their faith. You both grew up in the generation after the Holocaust, and yet you’ve both achieved positions in the public square in the freedom of a democratic society that several years before, your lives could scarcely have been believed. One, the first Jew on a national ticket in America, another rabbinic member of the House of Lords. I’m curious, how has the memory of the generations passed and their suffering and sacrifices impacted your own sense of responsibility as both a Jew and as a public figure in a free society in the present?

Rabbi Sacks:

You know, there is a fascinating moment in the Torah which describes the moment at which Moshe Rabbeinu became the great potential leader. And it says “vayigdal Moshe” (Exodus 2:11), Moses grew up. ”Vayeitzei el echav”. And he went out to his brothers, “Vayar b’sivlotam”, and he saw their suffering.” And for me, those half a dozen words, describe in the end what moves any Jew, man or woman, to undertake the awe-inspiring responsibilities of leadership. Moshe Rabbeinu could have lived a life of wealth and affluence as a prince of Egypt, or later, he could have lived a life of peace and quiet as a Midianite shepherd. But at the end of the day, despite his resistance, he could not say no to God. Because when you see your people suffering, if you have a Jewish neshama, you cannot walk away. And I think the key words there are… When he saw an Egyptian hitting a Jew, “Vayifein koh v’vhoh vayar ki ein ish (Exodus 2:12). he looked everywhere around and he saw no one there.” And that cannot be literally true.

Despite your late uncle’s wonderful book on The Lonely Man of Faith, you are not a lonely man of faith on an Egyptian building site. There are 10,000 people around you. What the verse means, he’s looked this way and that, and he saw “vayar ki ein ish”, that nobody was prepared to be a mensch. They stood, they watched, nobody was prepared to act. And I think that sense of personal inadequacy goes with all of us. We all know how insignificant we are. And yet when you see your people suffering, you can’t walk away.

So whenever I did anything in Britain, whether it was at Windsor Castle, as I described in the beginning of my Haggadah, whether you’re talking to politicians or royalty or other religions, you think to yourself, all of those centuries in which Jews suffered, England was the first place to create the blood libel in Norwich in 1144. England was the first country to expel us Jews in 1290. I think England is one of the most tolerant societies in the world, but it was once a world leader in antisemitism. So whenever I got up to speak, I was aware of all those centuries of ancestors who lived in this place and who suffered and who never had the chances we had. And I tried to speak on their behalf to bring some kind of Jewish voice back into a country that for so long excluded the Jewish voice.

Joe Lieberman:

Your question really brings a lot together, and it’s an important one, I think, which is both to what extent our lives, Rabbi Sacks and mine, and our actions, have been influenced by the suffering of Jewish history. But then you also know that the two of us have been really fortunate. And we have. We live in a time for which there is no real precedent in Jewish history. So I’ve had the extraordinary opportunities that I’ve had in American politics, which notwithstanding the great history of openness of America, I don’t think would have been possible 40 years ago, 50 years ago. Rabbi Sacks uniquely has been not just the chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, etcetera, but really an extremely important public intellectual, public theologian and counsellor to the Royal Family and the prime minister, a succession of prime ministers. Hard to imagine such an influence.

We live in a very fortunate time. But let me come back to your… And may it continue, with God’s help, come back to your question related to the Passover story. There’s no question in my mind that the suffering of the Jewish people in one sense is exemplified through slavery in Egypt and the Exodus from Egypt, and the mandate for us to remember that we were strangers ourselves in the land of Egypt as taught to me by my very Modern Orthodox rabbi, who was a YU graduate, Joe Ehrenkranz of blessed memory, was part of what both motivated me into public service and directed my public service. So the first time I ever got involved in anything that might be called political was during my freshman year at college when I came back to Stanford, Connecticut, where I grew up, because they were redrawing the lines for the… There was a new high school. They were drawing the lines, and it turned out that most of the African Americans were being sent to one school.

I had remembered being in the one high school and how satisfying, stimulating it was to have people of all colours, religions, etcetera. I’m sure that was some sense that I had to stand up for the other, for the strangers. I actually was working in Washington in August of 1963. I went to the March. I stood at the Lincoln Memorial when Dr. King made the I have a dream speech. When I first told my children that story, they looked at me as if I had just told them that I was with Lincoln when he signed the Emancipation Proclamation. I will tell you that during that March, who do I run into but my rabbi from Stanford who was there with an interfaith interracial group from Stanford that had come down.

