Words of freedom: A timeless lesson of the Pesach story
Pesach is a time where we get together with family and friends to celebrate our redemption from the bondage of Egypt all those years ago. However, each year we recite at the seder the rabbinic charge, “B’chol dor vador, chayav adam lir’ot et atzmo k’ilu hu yatza miMitzrayim”. In each generation, we must view ourselves as if we were the ones who were liberated from Egypt.
This directive has classically been interpreted to mean that we must almost “transport” ourselves to another age; not just talk about it, but experience the redemption in the best and most serious possible way. For this reason, the longstanding custom of the Sephardic community is to actually march around the Seder table holding the matzah, to reenact the hasty departure!
Perhaps we may suggest an additional interpretation. In every generation there are lessons to be learned from the Exodus. The story of the Exodus is timeless and contains important messages, even for us 3,300 years after it happened. We must look at the story in each generation as if it has happened anew, so that it may speak to us in the deepest and most profound way.
Permit me to cite one example. One recurring theme of the narrative of the Exodus, perhaps more than even God’s miracles or the beauty and splendor of the land they will soon enter, is the education of our children (See Exodus 10:2, 12:26-27, 13:8, 13:14). There is a virtual obsession with communicating those events to those who were not there, with teaching the next generation about our heritage.
This important theme helps us appreciate one of the great anomalies in the story of the Exodus. Moses was, by all accounts, a righteous man, and a dedicated servant of God. Throughout the entire episode, he faithfully carries out his mission. Yet, Moses is constantly concerned, time and again, about his difficulty with speech. “I am not a man of words…I have difficulty speaking (Exodus 4:10).” God reassures Moses that He would help him: “Who is the one who created the power of speech? Who gives humankind the power to speak, or to see, or to hear? Is it not I, God? (4:11)”
While Moses knew full well that God can grant the power of speech or take it away from whomever He pleases, nonetheless Moses persists, mentioning his speech difficulties again numerous times throughout the story (See Exodus 6:12, 6:30)! Why was Moses, the ultimate servant of God, not persuaded by God’s argument? Why did his difficulty with speech matter so much to him, even after God’s constant reassurances?
Perhaps the answer is that Moses knew that an integral part of the entire story of the Exodus would be not just the story itself, but the ability to articulate that story, its fundamental underpinnings and messages, to the next generation. Moses knew all along that words would prove to be one of the keys to liberation. He knew that Pesach was to be not just the anchor of Jewish mythos and freedom, but also of Jewish education and the Jewish future: “When your child will ask in times to come… you must explain… (13:14).”
Though more than 3,000 years have passed, throughout the world the story of the Exodus is read annually on Pesach from a book whose title proclaims the importance of telling the story: The Haggadah, which means simply, “The Declaration.”
Indeed, b’chol dor vador, in every generation, we must seek to internalize this message, an important message not just for Pesach but for the entire year. Even now, as then, the key to our Jewish future lies in the education of our children.
This Pesach, as we sit around the Seder table, let us all rededicate ourselves to the timeless lessons of the Pesach story, and indeed view ourselves “as if we ourselves were redeemed from Egypt.”