Leaving Both Mitzrayim –
The Mishnah (Pesahim 10:5) states: "In each and every generation a person is required to see himself as if he had left Egypt, for it is said, And you shall tell your son on that day, saying, 'Because of this, the Lord did [this] for me when I went out of Egypt' (Shemot 13)." RaMBaM (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Hametz UMatzah 7:6) offers a different formulation of the command:
In each and every generation a person is required to show himself as if he himself had just left Egyptian enslavement, for it is said, but He took us out of there, etc. (Devarim 6). It was regarding this that the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded in the Torah: And you shall remember that you were a slave (Devarim 5). That is to say: as if you yourself had been a slave and you went out to freedom and were redeemed.
Perhaps RaMBaM understands that in order to transmit the experience of liberation from slavery to the coming generations (and you shall tell, as the verse cited in the Mishnah would have it), we must experience it ourselves and perhaps even "show" it in our everyday lives. Every verse in the Torah which includes the phrase and you shall remember that you were a slave is followed by some binding commandment, such as the Sabbath law which relates to the repose of the slave and the stranger, the more general treatment of the Hebrew slave, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow, and the gifts to the poor. It was no accident that RaMBaM chose to cite Devarim 5:14, where the Torah commands us to let slaves rest on the Sabbath; the verse just before it concludes with the words, so that your slave and servant-women will rest as you do.
Hassidic thinkers extended the commandment to tell the story of the Exodus to the individual/existential plane as well. They explained that Mitzrayim [
For instance, Sefat Emet (Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter of Gur, 1847-1905) writes in his derasha for Passover of 5631:
…the truth is that one need only clarify it through faith, and the [word] sippur [story] [is used here] in the sense of clarification and explicit uncovering, that in each and every generation there is an Exodus from Egypt relevant to that generation, and all of that occurred at the time of the Exodus from Egypt. And in accordance with a person's faith that he is like one who had come out [from Egypt], this aspect is revealed and he feels the present Exodus from Egypt, and each individual can escape his own straits.
That is to say: the commandment to retell the Exodus from Egypt does not relate to the historical story, rather the commandment is to tell the story as a story of a personal, social, and national move away from both Egypt and our "straits." Such is the commandment which obliges every person in every generation.
If so, are the texts traditionally read at the Seder – the Haggadah, the eating of matzah (a commandment which RaMBaM says does not need kavanah/intention), the eating of bitter herbs – are these sufficient for the performance of the commandment as understood by the Sefat Emet?
I think the answer is clear.
Does the "protocol" for running the Seder along with all of the pre-holiday preparations serve this goal? I think that the answer to that question is complicated.
There is no doubt that – like the prayer book - any ritual protocol can serve as a framework without which most people would never turn their attention at all to matters of slavery and freedom. Be that as it may, one sometimes gets the impression that there is so much involvement with halakhic stringencies and ritualization of the Seder, that there is a danger of confusing the trivial with the significant. As Rabbi Eliezer ben Hurkonus said long ago: When One routinizes his prayer, his prayer is no longer a supplication (Berakhot 4:4). In his Hilkhot Tefillah, RaMBaM also views the liturgy as a kind of historical compromise that had to be made when people's speech lost its spontaneity.
Serious preparation for Passover – beyond cleaning and shopping for kosher food - may be necessary in order to perform the commandment properly.
Perhaps each of us must ask himself just how far he feels he acts out of freedom and choice, and how much he is driven by other motivations: the fear of disappointing others, uncontrolled submission to authority, habit, or some other constraint. Perhaps it is to this (among other things) that the Sages are referring when they write: "If there is no one who can ask, he should ask himself."
It seems to me that the first existential question that every Jew must ask himself is: "Am I a free person, have I left my own
However, this question is not sufficient, and it is also connected to the question of granting freedom to others dependent on me; all the verses that command us and remember that you were a slave in
This important truth is independent of historical circumstances. Our Exodus from
This is true on the personal, societal, educational, and political levels; it is true in each and every generation and for each and every person, and for each and every people. As an am segulah – a specially treasured people – we are commanded to remind ourselves that the obligation to "leave
As Sefat Emet would put it, the Exodus from Mitzrayim/Meitzarim – Egypt/staits – is a necessary condition for receiving the Torah.
May we succeed this year and every year in contending with this mission!
A joyous and liberating holiday to all,