This is not your normal dinner-time conversation, either in terms of subject matter or expectations. But this is a conversation we must have, at least once in a while. That being said, we should choose the right circumstance in which to have it. And in the car on the way to soccer practice is not the right time or place.
But with matzah and maror in front of us, everyone is in the mood. We have to grab this opportunity to speak deeply about our goals and limitations, our anxieties and talents and expectations. Tonight is a great chance to move forward, stimulated visually by matzah and maror and in so many other ways, and there is simply no limit to what we can accomplish and in what realm we may work. Let us be sure we are using this precious time, with matzah and maror before us, to take substantial steps on our journey.
Particularly matzah and maror . This is not a night of illusions, of reckless fantasy. No, we have both in front of us. The matzah , bread of dreams and faith, proof of Hashem's love of us and willingness to express that love, and the maror , testament to the difficulty and bitterness involved in bringing our dreams to fruition. Tonight we have no illusions. We acknowledge how hard it will be. And with that in mind, we dig deeper into our conversation.
Before you read the next paragraph, look around again. Look at the matzah and maror . Open up your sense of smell. Listen to the sound of people reading, pages turning, children playing. Breathe in the feeling of Seder night.
יָכוֹל מֵרֹאשׁ חֹדֶשׁ, תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא. אִי בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא יָכוֹל מִבְּעוֹד יוֹם, תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר בַּעֲבוּר זֶה. בַּעֲבוּר זֶה לֹא אָמַרְתִּי אֶלָּא בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁיֵשׁ מַצָּה וּמָרוֹר מֻנָּחִים לְפָנֶיךָ::
One might think that [the discussion of the exodus] must be from the first of the month.
The Torah therefore says, `On that day.' `On that day,' however, could mean while it is yet daytime; the Torah therefore says, `It is because of this.' The expression `because of this' can only be said when matzah and maror are placed before you.
From shame to pride
Be encouraged! From wherever you are now you can reach your loftiest goals. After all, the Pesach story begins with shame: 'Our ancestors were idol worshipers.' Before Avraham, we cannot say that our lineage was anything special per se. But in a short period of time they became prime candidates for manifesting the Divine in the world.
Don't be afraid to admit where you are holding stuck right now. It is a necessary first step on the long journey to freedom.
מִתְּחִלָּה עוֹבְדֵי עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה הָיוּ אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, וְעַכְשָׁיו קֵרְבָנוּ הַמָּקוֹם לַעֲבוֹדָתוֹ. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר, וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוֹשֻׁעַ אֶל כָּל הָעָם כֹּה אָמַר יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּעֵבֶר הַנָּהָר יָשְׁבוּ אֲבוֹתֵיכֶם מֵעוֹלָם תֶּרַח אֲבִי אַבְרָהָם וַאֲבִי נָחוֹר וַיַּעַבְדוּ אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים:
In the beginning our fathers served idols; but now the Omnipresent One has brought us close to His service, as it is said: "Joshua said to all the people: Thus said Hashem, the G-d of Israel, `Your fathers used to live on the other side of the river - Terach, the father of Abraham and the father of Nachor, and they served other gods.
Raw deal, huh? Eisav gets a nice piece of land, and we get to go down to Egypt! It would have been nice, in some way, to get the white picket fence and the station wagon, but Hashem was giving us an opportunity to deepen.
The journey to Egypt proved to be absolutely essential in the process of reaching real freedom. And the key ingredient of our sojourn in Egypt was the invitation to develop emunah. Emunah would ultimately serve to help us navigate the most difficult periods in our individual and collective lives, and it is a skill we learned in Egypt. It kept us alive and real when the overwhelming gravity was toward despair. So our time to Egypt would ultimately serve us more than a picket fence. It would prepare us for the eventuality of our picket fence being picked up by a tornado and carried far away, allowing us to keep a smile on our face as we go to the lumber yard to get some more wood to rebuild.
Are you jealous of someone else's life? Jealousy is an oppressive slavery. How can you shift perspective?
וָאֶקַּח אֶת אֲבִיכֶם אֶת אַבְרָהָם מֵעֵבֶר הַנָּהָר וָאוֹלֵךְ אוֹתוֹ בְּכָל אֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן וָאַרְבֶּה אֶת זַרְעוֹ וָאֶתֵּן לוֹ אֶת יִצְחָק, וָאֶתֵּן לְיִצְחָק אֶת יַעֲקֹב וְאֶת עֵשָׂו, וָאֶתֵּן לְעֵשָׂו אֶת הַר שֵׂעִיר לָרֶשֶׁת אוֹתוֹ, וְיַעֲקֹב וּבָנָיו יָרְדוּ מִצְרָיִם:
"And I took your father Abraham from beyond the river, and I led him throughout the whole land of Canaan. I increased his seed and gave him Isaac, and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. To Esau I gave Mount Seir to possess it, and Jacob and his sons went down to Egypt."
בָּרוּךְ שׁוֹמֵר הַבְטָחָתוֹ לְיִשְׂרָאֵל, בָּרוּךְ הוּא, שֶׁהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא חִשַּׁב אֶת הַקֵּץ לַעֲשֹוֹת. כְּמָה שֶׁאָמַר לְאַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ בִּבְרִית בֵּין הַבְּתָרִים. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר, וַיֹּאמֶר לְאַבְרָם יָדֹעַ תֵּדַע כִּי גֵר יִהְיֶה זַרְעֲךָ בְּאֶרֶץ לֹא לָהֶם וַעֲבָדוּם וְעִנּוּ אֹתָם אַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה. וְגַם אֶת הַגּוֹי אֲשֶׁר יַעֲבֹדוּ דָּן אָנֹכִי וְאַחֲרֵי כֵן יֵצְאוּ בִּרְכוּשׁ גָּדוֹל:
( the wine cup is now raised and the Matzot are covered)
וְהִיא שֶׁעָמְדָה לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ וְלָנוּ. שֶׁלֹּא אֶחָד בִּלְבָד עָמַד עָלֵינוּ לְכַלּוֹתֵנוּ אֶלָּא שֶׁבְּכָל דּוֹר וָדוֹר עוֹמְדִים עָלֵינוּ לְכַלּוֹתֵנוּ, וְהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מַצִּילֵנוּ מִיָּדָם:
Blessed is He who keeps His promise to Israel, blessed be He! For the Holy One, blessed be He, calculated the end [of the bondage], in order to do as He had said to our father
Abraham at the "Covenant between the Portions," as it is said: "And He said to Abraham, `You shall know that your seed will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they will enslave them and make them suffer, for four hundred years. But I shall also judge the nation whom they shall serve, and after that they will come out with great wealth.'"
( the wine cup is now raised and the Matzot are covered)
This is what has stood by our fathers and us! For not just one alone has risen against us to destroy us, but in every generation they rise against us to destroy us; and the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hand!
Put down the wine cup and uncover the matzah . This next section is a stream of images from the Exodus text with some insights from our sages. Each one of them offers an opportunity to contemplate, to share, and to pray. There are no rules for how this section is supposed to look, so be creative!
Death of the spirit
Pharaoh tried to kill the male children, but Ya'akov's uncle Lavan tried to kill all of us, as it says 'An Aramean tried to do away with my forefather (Ya'akov).' And yet we find no record that Lavan tried to kill Ya'akov. What's the story?
Lavan never tried to harm Ya'akov's body─but he did try to kill his spirit. We are told that Lavan tricked Ya'akov 100 times. We also see plainly that Lavan's attacks on Ya'akov's morale and confidence were severe. He worked tirelessly to make Ya'akov doubt himself and his self-worth.
Had he succeeded, Ya'akov might have given up. He might have just bought a house in the 'burbs. Praise to G-d that Ya'akov's spirit was stronger than Lavan's assault. In parallel to our own descent into Egypt, Ya'akov turned Lavan's attacks into a source of strength, finding spirit and identity in the midst of the battle. And in so doing, Ya'akov guaranteed that we, his great-great-grandchildren, would be able to find and take care of ourselves amidst the noise and confusion of life in the 21st century melting pot.
צֵא וּלְמַד מַה בִּקֵּשׁ לָבָן הָאֲרַמִּי לַעֲשֹוֹת לְיַעֲקֹב אָבִינוּ. שֶׁפַּרְעֹה לֹא גָזַר אֶלָּא עַל הַזְּכָרִים וְלָבָן בִּקֵּשׁ לַעֲקוֹר אֶת הַכֹּל. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר:
אֲרַמִּי אֹבֵד אָבִי וַיֵּרֶד מִצְרַיְמָה וַיָּגָר שָׁם בִּמְתֵי מְעָט, וַיְהִי שָׁם לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל עָצוּם וָרָב:
Go and learn what Lavan the Aramean wanted to do to our father Ya'akov. Pharaoh had issued a decree against the male children only, but Lavan wanted to uproot everyone - as
it is said: "The Aramean wished to destroy my father; and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation - great and mighty and numerous."
Will and won't
It is hard to say that Hashem 'wants' us to go through the pain of personal exile, but we can certainly say it usually happens because it must, by force of our personalities. For example, the rabbis trace the Egyptian exile to Avraham questioning Hashem's promise of the land of Israel: 'How shall I know that I will really inherit it?' Hashem responds, 'You shall surely know, for your children will be slaves in a land that is not theirs.' Avraham in a sense 'caused' the exile through his apparently legitimate question.
Should Avraham not have said that? Should he have restrained himself? Impossible. That comment was a perfect reflection of who Avraham was at that time. He had no choice but to say it. And Hashem had no choice (so to speak) but to provide the Egyptian exile as a way to work through that flaw─that lack of complete faith─in the character of Avraham and his descendants.
Our falls are a direct result of our flaws. But they are also a gift─a way to work through the results of our flaws in a direct and lasting way. Our falls are moments when the results of our flaws are merely drawn out. But they are already there. The Egyptian exile was already there in Avraham, just by dint of his lack of total faith. His lack of faith was already an exile. And Hashem gave him the gift of seeing it, feeling it and experiencing it in such a real way that he was compelled─through his descendants─to work through it until it was completely gone.
Can you connect the hardships in your life to your flaws? Can you see them as an opportunity to work through those flaws?
וַיֵּרֶד מִצְרַיְמָה אָנוּס עַל פִּי הַדִּבּוּר:
"And he went down to Egypt" forced by Divine decree.
Just as it is impossible for the soul to be permanently mired in Egypt, our journeys away from authenticity and maximization of potential are only temporary. Though we may feel lost, out of touch, and too far gone─and we may look at others as being equally unredeemable, there is simply no such category. The Jewish soul cannot be extinguished. So understand that it does not matter where you have fallen to. Regardless of how estranged you may feel from Hashem or Torah or soul or identity, there is always a way back, because the connection to the Source is a part of the very fabric of your existence.
Tonight is the best night to get back on track because tonight is Pesach──'skipping'. It is written that on Pesach we can 'skip' right back into the groove, easily overcoming intellectual, emotional and spiritual obstacles that would ordinarily stop the process before it began. Tonight we are free of the constraints of cause and effect and sequence. Tonight we are free to choose where and what and how we want to be, and to start being it.
וַיָגָר שָׁם, מְלַמֵּד שֶׁלֹּא יָרַד יַעֲקֹב אָבִינוּ לְהִשְׁתַּקֵּעַ בְּמִצְרַיִם אֶלָּא לָגוּר שָׁם. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר, וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֶל פַּרְעֹה לָגוּר בָּאָרֶץ בָּאנוּ כִּי אֵין
מִרְעֶה לַצֹּאן אֲשֶׁר לַעֲבָדֶיךָ כִּי כָבֵד הָרָעָב בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן,
וְעַתָּה יֵשְׁבוּ נָא עֲבָדֶיךָ בְּאֶרֶץ גֹּשֶׁן:
"And he sojourned there" - this teaches that our father Jacob did not go down to Egypt to settle, but only to live there temporarily. Thus it is said, "They said to Pharaoh, We have come to sojourn in the land, for there is no pasture for your servants' flocks because the hunger is severe in the land of Canaan; and now, please, let your servants dwell in the land of Goshen."