I mean, these are early stories. And then I went to Mississippi, was part of the civil rights movement for a while. I think it’s affected… The sense of suffering has affected me in that sense, my own work for human rights and our foreign policy, for women’s rights, for gay rights, I think it all descends from this Egyptian experience and the quest, not only for freedom, but the mandate to protect those who are different. I will say very briefly that the other aspect of this suffering, both from Tanach, and let’s talk about the Passover story, we were taken out of Egypt by God with a strong arm.

I don’t think it’s too far to go from that to thinking that a strong foreign policy is important. And particularly growing up post-Shoah, having that experience both as a Jew and as a human being, the extent to which people weren’t strong, except for the great Brit, Churchill, was a mandate and affected my judgements on foreign policy as we went on. So what I’m saying is that that suffering affected the suffering of Jewish history and the response of Hashem, particularly in the Pesach story, affected me. And I’m coming back to Soloveitchik again, and the wonderful Latin term, Imitatio dei, when to some extent, we’re called on to try to follow God’s example. This leads to a difficult place for you, Rabbi, because this is… I’m really describing the political philosophy of a Democrat, but you’ll be happy to note that it’s the kind of Democrat that doesn’t exist much anymore, which is the liberal-

Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik:

Yeah, I’m actually not happy about that.

Joe Lieberman:

You’re not happy. Liberal on domestic policy, conservative on foreign policy.

Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik:

Yeah, so that’s-

Rabbi Sacks:

Let me give you one tiny example, I think, that I found very moving. Now we have had for 15 years now a national Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27th. And in 2004 was the 10th anniversary of the massacre in Rwanda, 800,000 people killed in a hundred days. And the government asked us, could we take Holocaust Memorial Day 2004 as a way of framing the tragedy in Rwanda without in any way derogating from the centrality of the Shoah. And we said, “Yes, a hundred percent.” Because I knew that the Holocaust survivors I knew were the most passionate about things like Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo. They felt other people’s suffering. So we said yes. I was worried, as the days came by. We held it in Belfast, which is a city that’s known tension, religious tensions.

And I was wondering, how are these 80-year-old middle Europeans going to relate to these young Africans? I needn’t have worried because I discovered there is a freemasonry of suffering, that one survivor recognises another, under every difference of culture, colour, climate, age. It was a very moving ceremony. Six months later, the woman, Mary Kayitesi, who’s in charge of the Rwanda relief effort for 10 years, phoned me up and said, “Chief Rabbi, I’ve got to come and see you.” And I wondered what she was going to say. And she said this. She said, “We have been labouring in obscurity for 10 years. The only people who ever helped us were the Jewish community. But now as a result of Holocaust Memorial Day, of your showcasing our suffering,” she said, “I’ve gone from obscurity. They’ve just voted me the International Woman of the Year. Her Majesty has just invited me for tea in Buckingham Palace.”

But saving the best to last, the government, she said, British government has just given her 12 million pounds to build three AIDs clinics in Kigali because one of the terrible things was that very often they infected the survivors with AIDS. And we she said, “None of this could I have done without the Jewish community.” We then raised money for her to build a fourth AIDs clinic.

Now I found that extraordinary, that Holocaust survivors were so passionate to say, “We suffered, let’s create a world without suffering,” how they used their pain to sensitise themselves to the pain of others. How they, more than any other members of our Jewish community, identified with the people of Rwanda. I suddenly realised that is what makes the Jewish approach to suffering special. We approach it the way Jacob approached the angel, saying, “lo ashaleichacha ki Im beirachtani, I’m not going to let go of you until somehow out of this wrestling match I rescue a blessing (Genesis 32:27).” We are the people who learned to turn a curse into a blessing, to turn our exodus experience into programme of social legislation of the Torah. We were the people who showed that you can suffer, but somehow rescue hope, human dignity, and freedom. And I think that was something that I learned from the Holocaust survivors.

Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik:

So let’s pick up, Senator Lieberman, from your reference to foreign policy. The conclusion of Vehi She’amda is about God’s salvation, and every generation Hakadosh Baruch Hu matzileinu miyadam, With no emphasis in the text on actions taken by the Jews themselves. Of course, we celebrate actions taken by the Jews in the modern era to save themselves, and we actively encourage other countries to do the same in encountering evil. Rabbi Sacks, your own commentary on the Haggadah, you extol the miracle that is Israel, but you also refer to Zionism as in a sense, what you call a secularisation of Jewish history.

Senator Lieberman, you’ve been, as you just mentioned, a prominent proponent for America actively opposing evil regimes around the world, often swimming against the tide of your own party. You forcibly supported and defended the first Gulf War, one of the few Democrats at the time who did, intervention of Bosnia, second Gulf war, and the surge. Curious how you think we should balance between what is stated as the central lesson of the Pesach story of v’Hakadosh Baruch Hu matzileinu miyadam, and what you both see as the obligations of Jews and the free world to actively fight evil on our own.

Rabbi Sacks:

For the 22 years that I was Chief Rabbi, Elaine and I lived in this wonderful place in St. John’s Wood just next to a street that someone whose name some of you may know, it’s called Abbey Road. Our route from home to shul involved crossing the famous zebra crossing, and that was where The Beatles recorded all their songs. Paul McCartney wrote a little song for the drummer, Ringo Starr, which went, “I’ll get by with a little help from my friends.” Which I think is what Hashem has been singing to us ever since then. Hashem needs a little bit of human help. He gives us the courage to oppose evil, but He asks us to become His partners in the work of redemption.

There’s a line that Moshe Rabbeinu says in Parshat Va’etchanan, “oh hanisah Elokim lavo lakachat lo goy mikerev goy (Deuteronomy 4:34)What does that mean? God never rescued one people in the midst … from the midst of another people. If you think about it, what it means is this. When Pharaoh says to Moses, when Moses says, “God says, ‘Let My people go,'” Pharaoh says to Moses, “Mi Hashem? Lo yadati et Hashem (Exodus 5:2). Who is God? I don’t know God.” He didn’t mean, I don’t know God. He meant: Here in Egypt, I’m in charge. Your God may be great in Israel, but in the ancient world, gods were local gods. And Ramses the Second, who may have been the Pharaoh of the Exodus, the name Ramses is a combination of M’ses which is the Egyptian for child, and Ra, or Rae, the Egyptian sun God. So he was saying, your God, the God of the Hebrews has no locus standi here in Egypt. Let Him rule you in Israel, but not here.

In other words, what Moshe was saying, has God ever come to take one people from the midst of another people? What he was saying in the language of today is, this was the first international intervention in defence of human rights. That’s exactly what Moshe Rabbeinu meant. He wouldn’t have put it in that language, but then he didn’t have the opportunity of learning politics in Yeshiva University from Rabbi Soloveitchik. But that’s what he meant and he said.

The first international intervention in defence of human rights came in 1999. The United Nations and NATO intervention into Kosovo. It’s the first time it ever happened. It took almost three and a half thousand years for that message to penetrate. But God can’t get by with a little help from His friends.

Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik:

Leaving aside this stunning revelation that God sings The Beatles –

Joe Lieberman:

Are you sure?

Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik:

I’m not sure.

Joe Lieberman:

Again, I repeat the fascinating thing to me along these lines, is that the story of Pesach, the politics of the Haggadah are all Divine politics. They’re deistic politics. God is the liberator, so it’s not only an international intervention, it’s a heavenly intervention. But pretty soon it’s, both in terms of the Torah mandate that I referred to, remember, we were strangers, the overall mandate to try to model ourselves as imperfectly as we do as humans on God’s behaviour. As the story goes on from Egypt to Sinai, the messages that Torah and Tanach and Midrash teach us become more clear.

