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How To Celebrate

The History of Passover

Thoughts & Essays


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Part 4

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Text of the Passover Haggadah

 Part 3 Short Essays

Part 4

The Birthday of a Nation

The Holiday of Pesach which commemorates the liberation of the Jewish people from Egypt has often been referred to as the birthday of the Jewish nation.

The prophet Yechezkel expressed this analogy quite graphically: "And as for your birth, on the day you were born...."

Rashi explains that because the Exodus was seen as the birth of the Jewish people the prophet speaks metaphorically of the Exodus in the terms of a newborn baby (See Yechezkel 16:4ff).

Changed Forever

Remember this day, on which you went out from Egypt
(Ex. 13:3)

Why is the Exodus from Egypt so central to Judaism, considering that the Jewish people were later subjugated to other nations at other times in history? The answer is that the Exodus forever changed the nature of the Jew's soul. By virtue of the Exodus, every Jew became "free" on the ultimate, objective level, making it impossible to enslave his essence.

(The Maharal of Prague)

"Next Year in Jerusalem!"

Commenting on the closing prayer of the Pesach Seder, "Next year in Jerusalem!", the Rebbe Rayatz once said: "One doesn't have to wait until next year. Rather, the Redemption is already brought into being immediately at the conclusion of the Seder. Then, as a matter of course, next year will be in Jerusalem.

Likkutei Sichos, Vol. II, p. 453

Elijah's Cup

The custom of filling a goblet of wine for the Prophet Eliyahu at the Seder night on Pesach is not mentioned in the Gemara nor in the Rishonim, (the early medieval halachic authorities).

Its earliest source is in the writings of the Acharonim, (the authorities of the sixteenth century and later). Why is this so?

This custom is an expression of the Jewish people's belief in the coming of Mashiach and in the coming of Eliyahu, who will herald the imminent Redemption. The nearer we approach the time of the Redemption, the more keenly is this faithful anticipation felt in the heart of every Jew.

This is why the above custom came to light and became widespread in recent generations, even though we do not find tangible evidence of it in earlier days.

The Frog in the Oven

The river will swarm with frogs. They will come up and enter your home, your bedroom, and your bed... your ovens and your kneading bowls
Exodus 7:28

The Talmud relates that when Chananiah, Mishael and Azariah (three Jewish officers in the court of Babylonian emperor, Nebuchadnezzar) faced the choice to either bow before an idolatrous image or be thrown into a fiery furnace, they took their lesson from the frogs which plagued Egypt in Moses' time. If the frogs entered the ovens of Egypt to carry out the will of G-d, they reasoned, we, certainly, should be willing to sacrifice ourselves for our Creator.

To the Jew, self-sacrifice is more than the willingness to die for his beliefs it is the way in which he lives for them. It is the willingness to give up his very self his most basic wants, desires and aspirations for the sake of his relationship with G-d. Indeed, the Hebrew term for self-sacrifice, mesirat nefesh, means both the giving of life as well as the giving of will.

Thus, the lesson of self-sacrifice is derived from a frog a cold-blooded creature who enters a burning oven. The ultimate test of faith goes beyond the issue of physical life and death; it is the willingness to go against the grain of one's nature for the sake of a higher truth.

Based on an address by the Rebbe, Shabbat Va'eira 5718 (1958)
 Part 3 Short Essays

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