Mentioning the Exodus Every Day

As we walked out of Egypt,

Each of us left behind

The chains which bound our bondage.

But as we fled from Egypt,

Each carried in his mind

A memory of that bondage,

Which on Passovers, remind

Though we had departed Egypt,

Egypt was not left behind.

For the name of Egypt changes

But oppression stays the same,

And the ‘face’ of Egypt changes

But brutalities remain.

As we walked out of Egypt,

We sang freedom in our song!

But though we took leave of Egypt,

Each brought Egypt’s past along.[1]

 

As George Santayana said, “Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” Egypt is not just a place in time, it is a mentality. We are commanded to mention the Exodus from Egypt every day. We fulfill this simply by saying the 3rd paragraph of the Shema which ends אני ה אלקיכם אשר הוצאתי אתכם מארץ מצרים, “I am the LORD your G-d who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” However, more is called for in remembering what it was like to have a time when we were forced to serve others and to work towards ensuring that no one needs to serve another master.

This reminds me of a Talmudic debate. Imagine the rabbis of yesteryear gathered around in their Beit Midrash (House of Study) trying to get a sense of what is a greater Jewish principle: study or action. Rabbi Tarfon jumped up and says “Action.” How many of us would agree? After all, we are a people who values deeds, subscribing to the maxim that “actions speak louder than words.” Rabbi Akiva, however, disagreed, asserting that study is greater. The other Sages agreed with Rabbi Akiva, albeit with a caveat: study is greater because it leads to action.[2] Studying Torah and Jewish traditions will help shape our mindset in making the best decision yet in the end we must act. We cannot stay in the ivory tower of the yeshiva world (or as I like to say, being a “professional student”); rather we must make decisions, often coming to understand their implications after the fact.

The goal in continually mentioning the Exodus is to always keep it in our mind. When things don’t go the way we want, we can remember what a time was like when we were not even free to act on our own. Freedom brings us an infinite number of additional choices that impact us on a daily basis. We remember that G-d renews and reinvigorates us each and every day, המחדש בטובו בכל-יום תמיד מעשה בראשית. In so doing, let us be mindful of the possibilities that this day brings forth.

Sir Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes in his article Pesach: Finding Freedom that “societies where everyone is valued, where everyone has dignity, where there may be economic differences but no class distinctions, where no one is so poor as to be deprived of the essentials of existence, where responsibility is not delegated up or down but distributed throughout the population, where children are precious, the elderly respected, where education is the highest priority, and where no one stands aside from his duties to the nation as a whole-such societies are morally strong even if they are small and outnumbered. That is the Jewish faith. That is what Israel, the people, the land and their story mean.”[3] When we recognize how far we’ve come as a society and how much of that comes from Judaism, we appreciate the benefits of our freedoms.

Through mentioning the Exodus every day, we appreciate our lives as they are currently constructed. We stop taking our freedom for granted, counting the blessings that we have. When we feel constrained, like we are in Mitzrayim, we remember what it was really like to not have the freedom to act as we would wish in this world. We need to be reminded of this day after day, which is why there are frequent references to remembering the Exodus from Egypt as a precursor to doing the commandments.

Tonight at your Seder, I encourage you to have an honest conversation (especially with children) as to what it means to live a free life as opposed to being a slave and how we can ensure not to take the privileges and freedoms that we have for granted. In recognizing our freedoms, may none of us feel enslaved or bound in our present lives, as we always have infinite potential for making changes for the better. Through being mindful of the exodus, of the never-ending journey from slavery into freedom, may we always continue to grow into the people we want to be in this world. Ken Yhi Ratzon, may it be our will to do so. Hag Sameach.

[1] Lucille Frenkel, “Jew’s Remembrance Thoughts on Freedom, Slavery, The Holocaust and Passover” (Milwaukee, WI: The Eternity Press, 1983), p. 149.

[2] Kiddushin 40b

[3] Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, “Pesach: Finding Freedom,” in Ceremony and Celebration: Introduction to the Holidays (New Milford, CT: Maggid Publications, 2017), p. 200.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s