We were slaves in Egypt and the Lord freed us with a mighty hand. Had not the Holy One liberated our people from Egypt, then we, our children, and our children's children would still be enslaved.
It once happened that Rabbis Eliezer, Joshua, Elazar ben Azaryah, Akiva and Tarfon were reclining at the seder table in Bnei Brak. They spent the whole night discussing the Exodus until their students came and said to them: "Rabbis, it is time for us to recite the Shema.
Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah said: "I am like a seventy-year old man and I have not succeeded in understanding why the Exodus from Egypt should be mentioned at night, until Ben Zoma explained it by quoting: "In order that you may remember the day you left Egypt all the days of your life." The Torah adds the word "all" to the phrase "the days of your life" to indicate that the nights are meant as well. The sages declare that "the days of your life" means the present world and "all " includes the world to come.
My ancestor was a wandering Aramean, and with just a few people went down to Mitzrayim, and dwelt there, and became a great nation, mighty and numerous.
The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us, and they imposed hard labor upon us.
We cried out to Adonai, the God of our ancestors. And Adonai heard our plea and saw our affliction. Then Adonai took us out of Mitzrayim, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror, and signs and wonders. (Deuteronomy 26:58)
Go and learn how precarious our beginnings were. And all the souls of the line of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah were seventy souls. (Exodus 1:5)
There was famine in the land of Canaan, and we went down to sojourn in Egypt. In gratitude for Joseph’s service, Pharaoh gave us the land of Goshen in which to live and pasture our flocks. We prospered there. We became a great nation, mighty and numerous. (Deuteronomy 26:6)
But Joseph died, and the Pharaoh who knew him. There arose a new Pharaoh in Egypt who did not know Joseph. (Exodus 1:8)
The new Pharaoh feared us because we were numerous and strong, different from the Egyptians, and his fear became hatred. He determined to crush our spirit and to break our backs with hard labor. Therefore they set taskmasters over them, to afflict them with burdens. (Exodus 1:11)
We toiled beneath the Egyptian sun and the whips of the overseers, and we raised great brick cities amid the sands, Pithom, and Ramses. But despite our oppression, we continued to thrive, and Pharaoh turned to murder. He commanded the Egyptian midwives who attended our mothers to kill every male infant they delivered. But even their fear of the might of Pharaoh could not overcome the midwives’ reverence for life. The midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded, but saved the boy-children alive. (Exodus 1:17)
Pharaoh’s thwarted hatred consumed him. He ordered all his people to join against us. Pharaoh charged all his people saying: “Every son that is born you shall throw into the river, and every daughter you still keep alive.” (Exodus 1:22)
Yet again he failed. Pharaoh’s own daughter rebelled at his decree. She opened the ark and beheld an infant boy, and it was crying. And she had compassion upon him, and said: “This must be one of the Hebrew children.” And she saved the child alive. (Exodus 2:6)
We grew up in bondage; we grew old and died as slaves. One Pharaoh died and another took his place, and still our burden grew heavier. We were always hungry; our muscles ached; our bodies stank of mud. Each day we sank deeper into despair. It seemed our slavery would never end. After many days passed, the children of Israel sighed because of their burdens, and they cried, and their cry came up to God, and God heard their groaning, and God remembered the covenant. (Exodus 2: 23-24)
When we had almost forgotten ourselves, God remembered us, and we too began to remember.
Then came days of blood and terror. It seemed as if all creation had turned against the people of Egypt because of the bondage with which they afflicted us. And day by day, the hope of freedom grew, as we realized we lived in the time of redemption. Adonai brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm, with great terror, and with signs and wonders. (Deuteronomy 26:8)
Adonai brought us forth; I and no angel.
Adonai brought us forth; I and no fiery messenger.
Adonai brought us forth; I and no messiah.
Adonai brought us forth; I, Adonai, and no other.
At last came the final, endless night. We splashed our doorposts with lamb’s blood and sat up late at our tables, robed and belted, our staffs at our side, our few possessions bundled at our feet. It was the month of Nisan, and the night air was sweet with spring. We ate in haste. In the hushed night we could hear the beating of our hearts. At midnight, a great cry shattered the silence. At midnight Adonai smote all the first born in the land of Egypt. And Pharaoh rose in the night, he and all his servants, and there was a great cry in the land of Egypt, for there was not a house where there was not one dead. (Exodus 12:29-30)
But our dwellings were spared. In haste we rose from our tables, snatching our possessions, hurrying our children, packing the flat loaves that had not had time to rise. Our kneading troughs on our shoulders, we burst into the night, streaming through the streets of the cities that had been our prisons, through the great avenues we had built with our tears, past the lifeless eyes of the sphinxes and the dead stone of the tombs, and then beyond, out into the wide clean darkness – Free.
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