Sorry to ruin the taste of the sweet Manishevitch wine or to cause the matzah to get stuck in your throats, G-d forbid, but let’s have another look at the Haggadah as part of our holiday preparation. The Haggadah isn’t just a fun adventure for the kids, but a poignant recounting of the Exodus, carefully composed by our Sages to bring all future generations of Jews to identify with the inner aspirations of our People.
We mentioned that “Next year in Jerusalem” comes to teach that just as Jerusalem was the destination of the Exodus from Egypt, it is also to be our destination today. The Torah is not a mere list of do’s and don’ts, but rather our national constitution, to be lived in our own unique national Land. In exile, we are scattered, individual Jews, minorities in foreign lands, whereas the goal of Judaism is to be a nation of Torah-abiding Israelis in the Land of Israel.
This teaching is also found at the very beginning of the Hagaddah. We begin the Seder by saying, “This year, we are here; next year, in the Land of Israel. This year, we are slaves; next year, free men.” In the Diaspora, a Jew is a slave to the gentile rulers and gentile culture around him. But instead of hearing it from me, let’s take a look at the wonderful “Haggadah of the Jewish Idea,” and the commentary of Rabbi Benyamin Zev Kahane, may Hashem avenge his murder:
"This year, we are here; next year, in the Land of Israel. This year, we are slaves; next year, free men."
Those in exile say: This year we are here and we are slaves; but next year we will, please God, be free in the Land of Israel. This raises a great question: Why does the author of the Haggada connect the exile axiomatically with slavery, and life in the Land of Israel with freedom? After all, there were many exiles in which Jews lived in absolute freedom and equality, while on the other hand, there were many situations in the Land of Israel in which we were under the rule of oppressive Gentiles, such as the Turks and the British. This teaches a basic principle: Even if Jews in the exile feel, for a given period of time, that they enjoy freedom and equal rights, they are mistaken – for they are in a state of servitude. For there are several levels of servitude, the most basic being to live as a minority in a land that is not our own, governed by, and dependent upon, another nation. Only after this level do the more severe types of exile follow. The first level down is where the Jew is simply degraded. In the next level, he is actually a slave; and in the third level, he is led to the gas chambers. Yet all these are but details, mere footnotes to the exile, whose essence is lack of independence, and total reliance on the Gentile. Ultimately, history proves that even the relative tranquillity that the Jew enjoys in the exile is only temporary, and it always ends badly. And this was already guaranteed by the prophets – that there can never be life and existence for the Jew in the exile, and eventually he who does not leave it – will perish.
On the other hand, when a Jew lives in the Land of Israel, even under foreign rule – he has already taken himself out of servitude. He at least the potential to rise up and march forward to liberation and Redemption. And this was proven during our era, when a relatively short time after the nation of Israel began to return to its Land, despite being under the oppressive British rule, it arose and accomplished the unbelievable, driving out the great empire and winning independence…
And what about today? Unfortunately, even while we have a state, we refuse to be independent, choosing to make ourselves dependent upon the nations. And all this depends on our decision. Though we have left the exile, the exile has not left us, and its mark of fear of the Gentiles is still upon us. So long as this situation continues, there can be no complete Redemption. And so, on this night, in this period of self-inflicted subjugation to the nations – we hope that by next year we will have taken upon ourselves the Yoke of Heaven, thereby throwing off the yoke of the nations, the yoke which we have placed on ourselves – and this is but a moment’s decision away!
"And [Hashem] brought us out from there, in order to bring us to the Land which He swore unto our fathers to give" (Deuteronomy 6:23).
It was not enough that God brought us out of Egypt into freedom, and gave us the Torah. The ultimate goal could only be achieved if that Torah is kept in the Land of Israel. For sure, God could have liberated the nation physically, given them the Torah, and told them to observe it wherever they may be. However, this was not God’s intention when He created the Jewish nation and gave them the Torah. The Sforno, commenting on this verse, says: “As long as we were enslaved, we were unable to achieve the perfection that He demands; He miraculously took us out [of Egypt] and brought us to a Land [Israel], where we could achieve that perfection”. That is to say, only in the Land of Israel is it possible to achieve the perfection that He demands, that perfection which the Torah intends for us. And the Ibn Ezra offers an additional explanation: “For God knew that they would be unable to do the mitzvot properly when they are in lands under foreign control” (Deuteronomy 4:10). Obviously, one can observe the commandments anywhere, at least on a superficial level. But outside of Israel, it is impossible to observe them properly. After all, what will these commandments look like when we eat, drink, and breathe the foreign culture of the host nation? Obviously, these commandments will remain no more than empty rituals, devoid of spirit and vitality – which is precisely what has happened to the Torah in exile.
