When we sit down to the Seder this evening, we will be filled with holiday joy and celebration. We will retell and even relive the miraculous Exodus G-d coordinated for our ancestors beginning with the Ten Plagues and concluding with crossing of the Red Sea. We focus appropriately on G-d and His divine providence bestowed upon Israel at that time. Let’s also examine the state of our ancestors, the Israelites:
א֣וֹ ׀ הֲנִסָּ֣ה אֱלֹים לָ֠ב֠וֹא לָקַ֨חַת ל֣וֹ גוֹי֮ מִקֶּ֣רֶב גּוֹי֒ בְּמַסֹּת֩ בְּאֹתֹ֨ת וּבְמוֹפְתִ֜ים וּבְמִלְחָמָ֗ה וּבְיָ֤ד חֲזָקָה֙ וּבִזְר֣וֹעַ נְטוּיָ֔ה וּבְמוֹרָאִ֖ים גְּדֹלִ֑ים כְּ֠כֹ֠ל אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂ֨ה לָכֶ֜ם יְהֹ֧ה אֱלֹיכֶ֛ם בְּמִצְרַ֖יִם לְעֵינֶֽיךָ׃
Or has any deity ventured to go and take one nation from the midst of another by prodigious acts, by signs and portents, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and awesome power, as your G-d did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?
This verse gives us a hint as to how our ancestors fared in Egypt at the time: one nation from the midst of another. What does this mean?
On a basic level, it means that we were physically entrenched in the land of Egypt with no immediate hope or aspirations to depart until G-d showed the way. Rabbinic literature states that until the Exodus, no slave ever escaped Egyptian servitude.
The Chizkuni, Hezekiah ben Manoah, a French rabbi and Bible commentator of the 13th century, explained that the Israelites had naturally acculturated to their surroundings. Just as the Egyptians worshipped idols, so did the Israelites. What kept the Israelites connected to one another at that time was Jewish names, their Hebrew language and Jewish clothing. Otherwise, they were indistinguishable.
Finally, the Midrashic Yalkut Shimoni states that the Hebrew word קֶּ֣רֶב which is translated as “from the midst”, is compared to a fetus implanted in the womb of its mother. The implication is that removing the Israelites from Egypt was as unlikely as removing a non-completely developed fetus from its mother. The fetus derives life and nutrition from the mother; and removing it forcibly is damaging to the mother, and suddenly creating a new unforeseeable reality for the baby. This was us.
As we drink the wine and eat the ritual Matzoh, Maror, Charoset…let’s remember the incredible divine miracles we witnessed and benefited from, but also recognize the dramatic birth of our nation. In a matter of a day, we advanced from being lowly slaves to a free and chosen nation to receive G-d’s Torah at Mt. Sinai. We reconnected to our past and set a new course for our future.
Passover is what set the course for Jewish history and destiny until today. As we celebrate the great days of Passover let’s not pass over the opportunity to realize and connect to the dramatic birth and growth of our nation that took place on these days.
Chag Kasher Vesomyach,
Community Scholar in Residence