And it is this [covenant] that has stood for our Forefathers and us. For not just one enemy has stood against us to wipe us out. But in every generation there have been those who have stood against us to wipe us out, and the Holy One Blessed Be He saves us from their hands.
This short passage from the Haggadah has given hope to Jews over the centuries, particularly in times of oppression.
The values of the Torah are timeless and so every generation finds a new way of interpreting the Haggadah which has meaning in it for them.
Below you will find one way of understanding the Vehi Sheamda, as well as some ideas how to transmit the key lessons of the Haggadah to your children, geared for older kids.
Vehi -- "and it is this" -- refers to the promise God made to Abraham to take our forefathers out of Egypt. Many commentators offer possible interpretations. One explanation is that the Torah is alluded to in the word Vehi as each Hebrew letter refers to a different part of our written and oral law:
Vav = numerical value 6, refers to the six tractates of Mishna.
Hei = numerical value of 5, stands for the five books of Moses.
Yud = numerical value 10, stands for the Ten Commandments.
Aleph = numerical value 1, stands for the one God.
This explanation implies that it is the Torah, and our connection with it, that has always saved us from our enemies.
Every Jew has an internal spark. Our enemies can try and extinguish this spark. They might enslave us as Pharoah did, they might try and annihilate us physically as Hitler did, they might try and take away our Jewish identity as Stalin did, but they can never take away our hope and the Jewish spark within us. By keeping the Jewish traditions and learning about who we are, we keep this flame alight.
Just like a flame does not get extinguished when we light another spark, when our soul is a vibrant flame, we can light other sparks.
Ask your children what Vehi refers to in the passage above. What has kept the Jews going over the centuries despite anti-semitism in every generation?
Discuss how we have survived 2000 years in Exile as a people up till very recently, without a homeland.
Does Jewish History defy rational explanation?
In practically every generation, the Jews have been physically threatened. What in your view is the greatest "enemy" to being Jewish today? How can we fight this enemy?
A people is usually defined by a common language and geographical boundaries. The Jews until recently had neither of these. God dispersed the Jewish people and sent us into exile all over the globe. But He also gave us a portable written and oral tradition. The wisdom of the Torah -- our Guide for Living a Jewish Life wherever we may be -- has preserved us as a people.
The Oxford University historian Cecil Roth writes in his book "The History of the Jews" [Schocken 1961, pp. 423-424]:
Today, the Jewish people has in it still those elements of strength and of endurance which enabled it to surmount all the crises of its past, surviving thus the most powerful empires of antiquity.
From a reading of Jewish history, one factor emerges which may perhaps help us in our decision. The preservation of the Jew was certainly not casual. He has endured through the power of a certain ideal, based upon the recognition of the influence of a Higher Power in human affairs. Time after time in his history, moreover, he has been saved from disaster in a manner which cannot be described excepting as "providential."