Wrath vs. Kindness

There’s a part of the Haggadah that’s hard to talk about, although you may not have noticed it before. Toward the end of the seder, after we’ve eaten, we pour the fourth cup of wine, we open the door, and we say a paragraph written just for the Haggadah:

“Pour out Your wrath upon the nations that do not acknowledge You and upon the kingdoms that do not call upon Your Name. For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation. Pour out Your indignation upon them, and let the wrath of Your anger overtake them. Pursue them with anger, and destroy them from beneath the heavens of the Lord.”

Some liberal Haggadahs don’t include this line. Others include some interesting reinterpretations, including ones on the theme of God “pouring out God’s love” upon the nations. I always felt awkward reciting the traditional line out the open door. What a line to choose to yell into the night full of non-Jewish neighbors! Do we really have to focus on punishing the non-Jews during the seder? Can’t we focus on freedom and celebration and good things?

This year, I am noticing a part of me that really means this line. With the Israel-Hamas war, hostages remaining in captivity, threat of regional war, Iran attacking Israel, antisemitism on the rise, I do some days wish for God to take on these problems directly. Fix it, please. And if I’m honest, some days, that part of me doesn’t care who else gets hurt in the process.

The experience of awful times, the kind that makes us want God to pour wrath upon the perpetrators, can harden us. The Israelites, fresh from crossing the Red Sea, matzah on their backs and scars from slavery on their skin, were susceptible to this. However, a frequent way the Torah explains why we should treat others kindly is because of our own experience as slaves in Egypt. At Mount Sinai, immediately after leaving slavery in Egypt, God tells the Israelites amidst all the ethical teachings God gives over during revelation, “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9). This year, I’m thinking about how after everything, God tells the Israelites: Don’t take it out on others. Don’t continue the cycle. Become the kind of person you wish others had been.

This year, I vacillate wildly between “Pour out your wrath” and “You shall not oppress a stranger” from day to day and from hour to hour. If I do ask God to pour wrath upon our enemies more full-throatily than usual this year, I pray that I also just as passionately feel the obligation to be the kind of person I wish others were to us.

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