One of the central tenets of our faith is the eternal relevance and unchanging nature of our Torah. The Torah is not only Divinely authored but is actually a description of G-d Himself. Hence, by following it, we are emulating G-d. Clearly, it would be foolhardy for humans to tamper with a guidebook written by G-d Himself. As each and every law is an expression of the Divine will, our Sages admonish us to be as careful with a "light" mitzvah as with a "heavy" mitzvah; they are all part of the same system. Just as a misapplied two-dollar part can cause an airplane to crash, so can neglect of even a minor mitzvah impinge on the entire structure of the Torah.
On a theoretical level, all mitzvoth are equally important at all times; after all, a Divine system is not constrained by the limits of time. However, on the practical, earthly level, where the Divine Torah is actually implemented, certain mitzvoth gain importance due to different historical climates. Thus, in our generation, the mitzvah to settle the land of Israel has taken on crucial significance. While from a technical point of view, it is the same mitzvah today as it was 300 years ago, today the mitzvah affords us many opportunities unavailable to our ancestors.
That certain mitzvoth serve crucial historical functions well beyond their technical observance is noted by the Meshech Chochma (Dvinsk, 1843-1926), in explaining the well-known Midrash that it was due to our fidelity to our native tongue, dress and names that we were redeemed from Egypt . But many of our great Sages were known by non-Hebrew names, and the language of conversation of the Jew has rarely been Hebrew. How, then, were these factors so important in Egypt ?
While in modern times, distinctive Jewish dress, language and names may not be crucial to our continued existence as a nation, in Egypt it was precisely these external symbols of Judaism that guaranteed our survival. The Torah had yet to be received; there was no Shabbat, no kashrut , no holidays, no mikvah . Not even brit milah was observed in Egypt . And truth be told, the midrash suggests that eighty percent of Jews were not redeemed; they apparently had assimilated into the allure of Egyptian culture. Yet by clinging to those elements that define a nation's identity, a small group managed to keep their historical roots alive, even though G-d was practically unknown to them.
The Meshech Chochmah goes on to suggest that, in exile it is often these peripheral mitzvoth that play the greatest significance in preserving Jewish identity. It is precisely those practices that the Jewish people adopt in their various homelands that serve as the barrier to assimilation, often more so than the technical observance of the "meat and potatoes" of Judaism. The Magen Dovid worn around the neck of a non-observant Jew can be that link that preserves his Jewish identity.
The Torah tells us that one day, "your children shall say to you, what is this service to you?" (12:26). The anonymous author of the Pesach Hagadah takes this as a reference to the "wicked" child, and the Torah provides an answer to this question: "You must answer it is the Passover service to G-d, He passed over the houses of the Israelites. (12:27)." Yet the author of the hagadah deviates from that answer and suggests a different response: "It is because of this that G-d acted for me when I left Egypt (13:8)." How could the author of the hagadah change an answer provided by G-d Himself? What was wrong with the response suggested in the Torah?
Apparently the author of the hagadah is hinting that our approach to the challenges we face, symbolized by the mocking attitude of the rasha, must be amenable to change. The approach that was successful in ancient Egypt had little applicability in the land of Israel . What worked in Eastern Europe will not necessarily work (and may even be counterproductive) in North America . Even an answer provided by G-d may not be 'sufficient'.
It seems clear that today, our answer to the scoffers of the day must be one of inclusion and openness. Their neglect of Torah is not a rejection of Torah; rather, it stems from a misunderstanding of what Torah is all about. We must seriously engage them and show them the beauty of Torah. May our behavior be the best example of that beauty.