Many of us are familiar with the idea that the Pesach Seder is a simultaneous expression of two different ideas. One idea, perhaps the central theme, is that the Seder is a celebration of our חרות, our freedom. We set the table with our nicest utensils, recline on pillows, drink four cups of wine, and enjoy a festive meal. Yet, on the opposite end of the spectrum, we also demonstrate our recognition that we have once been עבדים, slaves. We eat Matzah, called לחם עוני, and discuss in detail how we were subjugated to the cruel decrees of the ancient Egyptians, and to the different levels of suffering we endured as a nation.
Thus, on the one hand, we attempt to exemplify our freedom, to celebrate our lives now free from servitude to a foreign god. On the other hand, however, we take pains to show our history as slaves, and to remember and acknowledge our time as servants to the ancient Egyptians. We seem to be focusing on two wholly different ideas: freedom and servitude. How can that be?
An idea that is often expressed is that yes, these two ideas are seemingly opposed to one another, but the Seder is a synthesis of the two. Namely, we celebrate our exodus by understanding and explaining what our nation endured, thus enabling us to truly appreciate and celebrate our eventual freedom. Hence, these two ideas complement one another beautifully: Understanding the depths of our servitude leads to a far greater appreciation of our redemption.
However, R’ Shimon Schwab zt”l offers an alternative explanation to the aforementioned question. He understands that G-d sends afflictions and troubles to the Jewish People precisely to increase the honor of heaven “Kavod Shamayim”, in the world, namely through his ultimate deliverance of our people. Occurrences and episodes of national suffering are pre-ordained by G-d, and he wishes to reveal himself through subsequent demonstration of his might and power.
G-d put us under the rule of the Egyptians to demonstrate His might and forge us into a nation worthy of accepting the Torah. The initial suffering is an integral part in our ultimate deliverance, for it is specifically through this process that G-d brings about our salvation and redemption, to make us in His nation. In essence, this means that the first aspect of our freedom is our servitude. Understanding this, perhaps we can see a different dimension in the duality of the Pesach Seder. Our celebration of freedom and our recognition of our servitude are not two ideas that complement one another; rather, they are one expansive idea, recognizing the miracle that G-d performed for our forefathers from beginning to end, and continues to perform for us in every generation.
By highlighting the servitude and hardships we endured, we are recognizing that the miracle of redemption doesn’t start from G-d showing us his might as he takes us out, it begins from when we were sent down into Egypt.
This beautiful thought can have extremely profound implications. By viewing the Pesach Seder in this way, it can provide an entirely new perspective on our own personal journey through life.
As believers in G-d, we often look back on pivotal moments of G-d’s deliverance in our own lives by focusing on the end result, the final step or outcome. We look back on moments in our lives with appreciation to G-d for helping us find a job, a spouse, a home to live in. But how many of us look back and acknowledge that G-d was with us the entire time, and that his blessing began from when we started to search for a job, a spouse, or a home to live in?
R’ Schwab is teaching us that of course, one should celebrate the final step, our freedom from Egypt, or our personal success. However, that shouldn’t overshadow our understanding and celebration of G-d being with us the entire time and leading us to that outcome, and how the miracle began from the first step and not the last. Each step on our journey led us to that final stage, both the pain and suffering we endured and the ultimate joy.
One must cultivate an appreciation that the beginning of our deliverance or success starts specifically with an initial hardship or difficulty. Then, one can truly understand and celebrate the entirety of the miracle that occurred and recognize the Divine Providence evident in all of our daily lives.
Ari Walfish was born and raised in Toronto, graduated from Yeshivas Darchei Torah, and spent several years learning in Yeshivos in Israel and America. He is now currently learning in a Kollel in Yerushalayim, and is pursuing a Masters of Business Administration at Emporia State University