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A Dvar Torah for Pesach

A Dvar Torah for Pesach

From Slavery to Freedom!

By Rabbi Shlomo Nachman ben Ya'akov © March 26, 2021

The Central Story of the Jewish People is that we were slaves in Egypt but the Creator chose us for Himself and delivered us from slavery to freedom. THIS is who the Jewish people and why the Jews are the eternally chosen people.

The seventy descendants of the line of Noah's son Shem, namely Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov, or better known as Abraham, Isaac and Joseph, fled the Land of Israel (previously known as Cana'an) because of a terrible famine. Joseph, the son of Ya'akov, saved the Israelites, the Egyptians and many others through his Divinely inspired management skills as described at Genesis Chapters 41-48. The Israelites settled in a portion of Egypt known as Goshen and lived as loyal citizens of the King of Egypt. This king or pharaoh was grateful to Joseph and his people and in the land of Goshen they thrived and became millions.

In time the wise Pharaoh died and was replaced by another. A foolish and prideful man who cursed and enslaved the Israelites. In his foolishness he embarked on a plan of aggressive antisemitism. As Anti-Semites always do, he gave various baseless justifications for his Jew hatred. As the Jews have historically mostly done, they tried to lived in peace with their rulers, even accepting slavery upon themselves. And as has historically been true, appeasement did not work. People hate the Jews because we are Jews. Not because of anything Jews do or fail to do. Its a derangement that is present in ever generation to some degree.

The Torah assures us that while the Holy One is patient, that patience has its limits. Eventually G-d decided to free His People from slavery. How He did this is the story of Pesach.

Every year the Jews ritually recall these wonders during a formal meal known as a seder. During the seder the ancient story is retold in reply to an appointed child who asks, “Ma Nishtana” – which are the first two words in a phrase meaning “Why is tonight different from all other nights?” – “Mah nishtanah, ha-laylah ha-zeh, mi-kol ha-leylot.” As the seder unfolds four questions are asked: <

Why is this night different from all the other nights?;

That in all other nights we do not dip vegetables even once, on this night, we dip twice?
That on all other nights we eat both chametz and matzah, on this night, we eat only matzah?
That on all other nights we eat many vegetables, on this night, maror?
That in all other nights some eat and drink sitting with others reclining, but on this night, we are all reclining?

Here are the usual answers:
The answers to the four questions (and the historic fifth question) are:

1. We eat only matzah because our ancestors could not wait for their breads to rise when they were fleeing slavery in Egypt, and so they were flat when they came out of the oven.
2. We eat only Maror, a bitter herb, to remind us of the bitterness of slavery that our ancestors endured while in Egypt.
3. The first dip, green vegetables in salt water, symbolizes the replacing of our tears with gratitude, and the second dip, Maror in Charoses, symbolizes the sweetening of our burden of bitterness and suffering.
4. We recline at the Seder table because in ancient times, a person who reclined at a meal was a free person, while slaves and servants stood.
5. We eat only roasted meat because that is how the Pesach/Passover lamb is prepared during sacrifice in the Temple at Jerusalem.

With this we understand how the Israelites responded to HaShem Mercy.

We also remember that those who hate our people often refuse to cease from their antisemitic attacks without Divine Intervention. In Egypt this intervention came in the form of Ten Curses upon our enemies. These are recounted as follows:

1. Dam - Blood
2. Tzefardeia - Frogs
3. Kinim - Bugs
4. Arov - Wild Animals
5. Dever - Pestilence
6. Shechin - Boils
7. Barad - Hail
8. Arbeh - Locust
9. Choshech - Darkness
10. Makkat Bechorot - Death of the Firstborns

While the final plague was being unleashed the Hebrews prepared for their deliverance from Egypt. On the night when the all the firstborn children of Israel were slain by the Word of HaShem, the Israelites ate the gods of Egypt and painted the door posts of their homes red with their blood. The animal gods of the Egyptians became an indictment against them. The Jewish women had prepared unleavened cakes to be eaten with the dinner. Then, at the command of HaShem to our teacher Moshe, the time arrived to flee Egypt and journey to a Land Flowing With Milk and Honey. As they were leaving Egypt they collected the bones of the righteous Joseph so that he too would be delivered from slavery and brought to Land G-d had promised as they left the Land of Slavery HaShem parted the waters of the Sea of Reeds and they made their way to Har Sinai to receive the Torah, which we remember with gratitude on Shavuot fifty days after their departure.

As we remember all of these wondrous events it is vital that we actuate the Truth that everything was done by the Will of HaShem, the G-d of Israel. Without Him we are nothing! Nonetheless, we have our roles to play! We choose, as free men and women, to accept His leadership or to reject it.

Exodus 13:18 reads “Now the Israelites went up ‘armed’ ( חֲמֻשִׁים, chamushim) out of the land of Egypt.” But the meaning of the word chamushim is uncertain. Many Jewish scholars, including Rabbi Ishmael believe that the letters of the word “armed” or chamushim actually means that only one out of five (חֲמִשָּׁה, chamishah) Israelites left Egypt. Other Midrashists suggest that only one out of 50 or even one out of 500 voluntarily left Egypt with Moses! What became of them? They and their descendants are largely lost to our people. These people could be the progenitors of those African tribes that seem to have uncertain connection with our people.

YOU have decisions to make TODAY! Will you assimilate or will you stand and be counted?

Likewise, we know that a great mixed multitude (Hebrew “erev rav”) of Gentiles left Egypt with Moshe. There is considerable scholarly debate on this term and who these people may have been, and how many of them there were. This is a good topic for a different study. What we know however is that many of the Hebrews, perhaps the majority, refused to follow Moshe out of Egypt and that many non-Hebrews did. The Covenant of G-d went with and through Moshe Rabbeinu and the identities of many of those who were initially included within it were not Hebrew Semites. The point? HaShem looks at YOUR heart! At YOUR Consciousness! At YOUR Emunah! As Jews we have a holy duty to perform to the Creator and to our fellow humans. But so do the other nations! So whether you are Jewish or not is not really the issue! As Joshua charges each of the Israelites and the Erev Rav, as the Darkness continues to intensify YOU have CHOICE to make:

“Now, therefore, honor the LORD. and serve Him with undivided loyalty; put away the gods that your forefathers served beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. If you don't want to to serve the LORD, the choose this day which ones you are going to serve—whether the gods that your forefathers served beyond the Euphrates, or those of the Amorites in whose land you are settled; but I and my household will serve the LORD” – Joshua 24:14,15.

Chag Pesach Sameach dear friends.

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