What the Story of Pesach Means for Us Today

This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah                                                               for her neshama.
By Samantha Hulkower

Even though we tell the same story every year on the first night of Pesach, there is always something new we can learn. When we are children it is a captivating tale, interesting enough to keep us at the table to hear what happens next to our ancestors. As we get older, perhaps we become more interested in the philosophical discussion of the four sons, or how Pharaoh's behavior at the expense of the Egyptian people could be seen in other leaders in the world today. There are many ways to view what is ultimately a simple, yet fantastic, part of Jewish history.
Pharaoh reading the news
For the uninitiated, here is an abridged version for you: The ruler of Egypt (or Mitzrayim in Hebrew), is paranoid about maintaining his power. When his advisers tell him that a leader will emerge from the enslaved Jewish people to bring them out of Egypt and to freedom, Pharaoh orders all baby Jewish boys be killed. We already learned how Miriam HaNaviah convinced the Jews to ignore Pharaoh's decree, and from this Moshe Rabbeinu, the predicted leader is born. Moshe actually grew up in Pharaoh's own palace, but after killing a cruel Egyptian taskmaster, had to flee. While in exile, God catches Moshe's attention through a burning bush and here Moshe begins his ultimate quest to lead the Jewish people to their freedom, albeit quite reluctantly. He returns to Egypt, and with the help of his brother Aharon, warns Pharaoh if he doesn't let the Jewish people leave, he's going to regret it. As we can guess, Pharaoh is nonplussed and the plagues begin. First the water turns into blood, then frogs get everywhere (literally), followed by lice, wild beasts attacking, the domesticated animals dying,  boils, hail that also happens to be on fire, locusts that eat whatever vegetation hadn't been destroyed by the hail, darkness so thick the Egyptians couldn't move, and finally the death of the first born in every family. By the end, his kingdom had been ruined and Pharaoh grants Moshe the ability to let the Jews leave. However, they are barely a few days out into the desert, on their way to Israel, when Pharaoh changes his mind and sends his chariots to recapture them. There is a dramatic showdown where the Jews are trapped between the Sea of Reeds and Pharaoh's army. Of course, at this point, God splits the sea, the Jews cross, and when Pharaoh's army tries to follow, the sea closes and that is the end of that.

One thing that is very special about Pesach is that the events all unfold in front of the entire nation of Israel. All other religions have more intimate gatherings when their spiritual leader has his communication with their god. In our case, the Pesach story happens, including all of the plagues and the splitting of the sea, happens in front of the entire nation, not to mention also in front of all of the Egyptians. It is for this reason that it is a mitzvah to remember every day that God took the Jewish people out of Egypt, to become a free nation in Israel. Because we (or our super duper great grand parents) were able to see the actions of God with their own eyes, it was easier for them to connect with Him. Today, we have so many distractions in the world and ways to rationally explain why there isn't a God (G-d forbid) it can be hard to remember what we were able to see so clearly at this very point in time thousands of years ago. By remembering these things every day, we help to stave off those doubts.

Rav Shlomo Wolbe, of blessed memory, says that this is exactly why we had the various events that not only make for a good story, but physical events that we could feel with all of our senses. Part of the mitzvah while reading the story from the haggadah is to actually feel like you yourself are leaving Egypt, being freed from slavery. There are many ways to interpret this to someone's modern life metaphorically, but sometimes part of getting yourself into the right mindset includes physical action. Part of the idea of 'fake it 'till you make it' is to put on a smile until you feel happy, or if you are working from home, still putting on your office clothes rather than staying in your pajamas in order to be more productive. On Leil HaSeder (the Seder Night) really put yourself in this story. Whether you are reading it in English, Hebrew, or some other language, utilize the descriptive terms to feel like you are there and utilize this metaphorical experience the joy of being freed from whatever personal slavery you feel that you are trapped in (it could be anything from a bad habit you are trying to break or learning how to deal with a Pharaoh in your own life). Don't forget that it is always possible to be freed from slavery, no matter how it manifests itself in your life. Chag sameach!!

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