What's the connection?
Each of the Festivals of the Jewish year has its own inner connection with the Exodus. Thus we find the phrase "in remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt" mentioned in the Torah again and again.
Let's discuss each holiday's connection to the pivotal event in our history, the Exodus from Egypt. The festival most obviously connected is Shavuoth, when we received the Torah at Sinai. Its name, Shavuoth, literally, weeks, alludes to the fact that it falls exactly seven weeks after Pesach.
When G-d first enlisted Moses to lead His people out of Egypt, He mentioned that He was taking the nation out of bondage with a distinct purpose in mind. They were to leave Egypt in order to arrive at a preordained destination, Mount Sinai. G-d intended to bring them there for a clearly defined purpose, namely, to serve their Creator. G-d informed Moses of this plan well in advance, when He revealed Himself in the burning bush, which was located on Mount Sinai:
"When you lead forth the nation from Egypt, you will serve G-d on this mountain" (Exodus 3:12).
To the human eye, it appears that the purpose of the Exodus was to escape the torturous enslavement by Egypt, and, indeed, this was one result. Most of us would not look any further. Release from bondage seems to be a great enough accomplishment to justify the events of the Exodus.
Heaven looks at things differently. When described by G-d, the Exodus was but the preparation for His ultimate goal, that the nation be free to travel to Sinai and receive His Torah there. The greatest moment in our national history, the Giving of the Torah at Sinai, is summed up by G-d, as He speaks to Moses, in a few brief words: "... you will serve G-d on this mountain."
Given this new definition of the Exodus, as a preparation for receiving the Torah, the connection between Pesach and Shavuoth is self-evident.
The Festival of Booths, Sukkoth, is also described in terms of the Exodus. We are commanded to dwell in the sukkah, a temporary home, "so that your generations will know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in booths when I took them forth from the Land of Egypt" (Leviticus 23:43).
The Sabbath is referred to by the verse as the first of the holy days. It commemorates the Act of Creation itself. This includes a commemoration of the Exodus as well, as the Torah tells us:
"And you shall remember that you were a slave in the Land of Egypt and the L-rd your G-d took you out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the L-rd your G-d has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day" (Deuteronomy 5:15).
On the Sabbath we are released from the burden of commitments to our employers and the need to earn a livelihood. The hurried pace of life is suddenly calmed, and we keep mundane matters on hold so that we will be free to devote ourselves to our spiritual welfare. We are not allowed even to command a gentile servant to perform acts forbidden to a Jew on this day. The Sabbath thus neutralizes, so to speak, our role as master over the slave we may own; it represents the freedom of man who was created in the image of G-d. This freedom found expression and significance with the Exodus from Egypt.
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, also has an integral tie with the Exodus and man's right to freedom. Once every fifty years, with the arrival of the Jubilee year, all slaves are to be set free. Their release is announced on Yom Kippur with a special blast of the shofar, the ram's horn. This ceremony takes place explicitly on Yom Kippur of the Jubilee year, a clear allusion to the connection between release from bondage to a master, and man's release from the tethers of sin when he cleanses his heart through repentance.
The connection with Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the New Year, is less obvious. The Talmud states, in the name of Rabbi Eliezer, that the enslavement in Egypt was terminated on Rosh Hashanah (Tractate Rosh Hashanah 11b). Rosh Hashanah is also called Yom Hazikaron, the Day of Remembrance, and recalls the day when the process of our emancipation from Egypt first began. This adds a new dimension to our understanding of the concept of freedom.
Rosh Hashanah is the first page on our calendar for the new year. Let us try to understand what the new year represents to the slave, whose every day, hour and minute are under the control of another human being. His life is not his own; his free will is largely curtailed by the whims and wishes of his master. For such a person, the first day of the new year is no different from the previous day or the one that will follow it. He was completely dependent on others last year, and so, too, in the year to come.
The call of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah comes to tell us that this superficial view of the slave's new year is not accurate. Man – even the slave – was created in the image of G-d. The shofar call symbolizes inner freedom which each man is enjoined to attain for himself. As we listen to the blast of the ram's horn, we accept the yoke of Heaven upon our hearts, and thus become free men. All men are subject to some force which governs their actions, be it physical pleasures or a quest for prestige, or the will of G-d. The only valid power to which man should subdue his own will is the Father who created him. Only such an individual is free, for his actions are dictated by One who is truly entitled to rule over him.
The slave, however, is not free to take upon himself the yoke of Heaven, for he already bears the yoke of his master. How can he strive for self-improvement, for greater freedom from the bonds of his physical desires when he is subject to his master's orders day and night?
With their release from the yoke of their Egyptian masters, the Israelites were first able to take upon themselves the yoke of Heaven. How fitting that this transition took place on Rosh Hashanah, the day when the Jewish people renew their pledge of fealty to the King of Kings, as the first step toward the New Year.
Thus we see that each of the festivals and holidays has its own unique connection with the Exodus. As we progress through the year, may we learn to savor each one and find meaning in it to enhance our own lives.