The People of Israel Survive Even in the Diaspora
The Seder night marks the anniversary of our Exodus from Egypt and the birth of the Jewish nation. On this night, Jews the world over recount the events of the Exodus. But there is more to the Seder; we also observe several commandments rich with symbolism of the past and present history of our nation. The most central of these is the commandment to eat matzah during the course of the Seder.
Matzah symbolizes two opposites. On the one hand, the Scriptures refer to it as "the bread of affliction." On the other hand, it is considered a symbol of freedom, since it served to nourish the Jews as they set out from Egypt as free men.
On this Seder night, we make mention of both sides of the coin: the period of our exile in Egypt, and in contrast, our exodus to freedom. Various symbolic foods which grace our Seder table represent the exile and our redemption from exile. On the one hand, we eat bitter herbs to recall the travail and suffering of our exile, while on the other hand, we drink wine, while reclining, to demonstrate that we were redeemed from Egypt and are no longer enslaved to Pharaoh.
There is an important lesson to be learned from the conjunction of these two opposites in the process of the Seder we observe this evening. We must know that there are times of difficulty, of exile and suffering, and there are times of redemption and gladness. This is true of us as individuals, and also of the Jewish People, collectively, as a nation.
When we are enjoying a period of blessing, all seems to go well. Each nation has its unique ways to exploit its intervals of prosperity it enjoys. Indeed, many nations succeeded in using these periods to create a golden age of literature, art, and culture.
The Jewish people used their times of prosperity in keeping with their national mission of bringing the light of G-d's Torah to the world and sanctifying His Name. They devoted themselves to furthering the study of G-d's Torah, to living a life sanctified by high moral standards and charity to the sick, the poor, and all in need, and to sanctifying G-d's Name in His world.
Even in times of blessing and plenty, the Jewish People were guided by entirely different principles than the nations around them.
However, the contrast between Israel and the other nations of the world is even more striking during times of travail. The gentiles consider times of material hardship as badges of shame in their national history. Their failure to make progress during these years is a source of embarrassment to them, accompanied by disintegration and retreat.
Not so the Jewish People. No nation on this globe has been persecuted as have the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. No ethnic group has suffered even a fraction of what the nation of Israel has survived. No other group has been cast from land to land, from continent to continent. Only we are called "wandering" Jews.
Yet, miraculously, the Jewish People do not regard exile as a negative period in their national history. Throughout the years of wandering, we have continued to develop and grow spiritually, producing some of our greatest scholars and leaders. The shelves of our libraries are lined with thousands upon thousands of volumes of outstanding Torah literature penned during some of the most trying periods of our history.
Amazingly, we do not regard our exile as a time of defeat or retreat which undermines our progress as a nation. The Jew transforms his exile to a phase of intense creativity, an opportunity to attain new spiritual heights and internal refinement. In short, when handed a sack of lemons, the Jew makes lemonade.
This is why we make mention of exile on the very night we celebrate the Passover, the "Festival of our Freedom," the same way that we make mention of our redemption. The moror which symbolizes exile is no less essential to the Seder than are the matzah and the wine which recall our newfound freedom.
What is more, the matzah itself alludes to both states: exile and independence.
Of course we pray for freedom, for prosperity and blessing, just as any individual prefers wealth to penury. However, when looking back, we have no regrets about our years of exile. We do not view them as a time of failure, but of growth.
What is more, reflecting on our years of exile is a source of unbound joy. The very fact that our nation survived, that it was not trampled out of existence by the hooves of those who strove to eradicate us from the very face of the earth – this is irrefutable proof of G-d's ongoing love for us, and the divine protection He extended us throughout the ages.
Even more than the miracle of the Exodus, the miracles of our survival in the Diaspora serve as a source of joy, pride, and comfort for us to this very day.