This amazing story is told while seated at the table as we point to the maror, the bitter herbs – symbolizing slavery, and the matzah ? symbolizing liberation and redemption. This is not just the telling of a fascinating historical narrative, it is a recreation of a great night, the night the Jewish nation was born in Egypt over 3,300 years ago. It is the night when God appeared in Egypt to liberate the enslaved Jewish nation, instilling a new spirit in the hearts of the oppressed slaves, turning them from a demeaned ragtag group to a proud people secure in their path, embarking on new road toward the Promised Land.
We recreate this night every year with emphasis on passing on the Jewish message to the younger generation. There is a tradition to give the children prizes to keep them alert and awake until they can experience eating the matza and drinking the four cups of wine symbolizing freedom and redemption.
The most outstanding feature in the Pesach Haggadah created by our sages about two thousand years ago is its structure of question and answer dialogues. We expect the children to ask questions, raise issues, and then listen to the parents? answers. And if the child does not ask a question, we try to stimulate him in different ways to elicit a question.
On that same night we are trying to recreate, the Jewish slaves sat in their homes in Egypt and celebrated their imminent exodus. The celebration included eating meat from the ?Pesach sacrifice? ? a lamb that each family slaughtered and ate immediately prior to the exodus from Egypt. This celebration of slaves about to be released is not a simple occurrence. It was an act requiring tremendous bravery and daring. Egypt?s national idol was the lamb, and so slaughtering it was strictly forbidden by Egyptian religious laws. In addition, the slaves were commanded to mark the entranceways of their homes with a special sign, as though declaring: Here lives a Jewish family about to be liberated tonight!
These actions: marking the homes, slaughtering the lamb, and celebrating prior to the actual liberation were demanded because God does not want to work without people?s cooperation. God could have liberated and redeemed the Jews from Egypt even without commanding them to perform these brazen acts. But had He done so, the slaves would not have been completely set free. Slavery is not just a physical state; it is a mental one as well. In order to be released from it, the slaves had to demonstrate responsibility, initiative, courage ? traits not found among slaves.
The recreation of this great night would not be complete if we would only tell the story of the wondrous Divine salvation, the liberation and the redemption. We must also remember, and pass on to future generations, the principle that complete redemption cannot take place without personal initiative. The Jewish slaves in Egypt were redeemed only after they gathered the emotional strength to slaughter the Egyptian national idol in front of their masters, mark their homes, and sit down to a festive meal before the liberation actually took place. The same is true of those of us telling this amazing story. We also must take initiative, be courageous, stick to the truth, remove doubt, and trust in God and His ways. Only then can we hope for a complete redemption, speedily and in our days.