This week’s alumni dvar torah is by Dina Kritz
In the middle of Maggid, after discussing how to discuss the story of yetziat Mitzrayim, we finally begin telling the story itself, although in a very condensed form. We recite the same summary of events that farmers recited long ago while bringing their first crops to the Beit HaMikdash and expressing gratitude to G-d for their food. Instead of reading the first twelve chapters of Sefer Shemot, in which we find the story of the Exodus, we read a few verses which give a very basic outline of G-d’s actions. There are a number of key elements missing from this version of the Pesach story, but above all is the reason for our redemption. As we recall twice a day at the very end of Shema, G-d declares that he took us out for a specific purpose:
(אשר הוצאתי אתכם מארץ מצרים להיות לכם לאלקים (במדבר טו:מא
I took you out of Egypt to be your G-d (Numbers 15:41)
We were saved from slavery so that we could be free to worship G-d. Even before learning the procedures for leaving Egypt and for celebrating our freedom every year, we received the commandment to live our lives by a Jewish calendar. The very dramatic story of the Egyptian firstborn sons dying and the Jewish people hurrying to freedom is sandwiched between instructions regarding how to celebrate Pesach and how to eat the Korban Pesach, immediately followed by the commandment to dedicate each Jewish firstborn son and animal to G-d.
However, our text at the Seder leaves out most of these commandments. We are reminded that we must tell the story of yetziat Mitztrayim every day, and that we must eat (or symbolize) the Pesach, Matzah, and Marror. According to the Haggadah, G-d freed us from slavery because He promised to always protect us, and because His covenant with Avraham guaranteed that we would be taken out of Egypt and brought to Israel.
The Seder night is not about recalling our daily religious responsibilities, other than the obligation to remember our freedom every day. Rather, it is about praising G-d for redeeming us. When we finish recalling the exodus and its related commandments, as well as our own freedom, we launch into songs of praise before concluding Maggid. “Not only did the Holy One, Blessed is He,” we declare, “redeem our forefathers, but He redeemed us with them as well…therefore, it our duty to thank, praise, glorify, exalt, honor, bless… [Him].”
Offering thanks and shira (songs of praise) to G-d is its own obligation. The Talmud teaches us (Sanhedrin 94a) that King Chizkiyahu’s only flaw was that he did not sing praises to G-d after being saved from the Assyrians. Indeed, Rabbi Tanchum teaches in the name of Bar Kapra that had Chizkiyahu offered shira, he would have become the Messiah. We cannot simply accept that miracles happen; we must thank the One Who performed the miracles for us. Our Seder version of the Pesach story is much shorter, but it gets the main points: G-d heard us crying out and took us out of Egypt with an outstretched hand. We must demonstrate to G-d that we understand what He did for us and that we understand what it means that He is our G-d before we get down to the rest of the commandments.
At the beginning of Maggid, we remind ourselves that every Jew in the world is obligated to spend this night telling the story of our freedom:
וַאֲפִילוּ כֻּלָּנוּ חֲכָמִים כֻּלָּנוּ נְבוֹנִים כֻּלָּנוּ זְקֵנִים כֻּלָּנוּ יוֹדְעִים אֶת הַתּוֹרָה מִצְוָה עָלֵינוּ לְסַפֵּר בִּיצִיאַת מִצְרָיִם
And even if we were all wise, understanding, elders, and versed in the knowledge of the Torah, we would still be obligated to tell the story of the exodus from Egypt.
The goal of the Seder is not to become well-versed in this part of the Torah, but to remember and reflect on what G-d did for us. Only after we express our gratitude and awe can we be fully prepared to worship G-d. Perhaps one explanation (of many) for our use of the farmer’s summary of yetziat Mitzrayim is that instead of reciting the plain facts of Shemot, we are telling the version of the story intended to be told by a person who sees G-d’s outstretched hand up close and expresses gratitude for it. At the Seder, we are in the moment, focusing on the fact that G-d saved us. Like our ancestors, celebrating the “why” comes later, on Shavuot, but also every day.
Dina Kritz (SBM 15) is a senior at Brandeis University.