For the week ending 24 March 2012 / 29 Adar I 5772

What's the Difference?

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
Questions to think about before Pesach
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"Why is this night different from all other nights?"

This is the classical introduction to the "four questions" which children traditionally ask their fathers at the Pesach Seder.

These questions focus on the differences in the menu and the manner of consumption. Their purpose is to invite a response about the significance of the Exodus, which is in a sense being relived by every Jew through the recital of the Haggadah.

In anticipation of this experience we might gain an important perspective by asking ourselves another question:

"What difference does it make that there was an Exodus and how it took place?"

The answer to this question is given at the very beginning of the Haggadah's introductory response to the aforementioned "Four Questions":

"Had the Holy One, Blessed be He, not taken our ancestors out of Egypt, then we and our children and grandchildren would still be enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt."

Here, even before we begin to actually tell the story of our miraculous liberation from bondage, we must ask some questions which this introduction inspires:

"Is it possible that one nation could be enslaved to another for thousands of years? Would we not have eventually achieved freedom like all other people in history?"

The answer to these questions lies in a deeper understanding of what "enslavement to Pharaoh" means. Egyptian bondage was much more than forced, backbreaking labor. It was exposure to the most corrupt culture in human history. Pharaohs may come and go, but the spiritual corruption they represent emerges in every generation to enslave the souls of their subjects.

Had the liberation of our ancestors occurred through political or military means, as has been the case in all of history's freedom movements, we might have thrown off our shackles but remained spiritual slaves to the Egyptian values to which we had become so accustomed. Only by witnessing the ten plagues, which punished the Egyptians measure-for-measure, did we learn the full meaning of the corruption of that culture and thus gain true freedom from the "Egyptianism" which has contaminated mankind throughout history.

This is what the Haggadah and the Pesach Seder are all about – taking the Jews out of Egypt and taking Egypt out of the Jews.

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