In the section of מַעֲשֶׂה בְּרַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר, we see five great sages ardently discussing the Exodus from Egypt all through the night. Their students come rushing in and tell them that it is time for the morning Shema. Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaryah states that he still does not understand after 70 years why they mention the Exodus at night. Ben Zoma explains 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. We all have heard this story in the past as it is a part of the Hagadah. The real question is: Why? Why, in the midst of the Seder, do we mention these Rabbis sharing the Exodus story? Why is it so important to us? Rabbi Uri Pillichowski gave me his insight on this part of the Hagadah. Rabbi Pillichowski explained that the essence of this excerpt about the Rabbis is mentioned in order to fully understand the laws regarding the Seder and the spirit we must portray towards it. These five great sages stayed up all night with enthusiasm and discussed the Exodus with passion. Up until we mention מַעֲשֶׂה בְּרַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר during the Seder, it is more about the process, the four children, the washing, etc. When we reach this point we are reminded and in a way commanded to have a certain spirit on this night because this night is different from the rest as we commemorate the most notable event in Jewish history.
I formulated a deeper reason as to why we mention this short anecdote… After speaking to other Rabbis and looking into the facts of this story, I concluded that the purpose of it is to show us that even the wisest, brightest, and greatest of Jews took part in sharing the Exodus all night. Therefore, we must try to emulate their behavior and take part in sharing the crucial event that is the reason why we are all here today.
The other intention of including this story in the Hagadah is to show us that even the noble priests take part in sharing the Exodus. All five of the Rabbis who took part in this Seder were Levites or converts, thus coming from families who weren’t slaves in Egypt. This message is a deep one. Usually, when a historical event does not pertain to a certain group of people, they abstain from the festivities that commemorate the event. But, during Pesach, even the greatest Sages whose families weren’t enslaved, are enthusiastic year in and year out to discuss all night at the Seder and wrap themselves into the feasting and jubilation of Pesach.
All in all, we learn from our Rabbis who were involved in this story, to engage and immerse ourselves into the Seder with passion. There is no doubt that this night is different from the rest. Pesach is what keeps the Jewish world together. Sephardic, Ashkenaz, Orthodox, Reformed, and Conservative Jews gather around to enjoy and commemorate the most important event in our history. It is vital to always remember the Exodus, pass down the traditions of Pesach, and keep them alive for many years to come as all the generations before us have done for us. That is the true meaning of Pesach: keeping the eternal connection and neverending communication of the Exodus that continues to be passed from generation to generation. Indeed Mark Twain praised us stating, “The Jew saw them all, survived them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities, of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert but aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jews; all other forces pass, but he remains.”
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