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Pessach:Our Miraculous Redemption


[Translated by Mrs. Nechi Ehrman, author of: From Bar Ilan University to the world of Chassidus and Ultra Orthodoxy - My Path Back To Sinai]

We answer the child’s Ma Nishtana with the following passage: "עבדים היינו לפרעה במצרים ויוציאנו ה' אלוקינו משם ביד חזקה ובזרוע נטויה. ואילו לא הוציא הקב"ה את אבותינו ממצרים הרי אנו ובניניו ובני בנינו משעבדים היינו לפרעה במצרים. ואפילו כלנו חכמים, כלנו נבונים, כלנו זקנים, כלנו יודעים את התורה, מצוה עלינו לספר ביציאת מצרים. וכל המרבה לספר ביציאת מצרים הרי זה משובח."

“We were slaves to Paroh in Egypt and Hashem Elokeinu took us out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. And if Hakadosh Baruch Hu hadn’t taken our fathers out of Egypt, then we and our children and our children’s children would be enslaved to Paroh in Egypt. And even if we all are smart, and all wise, and all elderly and all know the Torah it is still a mitzvah for us to tell about Yetzias Mitzrayim. And the more we tell the more praiseworthy we are.”

We will begin by raising a number of questions regarding this passage from the Haggadah, and we will try בעז"ה to answer them all by developing a deeper understanding of what transpired at Yetzias Mitzrayim.

The first part of “Avadim Hayinu” is found in Parshas Vaeschanan. The pasuk there is: “…We were slaves to Paroh in Egypt and Hashem took us out of Egypt with a strong hand. Hashem placed signs and wonders, great and harmful, against Egypt, against Paroh and against his entire household, before our eyes.” The term “outstretched arm” is found in Parshas Vaera: “…I shall redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgements.” There is an additional pasuk in Parshas Vaeschanan that mentions the outstretched arm: “Or has any god ever miraculously come to take for himself a nation from amidst a nation, with challenges, with signs, and with wonders, and with war and with a strong hand, and with an outstretched arm , and with greatly awesome deeds, such as everything that Hashem, your God, did for you in Egypt before your eyes?” Why did the author of the Haggadah choose to omit the phrases “with great judgments” and “with greatly awesome deeds” which were each juxtaposed to the phrase “outstretched arm”, the former in Parshas Vaera and the latter in Parshas Vaeschanan? Later in the Haggadah the author does mention “with great awe”, so it seems that he deliberately omitted it in “Avadim Hayinu”- why?

The Haggadah explains יד חזקה, “a mighty hand” to refer to macas dever , the fifth plague inflicted on the Mitzrim, where all the livestock of the Mitzrim died and not one animal belonging to a Jew died . Macas dever seems to be the least harmful of all the macos because it struck the Mitzrim’s animals and not their bodies. Why then would the Haggadah define “a mighty hand” as macas dever?

“And if Hakadosh Baruch Hu hadn’t taken our fathers out of Egypt, then we and our children and our children’s children would be enslaved to Pahro in Egypt.” How can we proclaim this with such absolute conviction? Have we not seen numerous nations achieve freedom in unexpected turn of events? Governments do rise and fall and countries have changed hands over the years, is it truly unfeasible that we would’ve eventually left Egypt even if Hashem hadn’t taken us out with such grand miracles? Would we really still be there today?

“And even if we are all smart…and all know the Torah, it is still a mitzvah for us to tell about Yetzias Mitzrayim.” Why would we think that he who is smart would be exempt from telling about Yetzias Mitzrayim? This is a mitzvah from the Torah, one of the 613, why should a chacham be exempt? Is a talmid chacham exempt from the mitzvah of Kriyas Shema or Teffilin?

The Haggadah explains ובזרוע נטויה , “an outstretched arm” to mean a sword. This is puzzling because not one of the ten macos involves a sword! To what is the Haggadah referring?

Now that we have raised all these questions, we will try to deepen our understanding of Yetziyas Mitzrayim and this new insight will help us answer our questions.

There is a very basic difference between Klal Yisroel’s redemption from Mitzrayim and all other nations’ release from servitude to another nation. While other nations might have been freed physically, it took many years thereafter until they internalized their freedom emotionally, being able to feel free and act free. A very painful example of this from our own history would be those Jews who survived the Holocaust. They may have physically been freed from the death camps but after witnessing so much murder and torture and losing spouses, children, friends and family members they suffered for many many years after the war ended. They relocated themselves geographically but not emotionally. Their souls were still tormented by the memories of their horrible experiences. Can you call that freedom? The African Americans in the United States were freed from slavery and eventually even achieved equal rights yet to this day they don’t enjoy complete emotional freedom. The trauma of slavery doesn’t disappear so quickly, if at all.

