(Are You) Proud To Be Jewish?
Rabbi Reuven Mann
Passover is a time for commemorating the most significant events in Jewish history. We do not engage in Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim (telling the story of the Exodus) from a neutral objective perspective but from that of one who has experienced those awesome events. The Hagada states; “In every generation one is obligated to view it as though he, himself, left Egypt as it says, And you shall tell it to your children on this day, because of this did Hashem do for me when I left Egypt. Not only our fathers did The Holy One redeem but also us did He redeem with them.”
At first glance it is not easy to understand the nature of this requirement. For in point of fact it was our ancestors, not ourselves, who went through the enslavement experience. And thousands of years have passed since it happened. Are we supposed to let our imaginations run wild and somehow manage to mentally reenact the plight of out forefathers in Mitzrayim? And why would that be so important? Is it not enough to become intellectually familiar with all aspects of this great story?
To answer this we need to understand the purpose and significance of “telling the story of Passover.” It seems clear that this is not intended as merely an abstract mental exercise. This point is clearly expressed in the Hagada when we declare at the outset, “Even if we are all wise, all men of discernment, all elders, all people who know the Torah it is a Mitzvah for us to tell the story of the Exodus and whoever increases his discussion of this story is praiseworthy.”
This passage indicates that the Mitzvah of telling the story cannot be qualified or quantified in a purely objective manner. There is a significant subjective element which comes to the fore and compels a person to become immersed in the subject to the point where he extends his exposition of the story. But how are we to understand the requirement to see it as though we were actually slaves in Egypt?
In my opinion we are obliged to understand that the Exodus is not only an event which occurred to a specific group of people who existed at a certain point in history. These people were the progenitors of the Jewish nation of which we are an integral part. The story of the enslavement and Exodus is therefore a key segment of our history and the events which transpired happened to us. This idea is clearly enunciated at the outset of the Seder as we say, “And if the Holy One had not taken out our fathers in Egypt then we and our children and children’s children would be slaves unto Pharaoh in Egypt.” The story we tell on the night of Passover is the formative event in the genesis of the Jewish People. It is therefore the personal story of every Jew who attends a Seder to fulfill the unique Mitzvot of that night.
The obligation to view it as though one has himself left Egypt has consequences. The Hagada spells them out; “Therefore we are obligated to acknowledge, praise extol...the One Who has done all these miracles for us and our fathers, He took us out from servitude to freedom, from sorrow to joy, from mourning to celebration, from darkness to great light, from subservience to redemption, and let us sing before Him a new song.”
The retelling of the narrative of enslavement and redemption must evoke within us deep feelings of gratitude to the Creator. The recitation of Hallel (songs of praise to Hashem) is a vital component of the the Mitzvah of Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim and this must flow from the heart and not be mere perfunctory enunciation. But how is one to achieve the exalted emotional state depicted in the Hagada?
In my opinion it all depends on the attitude one has to his Jewish identity. Please consider these “Four Questions”. How important is it to you that you are a Jew; Is it a matter of indifference or does it have profound significance? Are you proud that you are the descendant of Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe, Hillel, Rabbi Akiva, Maimonides and countless other moral and intellectual giants, up to the present day, who have illuminated the path of mankind in every area of practical and spiritual endeavor? Are you proud and inspired to belong to a community that has been charged by the Creator to declare His glory to mankind and teach them about the moral lifestyle He desires? Is your Jewishness a fundamental facet of your self-identity which fills you with a sense of joy and purpose? Consider that you have the privilege to be part of a unique, heroic nation which overcame every enemy and challenge which confronted it and emerged stronger and more committed to its moral mission.
The more one appreciates the wisdom of Torah and the beauty of its lifestyle the more can he take joy in his Jewish identity and in his love of the Jewish People. From that standpoint we can look back on the key formative and historical events in the life of this nation and regard them as our personal heritage. We can reach the point where we view the story of the Exodus as deeply personal and feel a profound sense of gratitude to Hashem for all the great miracles of salvation and Revelation that He has granted us.
At this time last year the world was just beginning to come to grips with with the dangers imposed by the Corona virus. The celebration of Passover at that time was greatly restricted as social distancing requirements precluded the gatherings that were a hallmark of the traditional Seder experience. It has been a terrible year of suffering and loss and the gloom is not entirely behind us. But, thanks in great part to the speed of the discovery, manufacture and distribution of the COVID vaccines, the situation has greatly improved.
As Passover arrives things seem to be returning to normal and it appears that the holiday will be celebrated together with family and friends in the time honored manner. For this we must be grateful to all who participated in the miracle of the vaccines which have allowed us to gain control over this terrible malady.
And most of all we must have gratitude to Hashem who “has kept us in life and maintained us and brought us to this time.”
Shabbat Shalom V’Chag Pesach Sameach.
In this time of social isolation, we should seek ways to avoid boredom by staying occupied with meaningful activity. The world of virtual reality allows us to stay in touch with friends and attend all kinds of classes available online. But that can only take you so far.
Comes Shabbat and Yom Tov, and you need books, especially on the parsha. I personally recommend Eternally Yours on Genesis http://bit.ly/EY-Genesis and Exodus http://bit.ly/EY-Exodus, and my newest one on Numbers http://bit.ly/EY-Numbers2. They are easy to read, interesting, and thought-provoking conversation starters. I am especially interested in your feedback and hope you can write a brief review and post it on Amazon.