It’s very hard for a free man to suddenly have to envision himself as if he himself left Mitzrayim. This is certainly no simple matter. In fact, I would even suggest that this is probably the most difficult requirement to fulfill on the Seder night. In our time and age of luxury and riches, true slavery is a difficult thing to imagine.
Yet, we are definitely required to do so. We must perceive ourselves vicariously as if we – not our father or grandfather or some great-great-great grandfather – was actually liberated from Egypt. Nu, I’m asking you? You’re sitting in the luxury and freedom of your house or apartment, fully decorated with wall to wall carpeting and chandelier, and you’re asked to perceive yourself as having been freed from slavery. How are you supposed to accomplish that? You were never in Mitzrayim, even on a tour. You don’t have the faintest idea of what it looks like now, and certainly not what it looked like thousands of years ago. The only thing you may have seen of Mitzrayim was a picture of the pyramids in the social studies book!
At first glance it may seem that the requirement is not to envision ourselves actually being slaves in Mitzrayim, but rather to envision that we were freed from the Golus Mitzrayim on account of our ancestors’ liberation.
The Negroes were slaves in America until Lincoln freed them. The Negro today may feel indebted to Lincoln, not only for what he had done for his great grandfather, but even for what he has done for him. If Lincoln hadn’t freed his great-grandfather, he’d still be a slave this very moment. This means, that he owes Lincoln a debt of gratitude not only for what he had done to someone else, but for what he has actually done for him personally. (One must assume that if Lincoln didn’t free them, they would have remained slaves forever.)
Our gratitude to Hashem should not only be for what he has done for our ancestors in the past, but it must be a personal debt of gratitude for having taken us out.
We do realize all too clearly that if Hashem would not have freed our ancestors then we would still be there to this present day. We are well aware that we were freed just in the nick of time. Another moment, and we’d have to stay there forever. The Matzoh on the table reminds us of the great speed with which we hurried out. Every second counted. Therefore, the freedom granted to our ancestors was in reality a freedom also granted to us. We’d still be there today, wouldn’t we! This makes it the night to celebrate our freedom as well.
Even though at first glance the above allegory would seem to make sense, yet upon careful examination, we will see that it still falls far short of our actual requirement.
If we take a careful look into the Rambam, we will see that he adds two very important points. Firstly, he says that we must imagine that we ourselves were slaves (not only our ancestors). Secondly, we are required to visualize that right at the present moment we are being liberated from slavery. This is not something which occurred thousands of years ago to our ancestors, but is being re-enacted and happening right this very moment as we sit and celebrate at the Seder table. This certainly is no easy requirement and will need a vivid imagination.
A slave is someone that is forced to do the bidding of others rather than be free to do as he chooses. Seforim explain that often we become slaves to our own passions and desires. We are forced to do the bidding of the objects all around us. We want a more beautiful house, a more beautiful car or to go on a vacation; and, therefore, we are forced to work much harder in order to afford all these additional luxuries in life. We are then considered enslaved to our constant worldly pleasures which we so desire. We become slaves to our house or car or any of our other desires. Instead of putting all our efforts into trying to serve Hashem as best as we can we become our own slaves. Yet one must realize that Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim and gave us His Torah in order to become His servants.
True freedom is only to the one who studies the Torah. That’s because the Torah teaches us how to overcome our personal desires and live a life in the service of Hashem. The Torah teaches a person to stop being a slave to himself and rather turn all desires into doing the bidding of Hashem.
Pharaoh represents the life of slavery we so often lead-working harder and harder only to accumulate more and more money to satisfy all our ever increasing desires. Pesach night is the time to reflect and stop our slavery and dedicate our lives to Torah and Mitzvos. “They are My servants, ” says Hashem, and” not slaves onto other slaves.”
In Each Generation We Must Perceive
As If We, Too, Were Taken Out of Egypt
In order to understand how on the night of Pesach one can actually perceive
oneself as having been taken out of Egypt, let’s give the following example. Imagine
that as a young child our grandfather was enslaved in a Nazi concentration camp
and was about to be shot. A great miracle occurred and he was saved from death
and liberated from the camp. One now owes a twofold thanks to Hashem. Firstly, we
must thank Hashem for having saved our grandfather. Secondly, we must realize that
if Hashem had not saved and liberated him from the concentration camp, we would
certainly not be around today. Our thanks to Hashem is therefore twofold.
One must realize that the slavery our fathers suffered in Egypt was so great that
had Hashem not liberated us from there, it would have lasted to this present day, and
therefore, even we, today, would still have been enslaved there. That’s because our
enslavement in Egypt was not only a physical one but also spiritual. Four fifths of the
Jews became totally assimilated and integrated into Egyptian society and reached the
50th level of tumah from which there was no escape, and therefore died during the
plague of darkness. This is why when the moment of our redemption finally came,
Hashem took us out with such great speed and we didn’t even have a chance to let
the dough of our provision for the journey rise. Every moment may have meant the
loss of another precious soul. This is why we must not only thank Hashem for what
He did for our grandparents, but also at the same time feel that we owe Hashem a
personal debt of gratitude for what He did for us as well! Had Hashem not taken us
out just in the nick of time, we certainly wouldn’t be around today.
Only by retelling and reliving the story of our exodus from Egypt in its every
minute detail, and envisioning what a cruel tyrant and oppressor Pharaoh was and
what a strong and powerful grip he held over his Jewish slaves, and the great spiritual
danger Egyptian society posed, can we fully appreciate the great miracle that took
place, and how we, too, were thereby liberated both physically and spiritually from
In Each Generation We Must Perceive As If We, Too, Were
Taken Out from Egypt
While most of us truly believe that we Americans are free men and can do as we
wish, a careful analysis of our lifestyles may find this theory quite wanting. Many of
us have unfortunately become enslaved to a lifestyle that demands more and more
of our time. Our working hours have become longer in order for us to live a life of
ever-increasing luxury. The more money we make the more our hearts desire. While
we may not have Pharaoh’s taskmasters standing over us and beating us when we
don’t complete the job, we’ve become our own cruel taskmasters. We have become
enslaved to our ever increasing passions and desires. We are no longer happy with
what we have today. We must always upgrade and try to keep up with the “Jones.”
Our simchas must compete with King Achashverosh’s great feast even though we will
have to take out a ten year mortgage to pay the caterer. We must work longer hours
so that we can afford a nicer car and longer more exotic vacations. We come home
so late from work that we sometimes can’t even find a few minutes to talk or learn
with our own children and instead have left them to be raised by maids and tutors.
On this night of Pesach when we recall our exodus from Egyptian slavery we
must extract ourselves from our own life of slavery. While we may not be slaves of
Pharaoh, we have become enslaved by our own passions and desires which robs
us of our precious and valuable time which could better have been spent serving
Hashem. Let us remember that the only true free man is the one who is able to free
one self from all worldly obligations and immerse himself in the study of Torah.