Pesach: How Does One Properly Tell the Passover Story

It is clear that the major goal of the Seder night is to recite the Hagaddah and to fulfill the mitzvah, “and you shall tell your children.” That is, by recounting to our children and to ourselves as well, the Exodus from Egypt, we actualize in our minds these events of history, and as a result strengthen our “emunah”. But no matter how convincing one tells the story about the PAST redemption, he misses the point if he ignores the discussing the subject of the FUTURE redemption.

Rabbi Menachem Kasher, ZT”L, in his book “HaTkufa HaGidola” (The Great Era) brings down an important “chidush”. He says that during the night of the Seder, one is obligated to include thanks to G-d for the miracles that we have witnessed in our generation. As proof he brings the words of the Rashba, who says that the mitzvah of remembering our Exodus from Egypt is to glorify G-d’s Name and to teach trust (‘Bitachon’) in G-d. This being the case, these same lessons can be learned by the miracles we have recently witnessed in our times – miracles of the Final Redemption.

The Hagaddah recites a story that sharpens the point: “It happened that Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarphon were reclining (at a Seder) in Benei Berak. They were discussing the Exodus all that night, until their students came and told them: “Rabbis! It is time for the morning prayer “Shma!”

The obvious questions which have already been asked are: How could the rabbis not have paid attention by themselves that the time for the reading of the “Shma” had arrived? In addition, what were these rabbis doing sitting together on Seder night, when each had a family and a Yeshiva of his own in different parts of the country? Why were they sitting in Bnei Berak, the place of (the student) Rabbi Akiva?

Before giving the answer, some historical background is necessary: Only a few years had passed since the Destruction of the Second Temple, and the Land of Israel was controlled by the Romans. But secretly, the planning of the revolution had begun – a revolution which saw Rabbi Akiva play a central role as the “armsbearer” of Bar-Cochba (see Rambam, Hilchot Milachim). The rest of the Rabbis were also quite active in the rebellion, as the Rambam writes: “and he (Rabbi Akiva)and ALL THE RABBIS OF HIS GENERATION thought that he (Bar-Cochba) was the Messiah”.

And so the rabbis with Rabbi Akiva were sitting together on the SEDER NIGHT to learn and discuss the FUNDAMENTALS OF THE REDEMPTION AND TO MAKE PREPARATIONS FOR THE REBELLION. They were learning in secret, covertly, perhaps in the famous Caves of Bar-Cochba. If so, it would be clear why their students would need to inform them that morning had broke. (It is worth pointing out a nice explanation for “the time for ‘Shma’ has arrived : “Shma Yisrael” is a symbol for “Kiddush Hashem”, and the students were saying to their rabbis: OUR RABBIS! THE TIME FOR KIDDUSH HASHEM HAS ARRIVED! – REBEL AGAINST THE ROMANS AND BRING THE REDEMPTION!)

Here is the crucial lesson: The rabbis understood that the purpose of the Seder night was not just to retell a story that once was. The Exodus from Egypt is the source and inspiration for the Future Redemption as well, and that is why our sages tell us that the first redemption is a sign for the Final Redemption. Since the rabbis believed that there was a real possibility then to bring the Final Redemption (and that Bar-Cochba was a feasible candidate for Messiah), they sat on the Seder night to plan the tactics and natural stages of the redemption, which they hoped would come through this planned rebellion.

This generation has merited to see what our ancestors did not merit since the Destruction : A rebuilt Land of Israel, the ingathering of the exiles, and miraculous victories over our enemies. Surely we are not more worthy than our ancestors and somehow deserve it, but rather it was done for G-d’s Holy Name which had been so desecrated during a 2,000 year exile. Unfortunately we witness a redemption that is not one of “Achishena” (swiftly and with glory) but rather one of “Bi-Eta” (slowly, in its time), which is a redemption accompanied by great suffering and pain. It is the type of redemption that G-d brings upon us against our will, since we refuse to participate in it. Moreover, Israeli leadership has only worked to toss a monkey wrench in the works…

This Passover night, let us not only discuss the past, but the following two items as well:

  1. We must contemplate the miracles which we have witnessed in our generation, with an understanding that it is G-d’s Hand and the expression of His Will to bring us the Final Redemption.
  2. If the great sages sat on the Seder Night and occupied themselves with the revolution which had not yet begun, certainly we are obligated to sit and engross ourselves with the redemption process that has already begun. We must sit and think how in a PRACTICAL WAY we can remove the monkey wrench that the wicked have tossed in the wheels, and must contemplate how we can quicken and advance the process with acts of “Kiddush Hashem”, “Emunah”, and “Msirut Nefesh”, which are the keys to redemption.

May we merit to properly fulfill the mitzvah of telling the Passover story, and to act upon the practical conclusions derived from learning about the First Redemption. Have a happy and kosher Passover.

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