To me, one of the magnificent seminal meaningful moments in Jewish history is as B’nei Yisrael, the children of Israel, are fleeing Egypt finally, after God has liberated them and terrified Pharaoh, they get to the Red Sea and the Egyptians are coming and they feel like they’re going to get either slaughtered or pushed into the water. I’m doing a loose Lieberman translation. Essentially, the people plead with Moses to go to God again, and God basically says, it’s time for you to become my partners and act. So Moshe holds up the magical stick. But then as we all know, still the waters don’t separate until Nachshon has the faith. He’s the pioneer to walk into the water up to his mouth, and then the waters separate.

That’s a very powerful message that recurs over and over again in Jewish history. The weakness of the meraglim, the agents, that Moses sent out, their own insecurity that leads them to feel that they’re basically insects. It comes again. Any opportunity I get to mention Megillah Esther I want to mention because my wife’s name is Hadassah Esther. What a story. That moment of Mordecai when she demurs first to go to the king, not just say … Well, first saying, maybe this is the reason you were sent there. But to me, as I go on in life, even more compelling, don’t think that if you don’t do this … God is not going to send somebody else to save the Jewish people. Don’t think that you and your family are going to be saved. It’s not only a call for us to be God’s agents and partners in tikkun olam but it’s also a very profound promise that Jews are an eternal people. That promise, thank God, has been kept so far.

Rabbi Sacks:

If you look at the structure of parshat Beshallach, it’s absolutely fascinating. It begins with a battle, it ends with a battle. And in the middle is Keriat Yam Suf, the division of the Red Sea. It begins with the battle against the Egyptians and Moshe Rabbeinu says, “hityatzvu ur’u et y’shuat Hashem (Exodus 14:13). Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord. Hashem yilachem lachem (Exodus 14:15) – God will fight for you – v’atem tacharishun – And you be silent.” Don’t do anything. That was the battle God fought for the Israelites.

Then comes Keriat Yam Suf. Then comes the battle against Amalek, where Moshe sends Joshua to lead the troops into battle. When Moshe Rabbeinu is lifting up his hands about which the Mishnah says, “v’chi Yadav shel Moshe osot milchama oh shovrot milchama (Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 3:8).” Was it the hands of Moses that made the difference, and the answer was no, what it was was when they looked up, they prevail. When they look down, they began to lose.

That was the dividing point, the division of the Red Sea. Before then, God fought the battles for the Israelites. After then, the Israelites fought the battle for God. That is the signal fact about Jewish history, that we believe that Hashem, if we look up, Hashem will inspire us and give us courage way beyond our numbers.

It always struck me that one of the most Jewish moments in the Bible is where God tells Gidon to wage war against the Midianites. So Gideon assembles an army of 32,000 people to fight the Midianites, and God says to Gideon, “Too many.” Whoever heard of 32,000 Israelites fighting together, oh, probably that’s exactly what they do. And so he says, “Tell anyone who wants to go, go.” 22,000 leave. He’s only got 10,000 soldiers left. God says, “Still too many.” Then he tells him to do this test about how they drink water from the river and 9,700 are sent away. He’s got 300 men left to fight the Midianites and God says, now you’re talking. And they go and they defeat the Midianites.

Somehow God is always present in the battles we fight because we always fight against superior numbers, greater powers, and somehow a strength not of our own making leads us to victory. But God needs us to be the vehicles of His Shechinah down here on earth, and that means He makes us His partners. I don’t think any other religion gives human beings so much dignity as God’s offered, to become His partners in the work of creation and redemption.

Joe Lieberman:

Just a brief word, that what was fully meant by this partnership with God becomes clear, as we all know, shortly after the separation of the Red Sea at Har Sinai. In other words, I was taught that that is the point at which the Jewish people truly becomes a nation because there in the 10 Commandments, The law we received are, if you will, a mission statement, our set of values. And of course, that we believe, I was taught. We accepted those on behalf of the rest of humanity. In fact, that is one of the great moments in human history when we were given a definition of what it means to be God’s partners, but so was the rest of the world. And again, Christianity embraces that moment.

Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik:

I actually was re-watching the actual video footage we have of the Exodus, which is actually Cecil B. DeMille’s 10 Commandments. Which is remarkable and I keep on my iPhone for constant chazara.

Rabbi Sacks:

The recent film?

Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik:

No, not that recent to’eva that was produced about Moshe Rabbeinu.

Rabbi Sacks:

Everyone who saw the film tell me the book is better.

Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveitchik:

Much better, yeah.

No, the current film is terrible, but the original is actual video footage. And they have the, of course the splitting of the sea. My son came by as it was going on in my iPhone. He said to me, “Where’s Nahshon?” And he was all upset. So that’s a very profound point.

Rabbi Sacks:

A senior British politician sent me a postcard. He was on some mission abroad and he saw a postcard that amused him and he sent it to me. It’s the Israelites as the sea is parted, and Moshe Rabbeinu is saying, “You see? Hashem did it.” And somebody’s saying to Moshe Rabbeinu, “But what about the puddles?” So whatever happens, we complain, but we still get through.

Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik:

You’ve both spoken about the message of freedom and liberty at the heart of the Haggadah and how it’s impacted the world. Truth is though, there have been many movements that have spoken in the name of liberty, but ended up corrupting the message of liberty at the heart of the Haggadah. Some of the worst isms of the 20th century. Communism being an obvious example would be gone in the name of liberation as well. And the French revolution, which Jefferson thought was a successor to the American revolution devolved in tyranny. And today as well. You can look online and get a Haggadah that’s been redone to support any political … You can get the environmentalist Haggadah and the liberation Haggadah.

It reminds me of the joke where an American Jew is visiting Israel and he asked his Israeli tour guide, “How do you say tikkun olam in Hebrew?” And the point is a profound one. How can the Jewish vision of freedom be twisted or misapplied? And have Jews themselves been guilty of this in history?

Joe Lieberman:

Of course it can be. The antidote to that is Shavuot and the receiving of the law. That sets the standards for what freedom should involve. There’s a great message, a broader message obviously in the trip from Egypt to Sinai which is, again, that the purpose of the Exodus and the liberation of the Jews from Egypt was not simply freedom. Because if you have freedom alone with nothing else, it can become chaos or it can be corrupted, as the communist corrupted the notion of freedom and made it into a tyranny.

What we received at Sinai was our values, our mission statement, but it also was the centrality of what we call today, the rule of law. The law is the means by which we adopt a code of behaviour. We express our aspirations for what we want to be, knowing that if we don’t adopt law and create a system to enforce it, by human nature, people will take advantage of one another in one way or another.

That’s the beginning of an answer which is that, of course, anything as appealing as the notion of freedom can be corrupted. The important thing to say is that, that I derived from, Egypt to Sinai is that freedom without law, without values, is actually a road to chaos and despotism and a form of ruination.

Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik:

Charlton Heston, I mean, Moses says in the 10 Commandments himself, at the moment of the Exodus, he says, “Then let us go forth to the mountain of God, that He may write his commandments in our minds and upon our hearts forever.”

Joe Lieberman:

Moses said that, too.

Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik:

Yeah, well. Of course. I have the video footage to prove it.

Joe Lieberman

Yes.

Rabbi Sacks:

It’s absolutely fascinating. One of the most extraordinary experiments in history, that the modern world was based, shaped by four revolutions. The English Revolution, the American Revolution, 1789 the French Revolution, 1917 the Russian Revolution. And they constitute as near to a controlled experiment as you will ever get in human history.

The first two, the English and the American were based on Tanach, on the Hebrew Bible. The second two, the French and the Russian were based on philosophy. Secular philosophy. The French Revolution on the basis of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The Russian Revolution on the basis of Karl Marx. The English and American Revolutions, in spite of all the tensions in the Civil War, ended up in a great enhancement of human rights. The French and Russian revolutions, the reign of terror in France and the Russia of the Gulag and of Stalin, were dreams of utopia that ended as nightmares of hell.

I don’t know any stronger proof of the power of Tanach throughout human history tested in these totally different environments than that. The reason is this, that in the end, what Am Yisrael did at Sinai, was they accepted God as their sovereign, which meant for the first time we had a doctrine of the moral limits of power. The ultimate power belongs only to Hashem and everything else is delegated, so the moral limits of power. And that is what made England and America places with human rights, because they have this theory of limited government. Whereas the French and Russian revolutions had this theory of the unlimited power of government to enforce a just society, and that is the road to hell. If you have a government that says, as Jean-Jacques Rousseau said, if people don’t like it, we will force them to be free. Which was a pretty offensive thing.

