JVN Guest Post: Pesach and Altruism

By Rabbi Harvey Belovski

In just a few days, Jews around the world will celebrate Pesach, which recalls the Exodus of the Israelites from ancient Egypt.  Yet for Jewish thinkers, Pesach is more than merely an occasion to tell an ancient story over four cups of wine and some matzah – it is an annual opportunity to actually relive the first moments of Jewish nationhood, and experience first-hand the exhilarating transition from slavery to physical and spiritual liberation.  As the Haggadah itself notes, ‘in every generation, one must see oneself as though one had personally experienced the Exodus’.

From the Arthur Szyk Hagaddah

The prophet Jeremiah offers an interesting poetic perspective on the Exodus.  Referring to the Jewish people, he muses:

Thus says the Lord: I remember for you the kindness of your youth, the love of your bridal days; how you went after Me in the desert, in an unsown land. (Jeremiah 2:2)

Classical sources teach that this verse refers to the dedication of the Israelites at the time of the Exodus.  The use of the word חסד – kindness – is curious.  Normally referring to an act of altruism performed by one person to another, Jeremiah uses it here to describe the Israelites’ willingness to ‘follow’ God into the desert, irrespective of the conditions and risks, acting, as it were, ‘kindly’ towards Him.  Since God doesn’t need anything from us, I assume this to mean that our ancestors established altruism as one of the central pillars of Jewish national identity.

As such, at the very inception of our history, we are characterised by Jeremiah as people who are deeply committed to acts of kindness as part of our core religious identity.  Conceptualised this way, Pesach is not just a celebration of Exodus and the dawn of Jewish national identity, but a time to reinvigorate our commitment to acts of kindness to others.

A great way to actualise this Pesach aspiration is by volunteering within the community.  The JVN has created a wonderful network of opportunities for volunteering: there are projects to suit all ages, every interest, however much or little time you have available.  If you are already volunteering, you will know how rewarding the experience can be, in which case, please consider increasing your commitment.  Do consider joining the growing corps of JVN volunteers this Pesach – and experience the rebirth of the Jewish people in a new and transformational way.

Rabbi Belovski is the Rav of Golders Green Synagogue, a Teaching Fellow at LSJS, the Rabbinic Mentor for University Jewish Chaplaincy, and a doctoral student in the Philosophy Department at Birkbeck College.



Categories: Volunteering Perspectives


Hi, I'm Mike, JVN's Youth Co-ordinator and blogger. I'll be blogging about all sorts of issues affecting the volunteering community, with a particular focus on how recent developments might affect the UK Jewish community's volunteers. I'm always interested to read the comments you make. If you have something you want to see in the JVN blog, e-mail me at mike@jvn.org.uk and I'll be happy to talk. And if you're inspired by any of my blogs to volunteer, log on to www.jvn.org.uk and register to find your perfect volunteering opportunity.


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2 Comments on “JVN Guest Post: Pesach and Altruism”

  1. Ron Levy
    April 12, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

    Excellent post, Rabbi. Thank you for your inspiring words.

  2. Esther A
    April 12, 2011 at 2:08 pm #

    as a volunteer i can verify the rabbi’s claim that volunteering is rewarding! it’s invigorated this old timer!!

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