A Taste of Torah – Pesach

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

In the Mishna in Pesachim, our sages tell us how to structure the retelling of the narrative of יציאת מצרים-the Exodus. We are told to be, “מתחיל בגנות ומסיים בשבח- begin with the embarrassing information about our past and then to conclude with the ennobling information.” The Gemara quotes two amoraic opinions, Rav and Shmuel, who argue as to how to fulfill this directive. Shmuel holds that we should begin with our sad plight as slaves and to conclude with our freedom. Rav’s opinion is that we should begin with our ancestors’ idolatry and conclude with our closeness to Hashem.  The first explanation seems to focus on the physical journey from slavery to freedom and the second explanation focuses on the spiritual journey from alienation to closeness with Hashem. In either interpretation, we need to understand why Chazal structured the Hagaddah in this manner.

It appears that our sages wanted to enrich this night’s great and foundational mitzvah by adding several components to it:

  1. A full perspective of the history of Yetziyas Mitzrayim: The complete scope of any event cannot be understood without the background information. This process is called סיפור-recounting since we literally “count out” the events and conditions that led to the climax of the story. If we don’t explain our early history and even our less appealing past, we cannot appreciate to where we’ve arrived.
  2. Humility: When we celebrate our triumph and our vindication, we need to double down on humility and to remember that all of this is by the grace of Hashem. If He would not have chosen us for a special role in history, we would be relegated to the dustheap of history just as all the other nations of antiquity who perhaps shone brighter than ourselves in the ancient days.
  3. Need to be vigilant: The most important thing about history is to learn its lessons. Our history exposes some weaknesses in our past, and we need to be aware of them so that we can be careful and not slip back into the unproductive and incorrect behaviors and attitudes of the past. This awareness builds our resilience. If we focus only on our success, we won’t know where the landmines are.

Let’s take these ideas to heart as we gather with our families to relive the awesome experience of the Exodus and its impact on us, a people forever. This annual experience reestablishes our identity, our relation to Hashem and our priorities as a people.

Chag Kasher V’Sameach!