I think Isaac Bashevis Singer said a similar thing but much more Jewishly. He said, “Of course we have to have freedom. We have no choice!” I think what is really remarkable and what the world still has not learned is that, as Senator Lieberman rightly said, what we have in the Torah is law-governed liberty, or what in America is called nomocracy. The rule of law is not men.

Judaism did something that to this day no other civilisation does. And we do it on Pesach. We get the youngest child already to begin to know what it is to be a Jew, what slavery tastes like, “Taste the bread of affliction. Taste the bitter herbs of slavery.” And do so when you’re still a young child so that you will learn it’s your responsibility to ask the questions that set our people’s story in motion, and it is you who will carry on the narrative of our people. Now, in every other nation, the responsibility of law rests with government, police, and courts. In Judaism, every child is expected to be a constitutional lawyer. That’s why there’s so many Jewish lawyers. Hands up anyone in the room who’s not a lawyer. So this is unique, because we say freedom is a responsibility of all of us. Whereas the French and Russian Revolutions said, a little cadre said, “We know better than you. And if need be, we will force you to be free.” And that is why we call Pesach “zman cheiruteinu”, not “zman chofesh”.

In Hebrew, “chofesh” means getting rid of a master. You’re free. A slave ”who yetze l’chofshi chinam” , you get rid of a master. You’re free to do whatever you like. Cheirut means “al tikra charut ela cheirut, she’ein l’cha ben chorin ela mi she’oseik b’talmud Torah. (Pirkei Avot 6:2)”.

Liberty means that the laws are engraved, as you said, Senator Lieberman, on our minds and on our souls. Josephus in the first century says to his Romans contemporaries, “If you ask any member of our people about our laws, they will answer you immediately because they are as a result of our education, as it were engraved upon our souls even when we are young.”

Now in the middle east, in the Arab spring, people thought you create freedom by overthrowing tyrants. You overthrow Saddam Hussein, you overthrow Gaddafi, and you have freedom. You don’t, you have chaos. You have a situation where the whole of the middle east is gradually dissolving into what Thomas Hobbes called the war of every man against every man in which life is solitary, born nasty, brutish, and short. I don’t think the world has yet understood if you want freedom, you have to educate human children to understand that my freedom must never be bought at the cost of your freedom. If that message went out to the world, we would have peace in the middle east.

Joe Lieberman:

Hear, hear. Thanks for that, Rabbi. Just two quick thoughts that you inspired. One is that one of the differences implicit in what you said between the British and American society and the French and Russians, is that our concept, I’ll speak about the American which I know best, our concept of the basis of liberty is very religious. I mean, there it is at the beginning of the Declaration of Independence that they are forming this government, they say, to secure the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which are their endowment not from the philosophers of the enlightenment or even from the pen of Jefferson, but from the creator, from God. And that obviously is part of our belief, too, as expressed. Why does God intervene in the Passover story? Presumably because we are his children and He does not intend us, does not want us to live with that kind of suffering.

There’s a flip side to this, which is really powerful and poignant. In the Seder when we drip the wine from the glasses, there are different interpretations. But the one that I find most meaningful is that our joy should be limited because the Exodus from Egypt, crossing of the Red Sea was accomplished, during it. A lot of Egyptian were killed. And the Talmud tells a story of the angels in heaven when the Red sea closes over the Egyptians, breaking into a Hallelujah Chorus, and God chastises them and says, “What are you singing about? Some of my children are being killed.” As much as God was the instrument of that, it was done painfully. So all of it to say that we each have that spark of the divine in us. The Russians never recognised that. The French revolution certainly didn’t explicitly. And that is a very strong basis for freedom.

The second thing really briefly about the Arab revolutions. One could say about the changes that occurred after the fall of the Soviet Union, some rabbi once said that it took God one day to take Israel out of Egypt and took the Israelis 40 years to get Egypt out of themselves. It’s not easy to go from slavery to freedom quickly, but if there’s any way to achieve that, it clearly is through the establishment of a process of law and the educating of children in what that means, which is at the heart of the Seder experience.

