At our Seder tables, we will declare: “My father was a wandering Aramean and he went down to Egypt…and there he became a nation.” (Deuteronomy 26:5)
However, after our deliverance from Egypt, at the time of our acceptance of the Torah, the Almighty declared: “Now if you obey Me fully, and keep My covenant, then you will be My treasured possession out of all the nations……you will be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:4-6)
So, when did we become a nation? Was it during our time in Egypt, arriving as an extended family group, which then expanded into a people that was cruelly persecuted, or was it through our commitment at Sinai to a life of Torah and mitzvot that we became God’s chosen people?
There are two routes through which a nation can be formed. One is through a shared past and the other is through a shared future. A group of people can meaningfully be fused into a national entity not just on account of where they have come from, but also based on where they are going to. When a group of people shares a common set of ideals, values and dreams, they are bound together by a treasured common destiny.
At Pesach-time, while we celebrate our historic redemption from Egypt, we are particularly mindful of our eventful past. Looking back through the history of British Jewry, we can be immensely proud of our achievements, many of which were attained through adversity and hardship. On my travels to communities large and small, I always hear memories of previous eras with their highs and lows, their challenges and achievements. We can be immensely proud of where we have come from.
At the same time, what is even more important is how we approach our future. This recognition has inspired the United Synagogue to engage in a strategic review, while many other communities throughout the UK are likewise carefully investing in developing a clear, realistic and ambitious approach to their future.
As is the case at the Seder table, within British Jewry we are deeply aware of our origins and are keenly anticipating our shared future. With attention to strengthening our communities, deepening our Jewish awareness through education and enhancing our environment through acts of kindness, we will invest in a great destiny for ourselves, our families and our communities.
Valerie and our family join me in wishing you all a chag kashervesameach.
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis