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  An Overview - Part VIII: From Bondage to Freedom from
Haggadah - Expanded Edition
Passover Haggadah with translation and a new commentary based on Talmudic, Midrashic, and Rabbinic sources

By Rabbi Joseph Elias 


Other Available Chapters
An Overview - Part VI: God's People 
An Overview - Part VII: Our Obligation 
An Overview - Part IX: The Redemption To Come 
An Overview - Part X: The Four Cups 
An Overview - Part XI: Preparation For Pesach 


An Overview - Part VIII: From Bondage to Freedom

... and we will thank you for our redemption and the deliverance of our soul.” (Haggadah)

Do not read that the Tablets were 'engraved', but that they were 'freedom' - a man is only free if he occupies himself with Torah.” (Avos 6:2)

In conveying the message of Pesach to his children, the father is given yet another directive - “begin with the shameful part of our history and conclude with the glorious” (Pesachim 116a). This, too, helps us experience the liberation from Egypt: we must feel bondage and slavery in all their starkness, so that we should be able truly to appreciate our deliverance and take to heart its lessons. The commandments of the Seder symbolize both slavery and freedom; they force upon our consciousness both extremes of this night, and indeed of all our history. The perceptive child is aroused by this twin symbolism to ask, why is this night different from all other nights? Why does it require us to demonstrate both bondage (Maror and Matzah, the bread of affliction) and freedom (repeated dipping of our food, and reclining)? It is this very question of the child which the father answers by stressing that in this night we experienced both extremes - bondage and freedom (Abarbanel).

But what was the meaning of this bondage and freedom - was it simply slavery and emancipation, or was there some deeper significance? Two opinions are expressed by our Sages, Rav and Shemuel. One holds that we begin with the physical slavery of Egypt (based on the passage in Devarim 6:21); the other goes back to the pagan beginnings of our history, when our earliest ancestors were enslaved to idolatry (based on the passage in Joshua 24:2). We follow both opinions - we first answer our children we were slaves in Egypt; then we go back and tell them that our forefathers were idol-worshippers at the dawn of our history. It is unusual for us to follow both of two opposing opinions; the Ritva therefore suggests that Rav and Shemuel disagreed only on which of the two passages should be recited first, but they agreed that both should be recited.

Very obviously, Rav and Shemuel emphasize two aspects of our historical experience. From a purely socio-political perspective, we will recall the physical enslavement and emancipation, but then will wonder why we should be grateful for God's liberating hand when it was He Who thrust us into slavery. But this question disappears when we look at our Egyptian bondage from a wider spiritual perspective. From our earliest origins in a pagan society we carried a burden of spiritual imperfection, the most profound and destructive form of bondage, one which would not have permitted us to become God's people and to carry His message. Only by being cast into the iron melting pot of Egypt, and then being miraculously withdrawn from it, were we able to achieve insights and to scale spiritual heights that freed us once and for all from our ancient bondage of the spirit (Maggid of Dubno). The intense suffering made the Jews turn to God and this gained their liberation, physical and spiritual, at God's hand.

Thus we can speak of a dual slavery and a dual deliverance, clearly described by Rambam:

He should start by telling that, at first, in the times of Terach and before him, our forefathers were unbelievers who pursued vanities and strayed after idols; and he should end with the true faith, that God brought us close to Him, separated us from the nations, and brought us to acknowledge His oneness. Likewise he should start by explaining that we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and all the evil he did us, and end with the miracles and marvels that were done for us, and our liberation....

Apparently, Rambam meant to emphasize the primary importance of the spiritual redemption achieved through the Exodus. The Sages say that Joseph gave his brethren a sign by which to recognize the ultimate redeemer - he would twice use the term redemption. This would seem to be a poor sign, because it was public knowledge that any impostor could use. Moreover, at the Burning Bush Moses was told, “This shall be the sign for you that I have sent you: when you take the people out from Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain” (Shemos 3:12); and Rabbi Meir Shapiro, the Lubliner Rav, pointed out that this, too, could hardly be an acceptable proof of the redeemer's identity: after all, it could only be verified after the Jews agreed to obey Moses and he actually led them out of Egypt.

In reality, the Lubliner Rav explained, Joseph hardly meant to prophesy the future redeemer's choice of words. Instead he referred to the promise of a twofold redemption - physical and spiritual. That was what God told Moses at the Burning Bush: do not promise the Jews only physical redemption from the slave labor of Egypt; tell them also that at Mount Sinai they will be given the Torah, to complete their spiritual redemption.

 
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