Dealing with Adversity – Pesach Thoughts

In the Haggadah shel Pesach, the narra­tive of Yetzias Mitzrayim follows the formula of “Mas’chil b’genus u’mesayem b’shvach — We start with the disgraceful part and conclude with our praise,” based on the Gemara in Pesa­chim 116a. The Gemara debates how this is done. Rav holds that the disgrace refers to “Mit’chilah ovdei avodah zara hayu avoseinu — Initially, our ancestors were idolaters,” while Shmuel posits it means “Avadim hayinu l’Pharaoh b’Mitzrayim — We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt.” Rav’s perspective is spiritually oriented — the dis­graceful part implies our forebears’ idolatry and the praise is coming close to serving Hashem — while Shmuel’s is a physical one — leaving abject slavery and attaining our salvation. In practice, the Haggadah contains both options.

On a simple level, the message is that by recalling our discreditable origins, we can better appreciate a meritorious outcome — we can rel­ish our freedom so much more when contrasted with the suffering of old. We may have plummet­ed but we can pick ourselves up and reach for the stars. Bnei Yisrael went “mei’afeilah l’ohr gadol — from darkness to great light” and “mishibud l’geulah, from bondage to redemption” — and made it to Har Sinai to accept the Torah. We can aim for a similar trajectory — whether in shed­ding undesirable middos and attitudes or coun­terproductive conduct. We can break free from our darkness and shibud and achieve liberation and success if we strive mightily and daven for Hashem’s help.

These words contain a mighty message of hope. Bnei Yisrael endured many decades of slav­ery and lowliness and yet, a mere seven weeks after being granted their freedom, they merited to become Hashem’s Chosen People at Har Sinai and accept the Torah,

There are people in our times who experi­enced such a metamorphosis.

Rabbi Uri Zohar, zt”l, was Israel’s leading actor and producer in the 1960s and 1970s. He had what some would consider a “dream life.” He resided in a mansion on the Mediterranean Sea and traveled worldwide, visiting leading celeb­rities. Yet, he shocked the world when he aban­doned this supposedly ideal existence and began to immerse himself in Torah in a yeshivah. He not only developed into a first-rate talmid cha­cham, he utilized his talents to bring many unaf­filiated Jews into the fold of Yiddishkeit. He was mechazek young people who were observant from birth and had left the Torah path. He became a spokesman for Lev L’Achim, giving drashos about teshuvah in Eretz Yisrael and elsewhere,

Rav Uri was especially suited for this charge since he understood firsthand what it meant to live “in the dark,” as it were — without ruch­niyus and reach the pinnacle of secular success. Since he completely transformed himself in committing to a life of Torah, yiras Shamayim and middos tovos, he understood the challenges inherent in doing so — starting in a mode of dis­honor and concluding with distinction, as the Haggadah states.

Many of us have walked a path of “dishonor to distinction” and the lesson resonates with us. Others have not. Whatever our situation is, it has a purpose even though we crave the seem­ingly have-it-all circumstances we see in other people’s lives. Of course, we don’t see the entire picture that conceals the undesirable side of their matzav.


The word “Mitzrayim” — Egypt — means “boundaries.” When Hashem redeemed us from Mitzrayim, it was from a quintessential place of limitations. Pharaoh was a merciless and hard­ened despot. Mitzrayim was an austere land from which slaves couldn’t escape and had been subjected to backbreaking labor. And yet, in this land, we developed as a nation. We witnessed Hashem’s deliverance via His “outstretched arm,” the Ten Plagues and other wondrous nissim. Experiencing these phenomena pre­pared our people to receive the Torah.

When we struggle to transcend the limita­tions in our daily lives and are frustrated at the lack of progress, many of us tend to avoid tak­ing accountability. We blame our parents, our spouse, our neighbors — basically anyone we can find. However, change starts with us, not anyone else. Of course, it is helpful to be in an environ­ment with stimulating and supportive people but at the end of the day, growth and achievement come from our own honest efforts and ultimately, the orchestration of the Ribbono shel Olam, and our acceptance of the role He assigns to us in the in the greater scheme of things.

Harav Henoch Leibowitz, zt”l, Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim, was once asked how he was able to respond to the thousands of people who came to him for guidance. He answered that all problems can be traced to a lack of humility or bitachon, and in fact, he said, a lack of humility is essentially a lack of bitachon.

The challenge, he said, is to determine how a person’s problem can be traced to these imper­fections. By working to rectify these shortcom­ings, one is on the way to resolving the issues from which they stemmed and achieving peace of mind and true success.

Rabbi Yosef Gesser is a longtime writer for Hamodia Newspaper as well as an inspirational speaker on various topics, including dealing with adversity. He can be reached at

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