This verse is used in an unusual way in the Haggadah, which applies it to the hostility between Laban and Jacob and translates the Hebrew, “An Aramean sought to destroy my ancestor”. But looked at as the words stand, it tells you a number of interesting things.
The most obvious is that migration has always been part of Jewish history: from Cain, who became a nomad as a punishment; through Abraham, who wandered in response to a Divine call, and Jacob and Moses, who fled from persecution; to the Children of Israel, who traversed the desert on the way to the Promised Land – they are a paradigm of what has happened through the centuries.
But there is a question to be asked. Once you have reached a haven, how do you handle what went before?
The one thing that never works is to try to erase it and to wipe out the past. I am who I am because of where I have been and what has happened to me as well as what I have consciously achieved with my life.
This is one of the reasons why the opponents of Australian multiculturalism are unfair and illogical. Implying that migrants should push their past so far down inside them that it is virtually invisible on the surface is not only psychologically impossible.
It also fails to take account of the fact that we all enriched by our differences, including our varied baggage from the past. And apart from this, has the push for sameness ever really succeeded? Did it for example make an Australian less so by still speaking with, say, an Irish or Scottish accent decades after arriving as a migrant? Has every society not been reshaped many times in small if not large ways as the result of immigration?
If it is acceptable to be an Australian who still has a strong memory of and feeling for Leeds, London or Liverpool, why should a person be denied a cultural link with their native Turkey or Thailand? Surely our society can cope and be thereby enriched.