(photo credit: Dina Friedman)
While in the midst of their preparations for the first Passover before the Exodus from Egypt, the Children of Israel are commanded by God to retell the story of their present experience, in the future.
“And you shall tell your children on that day…” (Exodus 13:8)
Based on this commandment, the Haggadah was written, as a guided text for future generations to retell the story of the Exodus. We celebrate Passover by reciting this text at the Passover Seder, a meal with our families, which takes place on the first night of the festival in Israel (and on the first two nights, outside of Israel).
The Haggadah was written to guide the retelling of the Exodus, recalling the birth of the Nation of Israel at the Revelation at Mount Sinai, when the Tablets of the Covenant were given. It also retells of the Passover sacrifice and service in the Holy Temple, which is not done at present, but will be reestablished with the rebuilding of the third and final Holy Temple.
All around Israel for a month before the holiday, like busy bees, Jewish people are in preparation mode. They are cleaning each room of their homes from any crumb of “chametz” (leavening or food mixed with leavening, prohibited on Passover), buying fancy clothing to wear for the holiday and preparing the traditional foods eaten at the Seder and for the entire holiday.
It is rather amazing that an event that happened to people 3,300 years ago has such a profound effect on their descendants today, wherever they may live. In the Haggadah, after the destruction of the second Holy Temple, the rabbis added,
“This year we are here (in the Diaspora), next year may we be in Israel. This year we are slaves, next year may we be free.”
One has to ask, why are Israelis saying this year after year, especially since 1948, when the State of Israel was established? How can a Jewish father in Jerusalem lead his family in saying, “This year we are here, next year may we be in Jerusalem”?
To make matters worse, the Haggadah goes on to say, “This year we are slaves, next year may we be free people”. Where in Israel do we find enslaved Jews that the families should be making this announcement at their Seder table?
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, a past Chief Rabbi of Israel (who at the age of seven was imprisoned in a Nazi slave labor camp), was once approached by a soldier who was troubled by these words being read from the Haggadah.
“Does God want us to lie? I AM in Israel. I AM a free man. Why should I proclaim, ‘This year I am here in the Diaspora, next year may I be in Israel. This year I am a slave, next year may I be a free man’?” the troubled Israeli soldier asked his rabbi.
Rabbi Lau calmed the young soldier by explaining,
“This is the story of our nation! You are misunderstanding the context of the Exodus. It is not the story of millions of individuals. It is the story of a nation.”
Perhaps individuals left Egypt, but at Mount Sinai we received the Tablets of the Covenant as one nation, walked through the Sea of Reeds as a people, entered the Promised Land as one people. Until all the Jewish People are living in Israel, each individual in Israel will recite the verse “This year I am in the Diaspora, next year may I be in the Land of Israel”.
In regard to being a slave, Rabbi Lau explained that although we may not be bound in chains working as slaves for a human master, how can we claim we, as a nation, are free? In our present society, even in the Land of Israel, there are influences pulling at our hearts and minds, keeping us distracted from a life of service to God. We must take an honest look at ourselves and declare,
“This year we are slaves to distractions and addictions to things that keep us from living a life according to the Bible. We pray that by next year at this time, with the coming of the Messiah and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple, we will be truly free.”
May we all be blessed to return to the Holy Land and serve God in the rebuilt Holy Temple.
“Next year in the rebuilt Jerusalem!”
Happy Passover from The Heart of Israel Staff.