The Passover Haggadah
Passover Haggadah with translation and a new commentary based on Talmudic, Midrashic, and Rabbinic sources
Edited by Rabbi Joseph Elias
Mesorah Publications, New York
... I am HASHEM and I will take you out from beneath the burdens of Egypt... and I will take you for Me for a people, and I will be God for you (Shemos 6:6-7)
Our attention is drawn to yet another unique feature of the Seder: the duty to narrate about the Exodus must follow the form of question and answer, wherever feasible between child and father (If your son will ask you tomorrow, 'What is this?', you shall say to him . ..[Shemos 13:14)). We can well understand the requirement that questions be formulated: after all, only he who is truly bothered by a question will be interested in the answer. But why within the family, rather than in a public forum? And why between father and son?
Of course, celebrating the Seder in the family circle is itself a reliving of the Egyptian experience when the Jews gathered in their homes, around a lamb for each family, a lamb for each house(Shemos 12:3). In this very mode of celebration lay a demonstration of their new freedom. As slaves they had been unable to live a normal family life - what a change, then, when they were able to congregate in their homes whilst, outside, judgment was done on the Egyptians! Even more, the father-son relationship does not exist in slavery - a slave's children legally are not his own. Thus, families sitting together, and fathers passing on to sons the heritage of their people, is in itself a proud demonstration of freedom (Chochmah Im Nachalah).
But there is more than this. That the Jew is charged to tell his children about the redemption is because the Exodus has a meaning for the Jewish people, beyond its message to the rest of the world. (That may be why a non-Jew is forbidden to partake of the Pesach sacrifice.) The deliverance from Egypt marks our miraculous emergence as a nation, linked by a special bond to God, charged by Him with special duties, and blessed by Him with indestructibility. Just as God created a fully formed world at the beginning of days, so He created His people: not through natural evolutionary processes in the normal manner of nations, but in defiance of all rules of nature and principles of history (Maharal).
One nation was to be introduced into the ranks of the nations which, in its life and fate, should demonstrate that God is the entire foundation of life: that the fulfillment of His will is the only goal of life; and that the expression of His will, the Torah, is the only unifying bond of this nation. Therefore a nation was needed that lacked everything upon which the rest of mankind built its greatness ... Everything was taken from Jacob's family that makes a people into a people or even man into a man - land, dignity, freedom - in order to receive it all through the Exodus newly from His hands Himself (Rabbi S.R. Hirsch).
Pesach marks our national birthday. This helps explain why the Jewish people is instructed to count its months and begin its festival cycle from Nissan. It also explains the difference between the observance of Pesach and of later crucial and miraculous happenings in Jewish history. On no other occasion are we specifically commanded to recount miracles. No other day in our calendar, no other law in the Torah, brings with it provisions as stringent as Pesach, when forbidden items, such as Chametz, may not even remain in our possession. Pesach represents the actual birth and creation of our people; therefore, according to Rambam, we derive the laws of conversion to Judaism from the events of Pesach, for it was then that we became Jews. Such initiation requires that the meaning of events must be made absolutely clear, and that not even the slightest impurity (represented by Chametz) can be tolerated.
With the Exodus marking the creation of the Jewish people and Pesach its birthday, the Seder night is the national night of Judaism, an affirmation of national continuity - which has its natural roots in the family. Hence the gathering of each family in Egypt; hence the fact that Jews were always counted in family groups, and hence, too, the gathering by families on Seder night when, every year anew, a father has to speak to his children, to make them fully aware of their beginnings and to add them as new links to the unbroken chain of our national tradition. The child is made to experience the happenings of Pesach in stark immediacy - for in retelling what has been passed down through the generations, the father is no purveyor of a legend, but the witness to historical truth and national experience. He does not speak to his children as an individual, weak and mortal, but as a representative of the nation, demanding from them the loyalty to be expected ... (Isaac Breuer).
He is called upon to make them sense the special nature of the Jewish people as a Divine creation and as a nation with characteristics peculiarly its own. Like all that God has directly created, we enjoy indestructibility. From the moment we came into existence we have defied the forces of normalcy, represented by the nations of the world; thereby we provoke their hostility - but we forever outlast them: In every generation a man must see himself as if he himself had gone out of Egypt and therefore in every generation they rise against us to destroy us -but God saves us from their hand (Rabbi Avrohom Wolf).