Viewing Ourselves as Leaving Egypt

Rabbi Israel Chait

Written by a student

In every generation, one must display himself as if he personally exited the subjugation of Egypt, as it is stated, “And He took us out from there” (Deut. 6:23). And regarding this, the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded in the Torah (Deut. 5:15, 15:15, 24:22), “Remember that you were a slave”—meaning to say, as if you yourself had been a slave, came out to freedom, and were redeemed. (Maimonides, Hilchos Chametz u’Matzah 7:6)

This law seems redundant. Maimonides says, “one must display himself as if he personally exited the subjugation”, based on one verse. Then he says this again, “as if you yourself had been a slave and came out to freedom” based on other verses. How do we explain this apparent redundancy? 

In every generation” teaches that one might assume that in a poor generation, one is not obligated to display that, “he himself had exited the subjugation of Egypt.” However, with “In every generation,” Maimonides teaches that regardless of the social situation, this mitzvah remains is intact. This is the meaning of the והיא שעמדה:

And it is this that has stood for our forefathers and for us; since it is not one alone that has stood [against] us to destroy us, but rather in each generation, they stand [against] us to destroy us, but the Holy One, blessed be He, rescues us from their hands (Hagaddah).

“In each generation” is the operative phrase. If we live in oppressive times, “God rescues us from their hands.” Thus, we view ourselves as beneficiaries of God’s Egyptian Exodus, despite our current social predicament. Maimonides teaches the following:

The reciting of a certain portion of the Law when the first-fruits are brought to the temple, tends also to create humility. For he who brings the first-fruits takes the basket upon his shoulders and proclaims the kindness and goodness of God. This ceremony teaches man that it is essential in the service of God to remember the times of trouble and the history of past distress, in days of comfort. The Law lays stress on this duty in several places: comp. “And you shall remember that you were a slave” (Deut. 5:15).  For it is to be feared that those who become great in riches and comfort might—as is generally the case—fall into the vices of insolence and haughtiness, and abandon all good principles. (Guide, book III,  chap. xxxix)

[Returning to the question of redundancy] 

This mitzvah of feeling as though we were freed has 2 expressions. The fundamental mitzvah is “Remember that you were a slave.”  This mitzvah of “remembering” is expressed internally. But external communication is also required, that is ואותנו הוציא משם—“And He took us out from there, etc.”  Here, one is addressing an “audience,” this is part of  מצות סיפור. This is what Maimonides means with, “one must display himself as if he personally exited the subjugation of Egypt.”   “Display” refers to communication. Thus, one must experience God’s freedom from Egypt internally, and he also must communicate it.  להראות demonstrates that external communication. 

[Thus, with this halachic formulation of 2 expressions, Maimonides teaches that one’s “display” at Seder is not a primary mitzvah, but forms an external communicative expression if the primary internal mitzvah, “Remember that you were a slave.” An internal experience precedes an external expression; it is primary.]