A small seed and a big tree
We went to Egypt as 70 souls, and left numbering 600,000 men between 20 and 60, not to mention women and children. And these are only the one out of five Israelites that left. And that is a generous opinion – some say only one out of 500 left. Those 70 souls were a seed, containing the precise spiritual-genetic information of what would become the Jewish people.
And we each have a seed of those 70 inside of us, as Rebbe Nachman writes. That seed cannot be broken, but it must be watered in order to grow to its full strength. Let us not ever doubt that such a seed lies within us. As R' Shlomo of Radomsk writes, a seed properly planted and maintained will grow. Inevitably.
The soul in us – a manifestation of the 70 - may be small in power compared to the other powers and voices that crowd our minds and hearts. When the courtroom of decision is in session, the soul's voice is quiet and easily ignored. But the small seed of Israel planted in Egypt grew to be so vast that it burst open the womb that held it. So it is for us─one day, if we nourish this seed, it will grow to the point where it will take us over.
בִּמְתֵי מְעָט, כְּמָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר, בְּשִׁבְעִים נֶפֶשׁ יָרְדוּ אֲבוֹתֶיךָ מִצְרָיְמָה וְעַתָּה שָׂמְךָ יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ כְּכוֹכְבֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם לָרוֹב:
"Few in number" as it is said: "Your fathers went down to Egypt with seventy persons, and now, Hashem, your G-d, has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven."
A diamond, unmistakably
But that seed of soul, quiet as it is, is unmistakable in its power and worth. When this voice speaks in us it resonates with ageless wisdom, balance, and foresight. Its voice expresses who we are more accurately than any other within us. To find it is to find ourselves.
וַיְהִי שָׁם לְגוֹי, מְלַמֵּד שֶׁהָיוּ יִשְׂרָאֵל מְצֻיָּנִים שָׁם
"And he became there a nation" this teaches that Israel was distinctive there.
See how your soul thrives with even a bit of attention! One session of arm curls or shoulder presses will not make you strong. But sit and learn Torah for half an hour and your soul will breathe deeply, shedding years of neglect in an instant. A person hears an inspirational class or has a deep conversation, and suddenly she wants to turn her whole life over. This beanstalk grows quickly, all the way up to heaven.
גָּדוֹל עָצוּם, כְּמָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר, וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל פָּרוּ
וַיִּשְׁרְצוּ וַיִּרְבּוּ וַיַּעַצְמוּ בִּמְאֹד מְאֹד וַתִּמָּלֵא הָאָרֶץ אֹתֵם
"Great, mighty," as it is said: "And the children of Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly, and multiplied and became very, very mighty, and the land became filled with them."
My, how you've grown!
See how your soul wants to grow! See how it fights to reach the surface of your life, to take over your conscious faculties, your body and mind and heart. 'You shall live, in your blood!' Her efforts are not in vain. She will not be suppressed.
R’ Kook writes of two ways to help something grow. One way is by making space so that it may grow. The other is by pushing back, giving strong resistance so that its strength will build, like a spring. Then, when the pressure is released (or broken) it will grow with unstoppable force.
This next verse speaks of this unstoppable growth like grass of the field, growing, multiplying, and then reaching for the crown that is rightfully hers. R’ Kook describes 'the passion of this nation for its wondrous and powerful goal, with a holy fire that burns in the heart of every Jew, even when it does not know its nature and its particular character.' And even though she is naked, says R’ Kook, of actions that reflect this ultimate goal, still this is only an external lacking. The clothes she needs to reflect that inner beauty will be had soon enough. But know clearly that her yearning to grow, and the certainty that she will succeed, are undeniable.
Can you feel that fire that Rav Kook is talking about? What would you have to do to cultivate it?
