One of the traditional songs from the Pesach Haggadah which has become hugely popular in recent years is Vehi Sheamdah. An original version composed by Yonatan Razel was named Song of the Decade in Israel.

The passage reads:

And it is this that has stood by our fathers and us. For not just one alone [Pharaoh] has risen against us to destroy us, but in each and every generation they rise against us to destroy us – and the Holy One, Blessed be He, saves us from their hand!

What is meant by the opening words “It is this that has stood by us”? What does vehi, “this,” refer to?

At first glance, it seems to refer to the previous paragraph where we read, “Blessed is He who keeps His promise to Israel.” Meaning, “this” refers to G‑d’s promise to redeem the Children of Israel from the Egyptian exile and, according to tradition, His ongoing promise to redeem us from all our exiles and persecutions, including the Final Redemption with the coming of Moshiach. This promise has sustained the Jewish People throughout our long and tortuous history. We have always believed and trusted in G‑d’s promise that, in the end, it will all come right.

That is the simple meaning. But a few years ago, I thought of an alternative interpretation. Later, I was gratified to see the same idea in the writings of earlier rabbis much more learned than I.

What occurred to me was that the Haggadah may have been giving us another message as well. Perhaps the very fact that “in every generation they rise against us to destroy us,” is what has stood by us and given us the strength to persevere. Anti-Semitism, and the fact that we have survived through all the suffering and persecution, bears testimony to the Almighty’s watchful eye which continues to guide us through our providential mission on earth.

Jews and non-Jews alike have marveled at our miraculous survival. Our tiny nation’s continuity, while all the greatest empires of the world have come and gone, remains a powerful confirmation that there is a Higher Power ensuring our survival and our destiny.

Indeed, there is a strong argument to suggest that Anti-Semitism has contributed toward our longevity. The French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, made that point in his book Anti-Semite and Jew. History records that under regimes that persecuted us, we remained steadfastly Jewish, whereas under more enlightened, liberal forms of government, we became comfortable in our newfound freedoms, gradually embracing a welcoming but dominant culture and forfeiting much of our own.

Back in the early 19th century, Napoleon was conquering Europe and promising liberty and equality for all. When he squared up against Russia, many Jewish leaders sided with him, hoping he would finally bring an end to Czarist persecution and extend full civil rights to Russian Jewry. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad, however, thought differently. He actively opposed Napoleon and even had his Chassidim assist in intelligence gathering for the Russian army.

When his colleagues challenged him and questioned his apparent lack of concern for the well-being of his own people, he argued that while Napoleon might be good for the Jews materially, his victory would result in spiritual disaster. Tragically, the record proves him correct. Russian Jews remained staunchly Jewish, while French Jewry virtually vanished. How many Jewish Rothschilds are left in the world? G‑d knows we could have used them. Most of French Jewry today hails from North Africa. Sadly, the originals are few and far between.

And the American experience confirms beyond a shadow of a doubt that freedom, democracy, and equal rights, while wonderful blessings for which we should be eternally grateful, also present a profound challenge to our Jewish identity and way of life. In the melting pot of the United States, Jews have integrated so successfully that they are virtually disintegrating Jewishly!

Back in the 1970’s, when I was working with Jewish university students, we were struggling to break through a wall of icy indifference towards Judaism. It was so frustrating that my colleagues and I even joked about going onto campus in the dead of night to paint a few swastikas on the Student Union building! Maybe that would jolt them out of their apathy. Of course, we never actually did it, but the fact that the thought crossed our minds demonstrates how external threats have a way of making Jews bristle with pride and righteous indignation.

We see it today as well. Outside many shuls around the world, you will find young men and women who volunteer for security duty. Many of them are never seen inside the shuls they protect. Prayer is not their thing. But when enemies of Israel threaten Jews, these brave young people respond as loyal, committed Jews.

It appears that as repugnant as anti-Semitism may be, in a strange, perverse sort of way it may have contributed to the stubborn determination of Jews over many generations to identify Jewishly, stand up for their convictions, and live by the principles of our faith no matter what.

So, when you sing Vehi Sheamdah at your Pesach Seder this year, instead of bemoaning our enemies’ hatred for us, find the positive side. Vehi - this very hostility and the never-ending attempts at our annihilation have only served to strengthen our resolve to remain steadfastly Jewish. Indeed, it has stood us well.