Based on Naaleh.com shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles
Summary by Channie Koplowitz Stein
The Mishnah notes that we begin the
with words describing our disgrace and culminate with words of praise. Rav and Shemuel dispute whether this refers to our physical disgrace, and thus we begin with the words, "We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt," or to our spiritual disgrace, with "our forefathers were idolaters." We follow both opinions, and include both in our recounting. Why do we focus on our negative beginnings on this night of celebration of our redemption? The words of praise are formulated as "and now Hashem has brought us close to His service." When is the "now?"
The Seder is full of contrasting and contradictory symbols. Each symbol alludes to both servitude and freedom, notes Rabbi M. Salomon. We drink four cups of wine, perhaps the ultimate symbol of freedom, yet our rabbis urge us to drink red wine to remind us of the Jewish blood Pharaoh bathed in when he was stricken with leprosy. The
is quintessentially a symbol of both slavery and freedom; it is both the poor man's bread and the quick bread that had no time to rise as we were rushed to freedom. We remember both the pain and the salvation, continues Rabbi Salomon, so that we will increase our gratitude and praise of Hashem. Both the pain and the salvation included physical and spiritual elements. Hence the twofold beginnings of our story.
It seems embarrassing to bring up our disgrace. Why do we do it? Rav M. Feinstein explains that many people who reform themselves try to forget their past completely. Yet we understand that there will be times when we may falter in our resolve. During those times we can look back at our inglorious past, note how far we've come, and gain encouragement for the future.
Rabbi I. Bernstein notes that we were not a nation born in purity. We had within us the DNA of Terach, Avraham's father, a preeminent idol worshiper. To prevent us from reverting back to these practices, Hashem had to excise the cancer of the allure of those ideas from our psyche. After experiencing the decadence and ugliness of that society, we would not be tempted to fall back. In this context, being slaves in Egypt was the cure for our ancestors and was the beginning of Hashem bringing us close to Him. Therefore, it is appropriate that the
(bitter herbs) comes last after Pesach (sacrificial lamb) and
, for only after the events of Pesach and
can we appreciate the value of the bitter herbs that represent our enslavement, writes Rabbi G. Schorr.
And now..." Hashem does not look at our past, writes Rabbi Spero citing the Chatan Sofer. He brings us closer to Him now, at this moment, irrespective of our past. This is a night of transformation. As Rabbi Biderman notes in
, constantly dwelling on the past is its own form of worshiping strange gods. This is a time to move forward and cherish the moment of coming closer to Hashem.
describes what happens when one is enslaved. Man was destined to be king on earth, as God is in heaven. Hashem created him in His image with unlimited potential and with the ability to create. Slavery takes that potential and sets constraints upon it. It takes boundless man and confines him. This is what Mitzrayim signifies. Man becomes no better than a beast with no identity of his own but to serve others.
When you constantly "go with the flow," you are no more than water without form, constantly being drawn to the fashion, technology, and mores of the times. You have no independent sense of self. A person must first realize that he can have a form of his own. He can break away from the constraints of "everybody" and come closer to Hashem.
When Hashem created the waters, the upper waters were closer to Hashem and very spiritual. The lower waters originally complained, but soon became content with their lower identity and mission. While the lower waters were involved in so much good, they didn't allow these deeds to affect them, much like our souls that are often involved in so many
but still remain distant from Hashem.
We take the waters for
and keep it out overnight. It becomes water of reflection as it contemplates its mission. When we ingest the
kneaded with this water, we too experience an awakening and a yearning to come closer to Hashem. We can make eating the
a spiritual experience that draw us close to the Creator.
Our Seder ends with the
/one goat. Rav Leibel Eiger asks why we focus on a goat instead of on a sheep? A sheep is passive, just
, material without form or actions of its own. A goat, on the other hand, leaps and moves forward. The night of the Seder is a night of opportunity and growth. Hashem is knocking on our door, asking us to open it for Him. How are we responding?