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Reliving the Exodus
We relive the Exodus which took place so long ago and consolidate our faith in Him who brought it about.

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We relive the Exodus which took place so long ago and consolidate our faith in Him who brought it about.


The Haggadah tells us: "An individual is obliged to view himself as though he were one of the Jews who experienced the Exodus firsthand."  In other words, we have an obligation to close a time gap of thousands of years, and conjure up a picture of ourselves longing and aching to escape the nightmare of enslavement in Egypt.  But the script doesn't end there.  We should also go through the nightmare of the beatings and torture, the total exhaustion, the diabolically, pre-meditated humiliations at the hands of the Egyptian taskmasters, and all the rest.  Then, too, we should dwell day and night on plans and plots of escape, and feel the desperation when each in turn proves impractical or totally impossible.  Add to all this, a constant fear for one's very life, and the lives of one's close relatives, and we have a beginning of the picture. 

We are speaking of ancient Egypt, the most powerful nation of its time.  The country was ruled by a strong-willed tyrant who presented himself to his subjects as a deity, and was hard pressed to preserve that image at all costs.  The people were convinced of his superhuman powers, and thus swayed, were prepared to follow him blindly with complete devotion.

Another factor which played a role against the odds of winning freedom for the enslaved Hebrews was the country's economic dependency on slave labor.   The sudden loss of this essential workforce would spell economic ruin, another reason the people were willing to go to any lengths to keep the Hebrews under their control.

As they languished under the cruel taskmasters, the slaving Hebrews might well have asked themselves: "Even if we should succeed in escaping, where shall we go?"  The desert surrounding Egypt was not an option.  How would they survive there?

The Hebrews were resigned to their fate; they had been slaves for generations now, and there did not appear to be any force on earth that could change their grim status. And indeed, when the change did come about, it was only a series of supernatural events.  The Ten Plagues were supernatural; they were obviously the work of G-d, not man, and they changed the balance of power in Egypt drastically enough to bring even Pharaoh to his knees.  Were it not for G-d's supernatural intervention through Ten Plagues, there is no reason to believe we would not be slaves in Egypt yet today.

On the seder night, as we sit comfortably seated around the festive table and recite the narrative of the Haggadah, it is a mitzvah not only to recall the fears and nightmares of the oppression, but also to actually re-experience the feelings of those who lived through the original Exodus.  So, too, should we sense and relive the exultation of the rescued slaves as they savored their first days of freedom, then witnessed the defeat and demise of their former taskmasters and oppressors on the shores of the Red Sea, and burst forth in a paean of thanks to their Creator in gratitude for their rescue and release from enslavement.

Not only are we commanded to relive these events and emotions, but we are also enjoined to guide our children and grandchildren through the scenes and feelings that accompanied them.  How does one go about reliving – and recreating for our offspring – a series of events that took place some three thousand years previously?  It seems like a tall order, to say the least.

Fortunately, we do not have to come up with answers on our own.  The Haggadah gives us not only the text; it is also a "users' manual" with ample instructions.  We are told how to reconstruct this period with word, song, and actions. 

We sing joyfully as we recall our rescue, and we eat bitter herbs and shed tears as we recall the suffering that preceded it.  We wear our finest garments and set our table with the best utensils we own to express our rejoicing.  Thus we experience the fact that now it is we who are the ones in charge, no longer subject to the whims of a cruel taskmaster.  We no longer fear the whip if we deign to lean this way or that or partake of fine foods.    For weeks in advance, we prepare for our coming holiday.  No slave could entertain the thought of devoting his time and efforts to any action that brought benefit to himself rather than his masters.  On the seder night, the head of the household carries a bundle of matzahs on his shoulder as he acts out the procession of former slaves leaving the borders of Egypt on their way to freedom.

All these acts are tailored to the same purpose: reliving the Exodus which took place so long ago and consolidating our faith in Him who brought it about.

Our Sages declared that those who go into greater detail, who expend more time and energy in reconstructing the events of that momentous Exodus, are worthy of our praise.   It pays to internalize what happened that historic day, the fifteenth of Nissan, in the year 2448 of the Hebrew calendar.  The mind and the heart merge into one consolidated awareness of our nation's past, present, and future goals.   The individual not only knows he was born a Jew.  On this night, he also feels himself a part of the eternal nation chosen by G-d to brought forth from Egypt so that it might stand at Sinai and be crowned as G-d's own people.

An additional benefit of our Pesach observance is the heightened awareness that just as Israel was rescued in the past and redeemed from Egypt, so, too, will our King redeem us once again when He deems the time ripe for the ultimate redemption.

The process of the Seder enables the Jew to overcome the restrictions his intellect imposes on his senses.  On this night, he is able to actually relive the emotional experience of his forebears as they left the Egypt of their oppression.  The benefits are not for the seder night alone.  They will accompany him all year long.  The Torah instructs us to eat the paschal lamb and to recite the Haggadah in communal groups, not as individuals.  As I share the experience with others, I reinforce my own emotional experience and enrich that of the others present.  Our rejoicing bonds us together, and our bond enhances our joy.  A happy heart internalizes the emotion and welds it to our personality.  As a result, the roots of our faith grow deeper and stronger. 

As we discuss and describe the Ten Plagues that afflicted our Egyptian oppressors, we heighten our awareness that the sinner will eventually be punished, and the righteous, rewarded. This awareness helps us to overcome man's natural tendency to inertia and rebellion.  At the same time, it strengthens our faith in Divine Providence and retribution.

This emotional re-experiencing of the Exodus occurs only on Pesach.  It is distinct from the commandment to recall our redemption from Egypt intellectually twice every day, during the morning and evening prayers, as we recite the three paragraphs of the Shema.   Our goal is to awaken the emotional memories gained during the Seder each time we again mention the Exodus in our prayers. With practice, this becomes man's second nature.

Our greater awareness of our nation's humble beginnings fosters personal humility, openness, patience and tolerance for others.  It inspires us to strive to perfect our own character in the light of the truth.  Our Exodus from Egypt led to as a matter of course to our sublime elevation as G-d's own nation.  From the lowly and downtrodden slave, the Jew was elevated to the status of the King's favorite son, the crown prince, so to speak. 

The nation of slaves suddenly found itself the recipient of inestimable gifts – freedom, security, Torah, miracles, the land of Israel, faith in the Creator and His future redemption of Israel, an awareness of life's purpose and how to achieve it, the meaning of the Creation itself.  All this was bestowed on the Jewish people as a gift from their Creator.

No wonder that Israel burst forth in songs of praise and thanksgiving on the shores of the sea.  And we, their descendants and heirs, continue their song yet today.

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