וָרָב, כְּמָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר, רְבָבָה כְּצֶמַח הַשָּׂדֶה נְתַתִּיךְ וַתִּרְבִּי וַתִּגְדְּלִי וַתָּבֹאִי בַּעֲדִי עֲדָיִים שָׁדַיִם
נָכֹנוּ וּשְׂעָרֵךְ צִמֵּחַ וְאַתְּ עֵרֹם וְעֶרְיָה:
וָאֶעֱבוֹר עָלַיִךְ וָאֶרְאֵךְ מִתְבּוֹסֶסֶת בְּדָמָיִךְ וָאֹמַר לָךְ בְּדָמַיִךְ חֲיִי וָאֹמַר לָךְ בְּדָמַיִךְ חֲיִי
"And numerous," as it is said: "I caused you to thrive like the plants of the field, and you increased and grew and became very beautiful, your bosom fashioned and your hair grown long,
but you were naked and bare. I passed over you and saw you wallowing in your bloods, and I said to you `By your blood you shall live,' and I said to you `By your blood you shall live!'
How did the Egyptians deal with us in an 'evil way', as the Torah says? By assuming they knew what we would do: 'If there should be a war, they will join our enemies.' As R’ Kook said, 'They considered us to be bad people.' It is ironic, considering how we are commanded throughout the Torah to be kind to the Egyptians because they 'hosted us' for so long.
The greatest violence we can do to our soul is to 'consider ourselves bad.' This is also the greatest violence we can do to each other─to somehow assume that another person is 'rotten to the core'. Impossible! That person's soul is perfectly good and yearning to be free just like mine is.
וַיָּרֵעוּ אֹתָנוּ הַמִּצְרִים, כְּמָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר, הָבָה נִתְחַכְּמָה לוֹ פֶּן יִרְבֶּה וְהָיָה כִּי תִקְרֶאנָה מִלְחָמָה וְנוֹסַף גַּם הוּא עַל שֹוֹנְאֵינוּ וְנִלְחַם בָּנוּ וְעָלָה מִן הָאָרֶץ:
"The Egyptians treated us badly," as it is said: Come, let us act cunningly with [the people] lest they multiply and, if there should be a war against us, they will join our enemies,
fight against us and leave the land."
Affliction by distraction
The soul wants to do its work. It wants opportunities to connect─through mitzvah and Torah, and also through music and love and relationship. It wants opportunities to express its uniqueness and power. It is a horrible affliction, then, to make the soul use its power for vain projects like building the cities of Pitom and Raamses. How much time do you spend on the projects and pursuits that mean the most to you? What prevents you from allocating time according to your real priorities?
וַיְעַנּוּנוּ כְּמָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר וַיָּשִׂימוּ עָלָיו שָׂרֵי מִסִּים לְמַעַן עַנּוֹתוֹ בְּסִבְלוֹתָם וַיִּבֶן עָרֵי מִסְכְּנוֹת לְפַרְעֹה אֶת פִּתֹם וְאֶת רַעַמְסֵס
"And they made us suffer," as it is said: "They set taskmasters over [the people of Israel] to make them suffer with their burdens, and they built storage cities for Pharaoh, Pitom and Ramses."
Hard work - inner clarificaiton
We are told that the Egyptians worked us ' be-fa'rech ' - interpreted by the rabbis as 'soft (rach) mouth (peh)'. In short, we were seduced into working, slowly and deliberately. At first, the Egyptians were kind, offering us an opportunity to make some extra cash. Eventually, we were completely enslaved.
How difficult it is to navigate sweet words with a bitter core! It is far easier when the enemy is clear. But when we have to decide, to choose between our urge to offer a hand and our need to protect ourselves, we often do not know how to respond.
Ambiguity tests us to the core. We are told that the yetzer harah (our bad inclination) works in the same way: it seduces us with something appealing, only slightly off track from where we thought we should be, and lays breadcrumbs down a path from which it is difficult to return. But it is hard to make decisions in ambiguous situations, particularly if you are trusting and naive. If, for example, you are someone who keeps Shabbat according to halacha, and you are presented with a family celebration that is on Shabbat but too far to walk, it is a very difficult decision to make. After all, it is family, and Cousin Joey's Bar Mitzvah only happens once, and it is just this one time, and what will the family say, etc.
