“In every generation it is one’s duty to see himself as though he personally had gone out of Egypt.” — The Haggadah
There are a number of fascinating insights that surface in analyzing this passage. Why does the Haggadah say “in every generation?” One would think it would have sufficed to say, “It is one’s duty to see oneself…” It would obviously apply to all generations. We do not find any similar statement regarding other mitzvot. For example, we are not told, “In every generation it is one’s duty to sit in a sukkah.” Furthermore, how can one possibly see himself as if he had gotten out of Egypt, an event which took place more than 3,000 years ago? Can any of us really feel what the Exodus must have felt like? Would it not have sufficed for us to know that our fathers were taken out of Egypt? Why is there a need to make it a ‘personal’ Exodus?
Early in the Haggadah it states, “Blessed be He who keeps His promise to Israel…and it is this promise which stood by our fathers and by us…but in every generation they rise up against us to destroy us, and the Holy One, Blessed be He, delivers us from their hands.” This teaches us that the divine promise to Avraham Avinu of both exile and redemption was not limited to Egypt but extends to all exiles of the future, which occur b’kol dor v’dor (in each generation). Exile and redemption are not an historical event but an ongoing relationship that we have with God, a relationship that is experienced anew “in every generation.” Perhaps this is the “duty” to which the Haggadah refers — that we are obligated in each generation to see ourselves as having been redeemed from our own generation’s exile, our own generation’s miracle of redemption, as part of our ongoing exile-redemption relationship with God, all of which find their roots in the Egyptian exile and redemption.
Afikomen: The Last Bite
We eat from half of the middle matzah, which is hidden away, and afterward we are not allowed to eat or drink anything else in order that the taste of the matzah lingers in our mouths and in our consciousness. Why is the afikomen the last thing we eat on the Seder night?
The Kotzker Rebbe offers one fascinating insight: The context of the pasuk (“Return to your tents”) comes from Moshe reviewing the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai and relating that after this great event, God told him to instruct the children of Israel to return to their tents. The Kotzker Rebbe suggests that God was emphasizing to Moshe that what was important was not how the people would behave at the moment of supreme revelation, i.e., when the mountain was aflame with Divine inspiration and everyone was in a similarly inspired mood. Rather, the real test of whether or not they were capable of accepting the Torah as an integral part of their lives was when they “returned to their tents” — that is, to life’s ordinary situations. Would they be able to take that burning enthusiasm back with them, to return with it and apply it to the rest of their lives? It is only when we enthusiastically live according to the Torah in our homes (our tents) as well as engaging in the public display of Torah observance that the receiving of the Torah has any permanent significance.
Thus, we can apply the Kotzker Rebbe’s point to Pesach. On this night, we experience that we ourselves left Mitzrayim (Egypt) and feel inspired to do the mitzvot of the night with great enthusiasm. It is as if God is saying to us, as we leave the Seder with the taste of the afikomen lingering in our mouths: “Return to your tents, to the reality of your ordinary lives, with the same spirit of commitment you felt when you partook of the matzah, the maror and the Pesach sacrifice on this Seder night.”
It is only if the taste lingers and the effect of this heightened spirituality remains that we have fulfilled our obligation to learn the lesson the Pesach Seder was meant to teach us.
A Final Note: Who Must Give?
At the very beginning of the Seder we stop and ponder the matzah, or ha lachma ania (poor man’s bread). At that very moment we also invite all those less fortunate to join us! We, the hosts, have only the matzah, only lechm oni. We ourselves are poor, and yet we offer to share.
Real giving is from what we ourselves need, and our willingness to invite others to partake with us is a demonstration of true chesed (righteous kindness). The lesson is that we must always be willing to share, even when we think we have little to offer others.
April Torah Portions
April 7: Pesach (Exodus 12:21-51)
April 14: Chol HaMo’ed Pesach (Exodus 33:12-34:26)
April 21: Shemini (Leviticus 9:1-11:47)
April 28: Tazria/Metzora (Leviticus 12:1-15:33)