Rabbi Sacks:

For me, there was an extraordinary moment in John F. Kennedy’s inaugural in 1961. It’s almost in the first opening minute where he says, “Now with the same revolutionary beliefs for which our ancestors fought. And what was the revolutionary belief? That the rights of man come from the hand of God, not from the generosity of the state.” An extraordinary religious declaration by a Catholic, incidentally. 61 was the year in which Pope John the 23rd met the Jewish historian, Jules Isaac, and learned about the church’s history of antisemitism which began that process of transforming relations between the Catholic church and the Jews which continues to this day, a wonderful about turn. It seems to me that around that time, Europe lost its belief in God. So there is no reference to God in the constitution of Europe.

Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik:

Or Christianity, the story of Christianity.

Rabbi Sacks:

There’s no reference to God, none to Christianity, despite the prompting of the Pope and many people who’ve said that you can’t have a founding document of Europe without reference to Christianity. It’s not there. It’s not there. And the day that Europe began to lose its faith, it began to lose that clarity that allows you to distinguish good and evil, that allows you to stand up to movements that want to suppress freedom. And I really believe that Europe needs to recover its faith if it is to protect its freedom.

Joe Lieberman:

Hear, hear.

Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik:

A final question, and this is more personal and pedagogical than political. As you’ve both referenced the central, perhaps the oldest part of the Haggadah is questions, questions, queries, challenges to our faith. And then the questions are then followed with education, the forging of a link between generations. You’ve both written in various places, movingly about your own unique faith journeys. Senator, you’ve discussed your history of observance in the tale that leads to you becoming probably the most famous shomer Shabbat in America.

Rabbi Sacks, you’ve spoken about your own journey and the role that leaders like the Rav, and probably especially the Lubavitcher Rebbe played in turning you towards Jewish leadership. So drawing on your own experiences, I’m interested in, why do you think Seder uniquely creates this balance of inquiry and faith? And what do you think that tells us drawing on your own lives about the role of faith, doubt, education and observance in life?

Rabbi Sacks:

When Tony Blair was Prime Minister, his Press Secretary refused to let him mention the word ‘God’.

Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik:

Alistair Campbell.

Rabbi Sacks:

Alistair Campbell. Whenever a journalist wanted to interview Tony Blair about his religious beliefs, his press secretary intervened and said, “We don’t do God.” So at the request of the BBC, when Tony Blair was no longer Prime Minister, they said, “Now interview him.” So I phoned him up and I said, “Now you’re no longer Prime Minister. You can do God.” And I actually did the first television interview with Tony Blair after he stepped down as Prime Minister, and he spoke very movingly about the role faith played in his life and what he tried to teach his children. He very, very simply said he wanted to teach his children to be religious so that they will know that there something bigger than them. And that is the curse of our time, when we lose faith all we’re left is with is individualism, which is why the icon of our age is the selfie. We are the age of the selfie.

And he then spoke about something fascinating. He spoke about how his religious beliefs helped him in the Northern Ireland peace process. Because he said, “I was the first politician who saw religion as not just part of the problem, but as part of the solution. And that was a critical moment of breakthrough.” Nobody has tried that in the middle east. I know that Muslims, whatever they are politically and they cover the entire range from the most moderate to the most extreme, take religion very seriously, indeed. And nobody’s ever tried to make religious leaders part of the peace process in the middle east. Many religious leaders have been involved in such processes, but there was nothing to connect them, to mesh them to the gears of the thing. So that is how I’ve seen faith transform people.

As for me personally, I’ll tell you for me the critical moment. And again, it came through a television programme, which I was asked to make from Auschwitz.

Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik:

Louder.

Rabbi Sacks:

I was asked to make a television programme from Auschwitz. And I stood in Auschwitz and it suddenly hit me that this, the worst crime of man against man took place in the heart of civilised Europe set in motion by the country of Kant and Hegel and Goethe and Schiller and Mozart and Beethoven. And all that civilisation failed to stop the greatest crime of man against man in history. And I suddenly had a crisis of faith. But that crisis of faith was not, ‘Where was God at Auschwitz?’ It was ‘Where was humanity at Auschwitz?’