Too hard to figure out. This is peh rach, the soft mouth, seducing us away from our clear purpose until we are suddenly miles away.
וַיִּתְּנוּ עָלֵינוּ עֲבוֹדָה קָשָׁה, כְּמָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר, וַיַּעֲבִדוּ מִצְרַיִם אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּפָרֶךְ
"And they put hard work upon us," as it is said:
"The Egyptians made the children of Israel work with rigor.
The only way out
There is only one way out of such situations─to cry out to the Creator with all your might! When you are confused, do not assume that you should be able to figure it out yourself. Some questions are simply too difficult. Call out to the Maker! Say 'I am confused! I have no idea what to do! I do not even know who I am anymore!' This is the beginning of the connection that leads to redemption.
Leader: Possible Discussion: Do we see prayer as playing a real role in moving forward? What is prayer? Is it mean to change our mind, or G-d's mind? How and how often do we pray?
וַנִּצְעַק אֶל יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, כְּמָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר, וַיְהִי בַיָּמִים הָרַבִּים הָהֵם וַיָּמָת מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם וַיֵאָנְחוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מִן הָעֲבֹדָה וַיִּזְעָקוּ, וַתַּעַל שַׁוְעָתָם אֶל הָאֱלֹהִים מִן הָעֲבֹדָה:
"And we cried out to Hashem, the G-d of our fathers," as it is said: "During that long period, the king of Egypt died; and the children of Israel groaned because of the servitude, and they cried out. And their cry for help from their servitude rose up to G-d."
An ancient practice
When we pray, we tap into an ancient ancestral practice, one instituted by our ancestors ages ago. When we pray, then, Hashem hears not just our own prayers but the entire legacy of prayer. The merit of Avraham, Yitzhak and Ya'akov come to our aid.
On this night, several thousand years ago, Ya'akov stood in a tent, wearing his brother's robes, with goat skin on his arms and neck, and he offered his father food to eat. Yitzhak his father was confused: 'The voice is the voice of Ya'akov, but the hands are the hands of Eisav.'
The rabbis hear in this comment many levels of depth. At the center is the association of Ya'akov and his future children with voice. 'Ya'akov's is the voice'. That night─this night─we were given the mandate of prayer as sustenance. Or, as Rebbe Nachman reads the line from Psalm 42, 'Prayer to G-d is my life.'
Call out, tonight, and let the merit of our ancestors all the way back to Avraham carry our prayer to the highest heights. Call out about your ambiguities, your lack of clarity. Can't do it? Then cry out about that.
וַיִּשְׁמַע יְהֹוָה אֶת קֹלֵנוּ, כְּמָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר, וַיִּשְׁמַע אֱלֹהִים אֶת נַאֲקָתָם וַיִזְכֹּר אֱלֹהִים אֶת בְּרִיתוֹ אֶת אַבְרָהָם אֶת יִצְחָק וְאֶת יַעֲקֹב::
"And Hashem heard our voice" as it said: "And G-d heard their groaning, and G-d
remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."
As Hashem hears our faint prayers, He hears to the depths of our problems and struggles. He sees the core of what prevents us from manifesting our full power in the world. And at the center of our struggle is that many of us are alone. Even some of us who are married are alone.
A partner gives us context, a sense of place. A partner helps turn our raw material into something useful and positive. A partner makes us feel the value of what we have to offer. A partner can serve as a midwife of sorts to help us be born again, and yet again, greater and greater.
Hashem sees that we are alone, that we need support. This is something only Hashem can see clearly. It is something we might not even share with ourselves. Now is the time to pray for anyone you know who is still looking for his or her soul-mate -and also to pray for the husbands and wives who live in the same home but do not yet share a place in each other's hearts.
Leader: Possible sensitive discussion topic, with the right crowd: Does your committed relationship make you feel more free? Has it redefined freedom for you? Why do some people end up feeling stuck in relationship?
וַיַּרְא אֶת עָנְיֵנוּ, זוֹ פְּרִישׁוּת דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ. כְּמָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר
וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיֵּדַע אֱלֹהִים
"And he saw our suffering," this refers to the separation of husband and wife, as it is said: "G-d saw the children of Israel and G-d took note."
