Rav Moshe Kaplan
Rav Moshe KaplanCourtesy

The Exodus from Egypt is not a one-time event which we commemorate, a memory from the past, but rather a constant activating force that works throughout history to revolutionize human culture. In his poetic fashion, Rabbi Kook remarked that "The Exodus from Egypt will remain forever the springtime of the entire world."

To understand this lofty concept we will draw on the teachings of Rabbi Kook and the “V’higadata L’bincha” commentary of Rabbi Eli Adler on the Haggadah.

First we have to remember that humanity is gripped by a constant inner conflict. On the one hand, man is consumed with the material demands of the physical world, the concrete here and now. Our five senses perceive the external, immediate, limited, material dimension of existence and we relate to the world as if only the physical exists. We are similar to a blind person who perceives only a partial view of reality and cannot comprehend the true beauty and grandeur of the world that exists around him. In addition, our immediate, material needs – food, shelter, security – demand so much of man's efforts and energies that our main focus is on the physical.

On the other hand, man’s soul seeks the lofty, the beyond, the connection to the Divine Source of All, the expanses of the eternal values and truth. In these spiritual pursuits we find meaning to life and true satisfaction. Yet the nature of the world is such that the spiritual is concealed. As our Sages point out, the word for "world" in Hebrew – “olam” – is from the same root as “he’elem” – which means “hidden.” This concealment enables free will to exist.

A person must seek the truth beyond the external façade of the physical and rise to his or her true grandeur by personal effort. This is the greatness of man. However, when a person forgets the soul and spiritual foundation of life, he or she becomes locked into the suffocating confines of the here and now. Life becomes closed in darkness with no possibility to reveal and enjoy the expanses that await a person through the connection to the Divine Source of Creation.

What does all this have to do with the Exodus from Egypt?

The Egyptian culture was immersed in materialism, totally denying the spiritual. Pharaoh proclaims, “Who is G-d that I should listen to His voice?” (Shmot 5:2). In his worldview, the material is the exclusive foundation of life. There is no transcending soul which exists beyond the physical. In Egypt only the laws of nature rule, along with physical strength and the occult. This material weltanschauung cuts life off from its true spiritual source and suffocates human existence, enslaving mankind to physical bondage. Severed from G-d, man becomes a slave to the physical world around him.

The Exodus from Egypt constitutes a revolution in the concept of reality. The plagues inflicted on the Egyptians and the subsequent liberation of the Jews were not just to punish the Egyptians for their crimes and to free the Jewish slaves from bondage – the miraculous events came to free the entire world from its physical and conceptual shackles which limited man’s perception to the here and now, to the external. The Exodus from Egypt redeemed all of humanity from darkness.

However, this great world revolution which transpired 3334 years ago was not a one-time event belonging to the past. Rather it represented just the beginning, the beginning of a long historical process of renewal that will bring mankind to the ever-widening expanses of eternal freedom, gracing the world with its true Divine splendor and liberating all souls from the depths of gross materialism which darkens their spiritual magnificence and glory (see Rav Kook, “Olat Riyah” I:26-27).

Thus the Exodus and its accompanying miracles changed mankind’s perspective on the world we live in. As opposed to the Egyptian outlook, the dramatic events revealed that physical reality and the laws of nature were not all there is to existence. The curtain was lifted and mankind saw that there is a Source beyond, there is a G-d, a Creator who rules over all. With this Divine Revelation came the recognition that there is a purpose to existence, a goal of Good, and that everything was created to bring that goal to pass.

Like a flare in the night, a light emerged that exposed a new understanding, as if the eyes of a blind person were opened and he now sees the all-encompassing picture of reality, along with the Divine values and goal of the world around him.

But even more. In addition to shattering the darkness of Egyptian philosophy and culture, the Exodus was also the birth of a positive alternative. It was the creation of a Divinely chosen and inspired Nation, a Nation born in miracles whose source and inherent essence are holy and elevated over the physical limitations of this world. Only an eternal nation which exists beyond the transient mortality of the individual can have the long term influence required for the enlightenment and spiritual education of the world. This revolution in human culture is a gradual process which spans generations.

Thus “Yetziat Mitzrayim” (the Exodus from Egypt) was a radical turning point in human history when the soul was injected into the world. It brought about the birth of Am Yisrael, a nation which brings to mankind, slowly but surely throughout history, the fundamental truth that the root of all life is the Divine Source from which everything receives its value.

This universal recognition of G-d reaches full expression at the culmination of the historic journey when Israel lives its national life in the Land of Israel in holiness, morality, justice, and kindness, as “a kingdom of priests and a holy Nation" (Shmot 19:6). Then all the world shall see that spirituality doesn’t come to limit life but rather to uplift and sanctify it, and bring to a "super" life. Instead of holiness being considered something "outside of" or "above" life, or even against life, it will be revealed how holiness and the word of G-d are at the center of life and the driving forces which enhance and empower all aspects of life and bring mankind to “Tikun Olam.”

Then this Divine Force which was implanted in the Israelite Nation during the Exodus from Egypt will reach its full expression bringing humanity out from a long winter slumber to eternal springtime when “From Zion will go forth the Torah and the word of Hashem from Yerushalayim” (Isaiah 2:3).

May we see the culmination of this process in our days, as the Talmud states: “In Nissan we were redeemed and in Nissan we will be redeemed in the future" (Tractate Rosh HaShana 11b). May it be this Nissan, Amen!