And ever since then, I have found it very difficult to have absolute faith in humans unaided by that sense of reverence and humility in the presence of God. And the only real thing that restored my faith in humanity was the belief, sudden realisation, that God has more faith in us than we have in ourselves. And so therefore for me, faith is the one thing that reminds us of how small we are, how large is the task. And then we remember Rabi Tarfon, that it is not for us to finish the work, but neither may we stand aside from it.

Joe Lieberman:

Hear, hear. So my faith has been central to my life and my work, and of course there are moments of doubt. And I had moments of real doubt earlier parts of my life when I wasn’t observant. But ultimately I came back to it with a depth and really a belief based on text that this is the truth and that this truth and these values that are part of the Jewish experience are right and they’re right for me. And they comfort me when I need comfort. They answer me when I have questions. Look, we’re talking today about the Haggadah. The Haggadah is a remarkable story. I come back to my opening words. It tells us that God didn’t create the world and leave. God didn’t enter the covenant with Abraham and leave. God continues to care, re-enters history. Of course, we may say, “Where are You? Why aren’t You here now? We need You. There’s a horrible thing going on.” But in the end, a promise was made of eternality, and I believe in it. And it’s ultimately from the Pesach story, particularly extremely comforting.

I will also say that one of the things that really distinguishes America is we are a very religious people. Wax and wane in this group and that group, but faith matters a lot. I think there’s only one President in the inaugural, I forgot who it was, who didn’t mention God.

Rabbi Sacks:

Washington, second.

Joe Lieberman:

Oh, yeah, Washington. He just assumed that he didn’t need to, because it was obvious he was so close to God. But incidentally, Kennedy’s inaugural was, for me and a lot of people of my generation, the catalysing event in the public service. And it was a very religious statement in its way, and at the end, he says something that is pure Nachshon, which is, I’m paraphrasing, “We ask God’s blessings on our work, but here on earth we know that God’s work must truly be our own.” In other words, we’re partners.

The other thing I would say, which I suppose is obvious and a lot of people here have heard me say it before, to me, the remarkable blessing that I received in this country is that the fact I am an observant Jew and that for many I was the first observant Jew in public life that they’d heard about, was actually not a problem or it didn’t cost me politically. In fact, in some very real way, it created a bond between me and the rest of religious America, which is primarily religious Christian America, and what could I say to that but “Baruch Hashem“.

Incidentally, just to end on a hopeful note, Rabbi, I think you’re onto something. I don’t know how we do it, but in the great conflict that is playing out now in the Muslim world, which is really a civil war for control between in some senses now unfortunately it’s the recurrence of Sunni versus Shia, but it’s really extremist against modernist or extremist against moderate, that we have to find a way to create an inter-religious dialogue. I think I told you once, just to end with some optimism, I once went to see King Abdula, the first time I saw him in Riyadh. He was then the Crown Prince. The King, I think it was Faisal then, was ill. I saw him for two minutes. Said hello. The meeting began with King Abdula saying to me, “Senator, you and I are going to be good friends.” I said, “Well, your Majesty, I hope so.” And he said, “And I’ll tell you why, because you and I are both religious people.”

And what followed was a discussion that he clearly wanted to have about similarities, differences, overlap between Islam and Judaism. Actually it went on so long that I had my agenda of items I wanted to cover that I got worried we’d never get to them. But he was very generous with his time. And I do think there is something there.

It’s hard to find hope in this conflict, but there is something there that can be a bond that can take us from the inhumanity where we’re at now to a much better place.

Rabbi Sacks:

If I can just end with my first serious crisis of faith, which also ends well and I’m now devout. My first real crisis of faith came at the Seder table where we poured this wine for Eliyahu Hanavi to come and say lechaim and tell us the Mashiach is on his way. And every year Eliyahu Hanavi never turned up. So I was trying to work this out and suddenly I realised the answer. The Mashiach doesn’t come because kiddish wine tastes so terrible. And now that Israeli wine is so magnificent, we say to the Mashiach, “Today, you have no excuse, come, we’re waiting for you.”

Joe Lieberman:

Bimheira v’yameinu

Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik:

On that extremely positive and Hassidic note, we wish you a chag kasher v’sameach. Please join me in thanking our extraordinary guests.