Becoming truly free – Pesach 5782

By Rabbi Matthew Liebenberg

One of the most powerful phrases in the Pesach Hagaddah is the rousing statement that “In every generation one is obligated to look at himself as if he left Egypt!” We say this annually but do we ever stop to take in what it means? And, furthermore, is it really possible to place yourself in such a position? After all, none of us have ever had to experience the indignity of slavery or the brutal lashings of taskmasters! None of us have ever experienced the Exodus of an entire Nation in the course of a few hours and none of us have witnessed the awesome power of the Ten Plagues and the splitting of the sea. Perhaps the Haggadah is advocating the use of imagination, for, if not, how else could we possibly view ourselves as an Israelite leaving Egypt?

A closer look at the day-to-day life in Egypt, however, will reveal that from a certain point of view our lot is no different. When Moshe first appeared before Pharaoh and requested the release of the Nation, the King of Egypt responded: “Increase the burden of the labour upon the people and let them engage in it, and let them not pay attention to false words.”

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, in his classic work Path of the Just, explains the rational behind Pharaoh’s order. His intention was to not allow the slaves even a moment to contemplate a plan against him; he would remove from their minds any thoughts of rebellion through the sheer power of never ceasing work.† Rabbi Luzzato extrapolates this principle to our daily lives. We are so busy working; we are so caught up with petty concerns; we are so busy replying to emails, WhatsApp messages and Facebook posts that we never actually stop to think. We are enslaved to the little devices in our pockets. Perhaps if we were to stop for even a moment and seriously consider our lives, we might make dramatic far-reaching changes. Many of the decisions we make are done as a matter of course, on ‘auto-pilot’ without giving serious thought to the ramifications or even the choice that is being offered to us. We live in our own ‘personal Egypt’, slaves to our jobs, our devices, and our social commitments.

The Sages demanded that we look at ourselves as if we left Egypt. It’s not an impossible task. We need only to set aside time to think, to evaluate and to improve our lives. That’s when we escape the confines of our personal slavery.

Union of Orthodox Synagogues of South Africa

Published in the PDF edition of the Pesach/April 2022 issue – Click here to get it.

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