Hashem sees our struggles─not just how they affect us, but how they affect our children. Mitzrayim, the Hebrew name for Egypt, in its root means tzar, narrow or constricted. Unless something dramatic happens, we will most likely pass our unhealthy and unnecessary constrictions, our Mitzrayim, onto our children. For the sake of our children, Hashem, free us from our bondage. Free us so that our children can be free to unlock their own potentials without having to work through our blocks.
This is the time to cry out about your children, about all the children you know, about the next generation, about Jewish education, about assimilation and intermarriage, about being good parents, about raising our kids to be mensches. And if you know someone who has not succeeded in having kids, or who is struggling to raise them, or whose children are sick G-d forbid, this is the time to pray for them.
Leader: Discussion Topic: Are our children more free than we are? Is that freedom true freedom? Are we Pharaohs to our children? What would it mean to truly free our children?
וְאֶת עֲמָלֵנוּ, אֵלּוּ הַבָּנִים. כְּמָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר
כָּל הַבֵּן הַיִּלוֹד הַיְאֹרָה תַּשְׁלִיכוּהוּ וְכָל הַבַּת תְּחַיּוּן:
"Our labor," this refers to the "children," as it is said: "Every boy that is born,
you shall throw into the river and every girl you shall keep alive."
Many of us cannot achieve the equilibrium we need in order to make good decisions. We are constantly fighting against time, forced to work ourselves beyond our abilities, forced to take on tasks we cannot handle, and forced to maintain relationships without necessary resources.
This is the time to cry out about the stresses of the world that prevent you from fully manifesting your potential. This is the time to cry out about the job that makes you feel like a slave, or the pressure that makes you act or speak before you are ready.
וְאֶת לַחֲצֵנוּ, זוֹ הַדְּחַק. כְּמָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר, וְגַם רָאִיתִי אֶת הַלַּחַץ אֲשֶׁר מִצְרַיִם לוֹחֲצִים אוֹתָם
"And our oppression," this refers to the pressure, as it is said: "I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them."
We are all in need of soul-enhancement surgery. This is the most delicate surgery there is, and it requires the best doctor. For this reason, Hashem Himself, so to speak, has to do it. We need Hashem to take us out of the Egyptian labyrinth.
Like any delicate surgery, the exact balance must be struck–removing what must be removed, leaving what must be left, re-routing what must be rerouted, with just the right amount of anesthesia. It is a delicate process to disarm our defenses in exactly the right way, to reconstruct our ego enough to bring change─but not so much that we lose our personality in the process. Only Hashem knows just how much inspiration, frustration, hope, realism, community, individuality, faith, doubt, joy, questions, answers, intellect, emotion, fatigue, and energy to give us in order to get us started on the process of redemption.
וַיּוֹצִאֵנוּ יְהֹוָה מִמִּצְרַיִם בְּיָד חֲזָקָה וּבִזְרֹעַ נְטוּיָה וּבְמֹרָא גָּדוֹל וּבְאֹתוֹת וּבְמֹפְתִים:
וַיּוֹצִאֵנוּ יְהֹוָה מִמִּצְרַיִם, לֹא עַל יְדֵי מַלְאָךְ וְלֹא עַל יְדֵי שָׂרָף וְלֹא עַל יְדֵי שָׁלִיחַ. אֶלָּא הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא בִּכְבוֹדוֹ וּבְעַצְמוֹ. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר, וְעָבַרְתִּי בְאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם בַּלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה וְהִכֵּיתִי כָל בְּכוֹר בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מֵאָדָם וְעַד בְּהֵמָה וּבְכָל אֱלֹהֵי מִצְרַיִם אֶעֱשֶׂה שְׁפָטִים אֲנִי יְהֹוָה:
וְעָבַרְתִּי בְאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם בַּלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה, אֲנִי וְלֹא מַלְאָךְ. וְהִכֵּיתִי כָל בְּכוֹר בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם אֲנִי וְלֹא שָׂרָף. וּבְכָל אֱלֹהֵי מִצְרַיִם אֱעֶשֶׂה שְׁפָטִים אֲנִי וְלֹא הַשָּׁלִיחַ. אֲנִי יְהֹוָה, אֲנִי הוּא וְלֹא אַחֵר: בְּיָד חֲזָקָה, זוֹ הַדֶּבֶר. כְּמָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר, הִנֵּה יַד יְהֹוָה הוֹיָה בְּמִקְנְךָ אֲשֶׁר בַּשָּׂדֶה בַּסּוּסִים בַּחֲמוֹרִים בַּגְּמַלִּים בַּבָּקָר וּבַצֹּאן דֶּבֶר כָּבֵד מְאֹד:
וּבִזְרֹעַ נְטוּיָה, זוֹ הַחֶרֶב. כְּמָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר, וְחַרְבּוֹ שְׁלוּפָה בְּיָדוֹ נְטוּיָה עַל יְרוּשָׁלָיִם:
"Hashem took as out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
and with a great manifestation, and with signs and wonders."
