“IN EVERY GENERATION ONE MUST LOOK AT HIMSELF . . .”
One of the central passages which we will recite on Seder night, taken from Mishna Pesahim (10:5), reads: “In every generation one must regard himself as though he had gone out of
“In every generation, one must show himself as though he himself has just exited the slavery of Egypt as is written “And He took us out of there . . .” (Devarim 6:23). Regarding this, the Torah commanded “Remember that you were a slave” (Devarim 5:14; ibid., 15:15; ibid., 16:12; ibid., 24:18; ibid., 24:22), meaning, as if you yourself were a slave, and went out to freedom and were redeemed.”
From the mishna and the subsequent ruling of the Rambam, we learn that the mitzvah of relating the story of the exodus from
The Talmud (Bavli, Pesahim 116a) recounts an interesting conversation between Rav Nahman and his servant, Darro:
Said Rav Nahman to his servant Darro: “A slave who is freed by his master, who gives him gold and silver, what must he say to him?” He replied: “He must thank and praise his master.” He said to him: “If so, you have released us from the obligation of reciting the “Ma Nishatana” questions.” He began to recite “Avadim Hayinu”.
Imbuing this story with actual and relevant significance presents a serious challenge. True, we are commanded to remember the exodus from Egypt at frequent intervals (in the Shabbat Kiddush, in the Tephillin parashiyot, in the Shema, in the prohibition against cheating the stranger, etc.), but the commandment “to relate” applies only on the evening of the 15th of Nissan – “when matza and the bitter herbs lie before you” - and it differs in essence from the mitzvah of constantly remembering.
What, then, is the relevant significance of the Exodus narrative?
A reading of the entire above-mentioned Mishna reveals two controversies:
v Regarding the recitation of the Hallel on Seder eve, before the eating of the matzah, marror, and the meal, Beth Shammai says: Until what point does he recite? Until “the mother of the sons rejoices” (i.e., until the end of the first chapter). Bet Hillel disagrees: Until “water from the rock” (i.e., the end of the second chapter). There are different explanations of this controversy, but the Yerushalmi explains that Bet Shammai is stringent regarding remembrance of the exodus from Egypt (appearing in the second chapter – “As the Children of Israel left Egypt”) after midnight, time of the beginning of the redemption; Bet Hillel opines that there is no need to wait for midnight, because in any case the exodus from Egypt began only in the morning.
v Rabbi Tarphon is of the opinion that the recitation of the Hallel ends with “who redeemed us and redeemed our fathers” – sans any concluding benediction. He disagrees with Rabbi Akiva , who adds the passage relating to the future “So, may our God and God of our fathers bring us to other festivals and appointed times which approach us, in peace, rejoicing in the building of your city, and delighting in your service, and that we shall eat of the offerings and of the paschal sacrifice . . .” concluding with the benediction: “Blessed are you, God, who redeemed Israel.”
The Tosafists explain Rabbi Tarphon’s position, saying that it was his custom
to be sparing with requests. Here, too, he makes do with thanks for that which already happened, the redemption which already occurred. Rabbi Akiva was wont to request at length, and therefore he concludes the Hallel with a request relating to the future geula.
Rabbi Tarphon was careful, in certain instances, to rule in conformity with Bet Shammai (Mishna Berachot 1:3), because he had studied in his academy. Therefore one can find a common denominator between the two controversies:
In Bet Shammai’s view, reliving the past experience demands that we wait until that hour when the event occurred. Perhaps we can compare Bet Shammai’s position in this case to his stand on the lighting of the Hanukkah candles (lighting less each night). His religious consciousness is based upon that which has already occurred and which is occurring now (past and present). But according to Rabbi Akiva, it is permissible to praise and laud for a past geula, even if the exact hour in which it occurred has not arrived.
Rabbi Tarphon’s religious consciousness, too, relates to that which has already happened and to the current significance of that even, but his religious consciousness does not include the future. Rabbi Akiva, however, the ‘optimistic” believer, relates to prophecy due to materialize as though it had already materialized (See the story of the fox which emerges from the Holy of Holies, at the conclusion of Tractate Makkot).
Rambam rules that we must tell the story of the exodus and to experience in our lives, here and now, the experience of liberation, but together with this – in his version of Hagaddah – he rules like Rabbi Akiva (and Bet Hillel), integrating the request expressing our anticipation for the future geula into the benediction which concludes the first portion of the Hallel.
Religious awareness based on memory of the past and upon internalization of the moral messages which flow from this memory, can create an attitude of empathy towards all who are enslaved, just as we were in
Maharal, in his commentary on the Hagaddah, observes that religious consciousness based on faith in the future, can infuse hope into situations in which we undergo again the experience of slavery. This was also the greatness of Rabbi Akiva, who, in a period of destruction, merited hearing his despairing friends say “Akiva, you have comforted us.” Occasionally, however – and this happened to Rabbi Akiva – there exists the danger that an overabundance of anticipation of the geula, will result in dechikat ha’ketz (“forcing the end”), in messianic interpretation of historic events. Along with this danger, there exists another danger, no less serious than the first: the belief that our redemption can be attained at the expense of others.
Only proper balance between the two consciousnesses can advance us, some day, to the complete geula. In the words of the Rambam: (Laws of Kings 12:7-8)
7. The prophets and the Sages yearned for the days of the Messiah not that they may rule over all the world, and not that the have dominion over the nations, and not that the nations exalt us, and not in order to eat and drink and be merry: but in order that we be free for the Torah and its wisdom, and they will have neither oppressor nor one to keep from study of Torah, but so that they merit life of the world to come, as we explained in the Laws of Repentance.
8. At that time, there will be neither hunger nor war nor jealousy and competition – there will be an abundance of goodness, and all delicacies will be as commonplace as dust. The world will be engaged only in the knowledge of God. Therefore will there be great wise men, and those who know the deep and hidden knowledge; they will achieve knowledge of their creator according to human ability, as is written “For the world will be full of the knowledge of God, like the waters which cover the seas” (Isaiah 11:9)