• Yehuda Pevzner

Who was Mayflower's Captain?

In 1954, when Ben-Gurion was prime minister, he traveled to the USA to meet with President (Dwight) Eisenhower to request his assistance and support in the early and difficult days of the State of Israel.

John Foster Dulles, who was the then secretary of state, confronted Ben-Gurion and challenged him. “Tell me, Mr. Prime Minister — who do you and your state represent? Does it represent the Jews of Poland, perhaps Yemen, Romania, Morocco, Iraq, Russia, or perhaps Brazil? After 2,000 years of exile, can you honestly speak about a single nation, a single culture? Can you speak about a single heritage or perhaps a single Jewish tradition?’”

Ben-Gurion retorted: “Look, Mr. Secretary of State — approximately 300 years ago, the Mayflower set sail from England, and on it were the first settlers who settled in what would become the largest democratic superpower known as the United States of America. Now, do me a favor — go out into the streets and find 10 American children and ask them the following:

• What was the name of the Captain of the Mayflower?

• How long did the voyage take?

• What did the people who were on the ship eat?

• What were the conditions of sailing during the voyage?

“I’m sure you would agree with me that there is a good chance that you won’t get a good answer to these questions. Now in contrast — not 300 but more than 3,000 years ago, the Jews left the land of Egypt. I would kindly request from you, Mr. Secretary, that on one of your trips around the world, try and meet 10 Jewish children in different countries. And ask them:

• What was the name of the leader who took the Jews out of Egypt?

• How long did it take them before they got to the land of Israel?

• What did they eat during the period when they were wandering in the desert?

• And what happened to the sea when they encountered it?

“Once you get the answers to these questions, please carefully reconsider the question that you have just asked me.”

This week’s Torah portion, Parshat Bo, speaks about the Jews leaving Egypt. At the time of the redemption, Hashem told Moshe to tell the Jewish people, “Remember this day upon which Hashem took you out of Mitzrayim.” Moments after the bondage of Egypt shifts from being their reality to being history, Hashem is commanding them to remember this momentous event! As if they could forget it!

Amongst the differences between the Jews and the Egyptians is the fact that the Egyptians use monuments and stones to remember their historical places and events. The Jews, by contrast, have relied on passing on the tradition from father to son to retain their heritage.

Hashem was telling the Jewish people: “Remember this day because it’s up to you to pass it on! You can’t rely on anything but your transmission!”

The education of a Jewish child can not be dependent on objects nor on history lessons. Their education is dependent on the Mesorah - the unbroken chain passed on from parent to child, throughout all the generations. Each Jewish person who was there passed it on to their child, who, in turn, passed it on to the next generation. It’s not just in a history book - it’s very real and personal!

A father needs to tell his son: We left Egypt. We were created as a nation! As a nation, we keep the Torah and do the Mitzvot and this is something that keeps us alive!

And this education is so important. Even as the Jews were leaving Egypt, Moshe made sure to remind the Jews to instill this teaching in their children.

Shabbat Shalom!

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