While going through the order of the Pesach Seder, specifically the recounting of the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim, Mishnayot Pesachim state (10:4), “Matchil Bigenut Umesayem Beshevach,” “One begins with disgrace and ends with praise.” What are the Genut, disgrace, and the Shevach, praise, to which the Mishnah refers?
The Gemara (Pesachim 116) records a dispute between Rav and Shmuel on this matter. Rav maintains that the Genut refers to “Mitechilah Ovdei Avodah Zarah Hayu Avoteinu,” a reference to our ancestors’ idolatrous practices, while the Shevach is “Veachshav Keirvanu Hamakom La’avodato,” praising Hashem for bringing us into His service. Shmuel, on the other hand, believes that the Genut is “Avadim Hayinu,” that we were slaves in Egypt, and the Shevach is “Veotanu Hotzi Misham,” that we were brought out. (Though the Gemara does not actually state their positions regarding the Shevach, they may be inferred from their respective understandings of the Genut.) What is the basis of this Machloket?
Rav Soloveitchik relates this dispute to a Gemara in Masechet Gittin (38), which records another Machloket between Rav and Shmuel regarding the Halacha of emancipating an Eved Kena’ani, a non-Jewish slave. The case concerns a master who, intending to free his slave, simply declares his slave to be Hefker, ownerless, thereby breaking all financial and legal ties to this slave. Does the master still need to give his slave a Get Shichrur, a document explicitly freeing him? Rav maintains that such a document is required, while Shmuel maintains that we do not require the document, as the declaration of Hefker is enough to free him. How do the respective opinions of Rav and Shmuel regarding the Seder relate to their opinions about slaves?
According to Rav Soloveitchik, the underlying issue in the latter Machkloket is what happens to the status of a slave when he is freed. Rav believes that more than just the legal and financial ties must be released when setting an Eved Kena’ani free. After all, he is about to become a complete Jew, someone who will be completely obligated to observe all 613 Mitzvot like every Jewish male. Hefker only releases the legal bond; it does not have the power to change the status of an Eved Kena’ani to a Ben Torah. Hence, we still require the Get Shichrur. Shmuel, however, believes that an Eved is free once the financial strings are cut. Thus, Hefker is sufficient, and a Get Shichrur is unnecessary.
If we apply the principles we have established to our original Machloket concerning the Seder, we can now understand Rav’s and Shmuel’s positions. Shmuel believes that once we were redeemed from bondage, we were completely free. We had no financial ties to Pharaoh; he was no longer our master, and we were no longer his servants. Pharaoh declared us Hefker, so to speak, and it is this transition from servitude to freedom that is the theme of the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim.
Rav, on the other hand, believes that this physical freedom is only half the story. We were not legally bound to Pharaoh’s authority, but we still needed a Get Shichrur, a document to infuse us with Kedushat Yisrael. This document came along in the form of the Torah. Our “Shevach” is incomplete unless we discuss “Veachshav Keirvanu Hamakom La’avodato.” Without the Torah we are not free, and it is only with the Torah that we can understand that the real disgrace was not the slavery at all, but rather the fact that we were originally idol worshippers.
May this Pesach serve as a celebration not only of our physical freedom, but also of our freedom through Torah.