"Hashem took us out of Egypt," not through an angel, not through a seraph and not
through a messenger. The Holy One, blessed be He, did it in His glory by Himself!
Thus it is said: "In that night I will pass through the land of Egypt, and I will smite every first-born in the land of Egypt, from man to beast, and I will carry out judgments against all the gods of Egypt, I Hashem." "I will pass through the land of Egypt," I and not an angel; "And I will smite
every first-born in the land of Egypt," I and not a seraph;
"And I will carry out judgments against all the gods of Egypt," I and not a messenger;
"I- Hashem," it is I, and none other! "With a strong hand," this refers to the dever (pestilence) as it is said: "Behold, the hand of Hashem will be upon your livestock in the field, upon the horses, the donkeys, the camels, the herds and the flocks, a very severe pestilence."
"And with an outstretched arm," this refers to the sword, as it is said: "His sword was drawn, in his hand, stretched out over Jerusalem."
Two ways to bring change
The Malbim writes that the plague of the first born happened through the Divine Presence revealing itself in its glory. The light was so intense that those who could not absorb it were shattered by it.
The same is true in trying to move our lives forward -sometimes this happens through analysis, hard work, breaking open, and criticism. And another way is through a revelation of light, joy, love, connection, hope, possibility, and future. We are hoping that, tonight, Hashem will show us just who we are and what we are capable of, and that that revelation will break through our walls─with love.
וּבְמוֹרָא גָּדוֹל, זוֹ גִּלּוּי שְׁכִינָה. כְּמָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר, אוֹ הֲנִסָּה אֱלֹהִים לָבֹא לָקַחַת לוֹ גּוֹי מִקֶּרֶב גּוֹי בְּמַסּוֹת בְּאֹתֹת וּבְמוֹפְתִים וּבְמִלְחָמָה וּבְיָד חֲזָקָה וּבִזְרוֹעַ נְטוּיָה וּבְמוֹרָאִים גְּדוֹלִים כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה לָכֶם יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם בְּמִצְרַיִם לְעֵינֶיךָ:
וּבְאֹתוֹת, זֶה הַמַּטֶּה. כְּמָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר, וְאֶת הַמַּטֶּה הַזֶּה תִּקַּח בְּיָדֶךָ אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲשֶׂה בּוֹ אֶת הָאֹתֹת: וּבְמוֹפְתִים זֶה הַדָּם. כְּמָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר. וְנָתַתִּי מוֹפְתִים בַּשָּׁמַיִם וּבָאָרֶץ:
"And with a great manifestation," this refers to the revelation of the Shechinah (Divine Presence), as it is said: "Has any G-d ever tried to take for himself a nation from the midst of another nation, with trials, signs and wonders, with war and with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, and with great manifestations, like all that Hashem your G-d,
did for you in Egypt before your eyes!"
"And with signs," this refers to the staff, as it is said:
"Take into your hand this staff with which you shall perform the signs."
"And wonders," this refers to the blood, as it is said:
"And I shall show wonders in heaven and on earth.
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