So fundamental is this concept that, commenting on the verse “And you will perish quickly from the good Land which Hashem gives you” (Deuteronomy 11:17, part of the second paragraph of the Shema), the Sifri says: “Although I will exile you from the Land, continue performing the mitzvot so that when you return, they will not be new to you”. Remarkable! Why put on Tefillin in the “holy city” of Borough Park (the “Bnei Brak” of America)? – In order that when, at long last, you will return home to Israel, you will know how to put on Tefillin, and not have to start from scratch. In short, solely for educational purposes.
Similarly, it is interesting that several times, the Book of Deuteronomy – the Book which leads us up to the border of Israel – ties the Torah and mitzvot to the Land of Israel. A typical example is: “…to teach you the statutes and ordinances, that you may do them in the Land into which you go over to possess” (Deuteronomy 4:14). And on this verse, the Ramban, in his Introduction to the Book of Exodus, writes: “And so the exile is not over until the day that they return to their place and that of their forefathers. And after they left Egypt, even though they had left the House of Slavery, they were still considered exiles, for they were in a land not their own, stranded in the desert”.
"Next year in Jerusalem!"
What a disgrace it is to those who dwell in exile, who could so easily come to Israel if they but decided – but continue nonetheless to sit there and to repeat, parrot-fashion, this false declaration of Next year in Jerusalem – without the slightest intention of actualising this! Rabbi Yehudah ha-Levi, in the Kuzari (2:24), described this mindless declaration as being “like the twittering of a starling”. Significantly, the wording is not be-shana ha-ba’ah (literally “in the next year”) but rather le-shana ha-ba’ah (literally “to the next year”). This is no expression of desire to postpone aliyah for another year, by expressing some vague hope that maybe next year we will be in Jerusalem; rather, we say le-shana ha-ba’ah (literally “to the next year”), declaring that already, as of now, we are preparing for aliyah, that by next year we will already be in Jerusalem.
The book "Kol HaTor" tells us how worried the Vilna Ga’on was that in the time of the Ingathering of the Exiles, only the Jews in Israel would survive, and so many would not return: “With piercing, fiery words he urged his disciples to ascend to the Land of Israel and to occupy themselves with ingathering the exiles… Almost every hour, our Master would talk to us, trembling with emotion, for ‘in Zion and Jerusalem will be a remnant’ (Joel 3:5); [thus he would urge us] not to delay the moment. Who can possibly describe in words the tremendous worry that our Master felt as he spoke of these matters to us, with his divine inspiration, with tears in his eyes…” (Chapter 1, Section 10; also Chapter 5).
Below is information on how to obtain this inspiring Hagaddah, written by the son of Rav Kahane. To conclude, it is interesting to note that the Gaon of Vilna sent his students to settle in the Land of Israel when it was under Turkish rule, just as Rav Kook made aliyah at a time when the British ruled over the Holy Land. Living in the Land of Israel is a supreme mitzvah, in and of itself, no matter who rules here, whether it be the Turks, the British, or Medinat Yisrael. In our time, Hashem, in his great goodness, has fulfilled his Biblical promise and restored Jewish sovereignty over the Holy Land. When we recount the miracles of the Exodus, we should recount this incredible miracle too. Just as we thank Hashem for liberating us from Egypt, we should thank Him in Hallel and song for liberating us from the darkness of exile in our time. Someone who doesn’t do this on the first night of Passover may eat the proper amount of matzah and drink the four cups of wine, but he or she is missing the whole point of the Seder.
The “Haggada of the Jewish Idea” can be ordered by contacting Daniel Pinner, the translator, at email@example.com . Unfortunately, at this date it is impossible to guarantee delivery in time for the Seder Night, though orders in certain parts of Israel can be arranged within 48 hours. In any event, it makes inspiring reading throughout the year, and especially for the remainder of Pesach.
And if you haven’t yet ordered the new fascinating biography of Rabbi Meir Kahane, ask for it in your bookstore or order it online today.