The Necessity for Slavery by Rabbi Josh Kahn


Seder, a key word when discussing Pesach, means order, a major theme of Pesach night.  The Seder is arranged in a very precise, organized way.  We begin with Genut, describing our lowly state in Mitzraim, but end with Shevach, praising Hashem for our redemption.  Throughout Maggid, we are transformed from slaves into free people; yet, although there is a distinct “order” in our Seder, the eating of Matzah, representing our redemption from Mitzraim, precedes the eating of Marror, which represents our slavery in Mitzraim, which is seemingly out of order. Why does the symbol of freedom come before that of slavery?

Rav Gedalyahu Schorr quoting the Sefat Emet explains how the slavery ultimately served as the preparation for the Geulah.  However, during Galut, exile, it is difficult to appreciate how slavery can be connected to redemption. During the darkness of slavery, Bnei Yisrael could not appreciate how this experience was a vital part of the redemption process.  Only after the Geulah can we look back at the Galut and see how it ultimately led to Yetziat Mitzraim.  For this reason, the Matzah must precede the Marror, illustrating that in hindsight, after the redemption, we understand the slavery.

The idea of a long process that began with our exile and culminated with our redemption is reflected in the obligation at the Seder to begin with Genut and conclude with Shevach.  The Seder requires us to unravel the entire chain of events that led up to the redemption because it is all one process.  The Brisker Rav, Rav Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik, explains a similar idea in regards to the paragraph of the Haggadah in which we discuss how Eisav inherited Har Seir.  Why is it important for the Haggadah to tell us where Eisav and his family lived?  The Brisker Rav explains that Eisav had a chance to inherit Eretz Yisrael; however, he didn’t want to go through the Brit Ben HaBetarim process.  Eisav was focused on immediate gratification.  (This is beyond the scope of this Devar Torah, but as an example, Eisav traded his birthright for a bowl of soup.  There are many other examples.)  When Eisav understood that a long process was necessary to inherit Eretz Yisrael, he decided he would rather have Har Seir and move there immediately.  The Haggadah describes this decision to illustrate how the slavery was part of the process of redemption, which ultimately brought us to Eretz Yisrael.  

Our slavery in Egypt was a necessary part of the formation of Bnei Yisrael.  In Egypt, we transformed from a small family to a nation.  Rav Mirsky, author of Hegyonei Halacha, uses this idea to explain why part of the Brit Ben HaBeitarim included slavery in Egypt.  The covenant with Avraham should have been completely positive.  Why should Hashem promise Avraham a punishment?  Rav Mirsky explains that the slavery was also a positive experience, which could only be cherished after the event.  In hindsight we are able to appreciate how it contributed to our growth as a nation.  This idea is seen in practical situations, as we see individuals become a cohesive unit through experiences, which are often challenging.  The ability to survive challenges aids people in joining together and emerging unified.  There fore, specifically at this point in Jewish history, slavery was necessary. 

The length of slavery also created another positive attribute in Bnei Yisrael.  The Sochaczever Rebbe, in the Sefer Sheim MiShemuel, explains the necessity of a six month period between the time Moshe first revealed himself to the Jewish people and the ultimate exodus from Egypt.  First Moshe whet the Bnei Yisrael’s appetite for the Geulah, but they couldn’t leave yet.  They needed to long for the Geulah.  The extended period of time created a stronger sense of desire for the Geulah.  Bnei Yisrael needed to awaken from their spiritual slumber that slavery in Egypt had created.  Therefore, Moshe gave Bnei Yisrael six months to get ready.  The Sheim MiShmuel uses this idea to explain the role of Karpas at the Seder.  Normally, we do not wait very long between an appetizer and the main course.  Why do we have such a long break between Karpas, the appetizer, and the meal?  We are given a small window into understanding the Jewish experience of slavery.  We have our appetite whet by the Karpas, but nothing follows.  We get hungry and begin to understand what it means to develop a real desire, and then we transition into the story of how Bnei Yisrael got a taste of Geulah but had to wait, continually wanting it to come everyday. 

These two messages illustrate the important role that slavery played in the ultimate redemption from Egypt.  In hindsight, we can appreciate how the slavery experience molded us into a nation, while simultaneously creating within us a passion and yearning for Geulah.  These two motifs of the Seder go together; uniting together as one nation yearning for the Geulah.  If we are able to come together as Klal Yisrael, we can experience the statement of Chazal, “In Nissan we were redeemed, and in Nissan we will be redeemed!”

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