The Jewish People’s redemption from Mitzrayim however, was of a completely different nature. We lived in Mitzrayim for a very long period of time and suffered there from backbreaking labor and harsh decrees. The Medrash depicts our physical enslavement, how Jewish babies were used in place of bricks, how we worked from morning until night and how we were beaten severely. Along with this came an emotional enslavement and our spiritual decline to the forty-ninth level of impurity. From this low level Hashem redeemed us in such a manner that left no trace whatsoever of anything we had endured! We didn’t need years of rehabilitation nor was there any remnant of the weak state in which we had been. All at once Hashem brought us to the level of : “…and the Children of Israel were going out with an upraised arm” Rashi explains: with great and famous might. Hashem transformed a downtrodden and humiliated nation into a proud and mighty nation with no trace of their long years of slavery. This transition was a true miracle in itself. Now we understand why the Haggadah chose to insert יד חזקה “a mighty hand” and זרוע נטויה “an outstretched arm” into the passage of “Avadim Hayinu” (and omitted the phrases “great judgements” and “greatly awesome deeds”). It is specifically יד חזקה and זרוע נטויה that express this unique miracle.

Understanding Yetziyas Mitzrayim in light of this new perspective helps answer the rest of our questions as well. If Hashem hadn’t taken us out in such a miraculous way, then even had we eventually been freed from Mitzrayim, we and our children and our children’s children would bear deep emotional scars. Man can free the body, but only Hashem can heal the soul.

An additional transition transpired at this time, our transition from impurity to purity. The Mitzrim did everything in their power to lower our spiritual level. “Or has any god ever miraculously come to take for himself a nation from amidst a nation…” Yalkut Shimoni comments: What does this mean “a nation from amongst a nation”? Like someone who extracts a fetus from within an animal, so Hashem took Yisroel from Mitzrayim as it says "והקרב והכרעיים". We were so intertwined with the Mitzrim that removing us was comparable to extracting a fetus out of an animal. The Medrash continues: It doesn’t say “a nation (עם) from amongst a nation (גוי), rather גוי מקרב גוי to teach us that just as they were uncircumcised so too we were uncircumcised, and just as they grew their hair long for idolatrous purposes so we too grew our hair long for idolatrous purposes. And therefore according to midas hadin (the strict letter of the law) there was no justification for redeeming us ever. Our spiritual state was so bad that the Malach Samael asked Hashem why we merited miracles after having worshipped idols. On the 15th of Nissan we left Mitzrayim and on the 6th of Sivan we already received the Torah at Har Sinai. We went from the 49th level of tumah to the greatest spiritual heights in such an amazingly short time! Hashem Himself took us out for only He could separate us from the Mitzrim, physically, emotionally and spiritually so quickly, leaving no emotional scars or spiritual impurity within us. Only Hashem could take us out like removing a fetus from an animal, without leaving a trace of its having been there.

Although the plague of dever was the least harsh of all ten macos, it is used as a definition for יד חזקה “a mighty hand” in the Haggadah because it demonstrated most clearly the vast difference between Jew and Mitzri. It is specifically with regard to macas dever (and macas arov) that the pasuk emphasizes Hashem’s discrimination between Jew and Mitzri although throughout all ten macos the Mitzrim were the ones afflicted and the Jews were spared. The Ramban explains that the Jews’ animals and the Mitzrim’s animals were all standing together and there was one sole difference between them namely monetary ownership by Jew or Mitzri. So when the animals belonging to the Mitzrim all died and those belonging to the Jews didn’t die, the miracle was all the more obvious.

We had asked why the Haggadah defined ובזרוע נטויה “and with an outstretched arm” as a sword. A sword symbolizes a sharp, clean cut – the Gemara calls a sword סכינא חריפא , a sharp knife. When Hashem pulled Klal Yisroel out from within the Mitzrim it was like the clean, clear slice of a sword separating the two nations, leaving no trace of Mitzrayim in us. We became a completely new entity, having shed our forty-nine levels of impurity and now soaring to the highest heights.

When telling the story of our redemption from Mitzrayim, we are obligated to begin with disgrace and end with praise in order to clearly express the physical and spiritual transformation that occurred. Had we been freed in a natural course of events, like other nations throughout history, then maybe those more learned and more knowledgeable of our history would be exempt from retelling the story of our redemption. But since we were freed in such an unnatural, miraculous manner, it is incumbent on the talmidei chachamim to retell the story and it is they, with their knowledge and depth, who will best comprehend the miracle in all of its depth.

Let us keep all this in mind as we sit at the seder table and speak of Yetziyas Mitzrayim. Each of us becomes a מספר and as Chassidus explains, the word מספר has the same root letters as ספיר a sapphire. When one tells the story of Yetziyas Mitzrayim properly, he shines like a sapphire and instills in the listeners precious light. May Hashem help us receive all the הארות and may our countenances shine to ourselves and our families and may we merit to see miracles as our forefathers saw when they left Mitzrayim. Amen Ken Yehi Ratzon.

My addendum: For a nice picture of the Rebbe Shlita [and many other Gedolim] you can go to gadol.blogspot.com. The comment that was written there is true.

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About me

  • I'm Rabbi Ally Ehrman
  • From Old City Jerusalem, Israel
  • I am a Rebbe in Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh.
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