Pesach was more than a Seder (or two), family time, an opportunity to learn a little more. It was a reset button, a chance to climb out of the rut of routine. In reliving Yetzias Mitzrayim and internalizing its message, we realigned our relationship with Hashem — not just in terms of the past, but from this day forward.
For starters, says the Ramban, the wonders and miracles that made it possible for a nation of slaves to walk out on their powerful masters in broad daylight were a display of hashgachah. Their purpose? Lemaan teida ki ani Hashem b’kerev ha’aretz — so that you will know that I am Hashem in the midst of the land” (Shemos 8:18). Contrary to those who would say that Hashem created the world and then withdrew to deal with “more important” other-worldly matters, He is down here, “in the midst of the land,” involved in every aspect of our lives.
And for whom did Hashem choose to make this singular display of hashgachah? For us, to take us out of slavery.
And because these kinds of open wonders and miracles do not happen in every generation, it is our job to make them come alive for our children. A child need not witness an event to know that it is true. If his father says so, and he got it from his father, down the line, then it is true.
But it is no less important to make these miracles come alive for ourselves, every single day. That is perhaps why yetzias Mitzrayim is mentioned 90 times in the Torah, features so prominently in our davening and our bentching, on our doorposts and in numerous mitzvos.
The Ramban says that the purpose of mitzvos, all mitzvos, is to demonstrate our belief in Hashem and to acknowledge that He is our Creator.
Take our shuls, for instance, where we’ve spent more time than usual in the past week or so. Their purpose, says the Ramban, is “that people will have a place to gather and thank Hashem for creating them and publicize this and state before Him, ‘We are Your creatures.’”
If we are not careful, we can turn our shuls into places of rivalry, of lashon hara, of disrespect for Rabbanim. But if we push the reset button, if we remind ourselves that a shul is a “place to gather and thank Hashem,” then shul-going takes on an entirely different dimension, where anything remotely resembling divisive, hurtful behavior would be clearly out of place.
The Seforno, in this week’s parashah, Kedoshim, comments on the passuk, “Es Shabsosai tishmoru u’mikdashi tira’u — My Shabbasos shall you observe and My Sanctuary shall you revere” (Vayikra 19:30). He says that it is telling us that we must show reverence not just to the Beis Hamikdash, but to “any place that is sanctified for Torah, tefillah and avodah.”
Yetzias Mitzrayim is likewise a reset button when it comes to how we relate to our material possessions. In Devarim, the Torah warns us not to get carried away with our military and economic prowess. There is concern, which unfortunately is borne out, that once we conquer Eretz Yisrael we will take all the credit for ourselves and assume a “kochi v’otzem yadi” posture.
What is the antidote for this kind of conceit, which distances us from Hashem precisely at a time when feelings of gratitude should bring us closer? “Vezacharta es Hashem Elokecha ki Hu Hanosen lecha ko’ach la’asos chayil — then you shall remember Hashem, your G-d: that it was He Who gave you strength to make wealth…” (Devarim 8:18).
The Ramban explains that the minute we begin patting ourselves on the back for our military successes, we must remember that Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim, when we were utterly powerless, with no army and no weapons. So by what right can we take credit for victory on any other battlefield?
Similarly, when it comes to our financial successes, we need to remember that our ability to put a roof over our heads in the desert and to feed our families had nothing to do with our business acumen or investment smarts.
Parashas Kedoshim is replete with mitzvos that require financial integrity: not to withhold an employee’s wages, not to deceive customers with loaded weights, not to deny the poor the corner of the field that is supposed to be left for them, not to eat the produce of our fields for the three-year orlah period, and then to eat it in Yerushalayim in the fourth year.
Without the message of Yetzias Mitzrayim, the temptation to violate these commandments is great. With a proper perspective of where our wealth comes from, and what we are in this world to do, these mitzvos become the golden opportunities that they genuinely are.
We are surrounded by reminders of Yetzias Mitzrayim, but Pesach gave us a chance to relive it, to feel the hashgachah that continues to form our lives, to renew the awareness that geulah can come — for us as a people and as individuals — in a moment, and to recognize the depth of the love Hashem shows us and inspire us to try and reciprocate.
May we all be blessed with a good and healthy summer.