Guest BloggerRabbi Joel Finkelstein
Shabbat Hagadol 5777: It’s the Relationship
Do you ever feel like the Rasha, that you don’t need to do this whole seder thing again, that you already did it last year or will do it next year. The hagadah asserts that even if we are wise we still have to tell the story of the Exodus. But why? If I already know the story, why do I need to repeat it?
Well, we could answer that although I know the story, I need to tell it to others. But then why if I am alone, do I need to tell it to myself? We could answer that although I may know the story, I can and must always deepen my knowledge of the story. This is what the Rambam says that anyone who lengthens, who draws out the drash parasha zo, the interpretation, the midrash, of this parasha is praiseworthy. We have to come up with new interpretations, new meanings.But in reading the Rambam this year, I noticed something else. I have always wondered, can you fulfill the mitzvah of telling the exodus by simply saying that we went out of Egypt. Ie. is it enough to tell the history of what happened to us and what we did or do we have to say that G-d did it?At first blush you would say, of course you have to mention G-d. If so, the story, the history, the recollections are not just history but a form of praise of G-d. I can praise G-d in many ways but on Pesach the way to praise Him is to tell the story Exodus. From this perspective, if someone opened up a history book and read that the Jews went out of Egypt, it would not be a true hagadah. A true hagadah praises G-d at every turn for his hand in history.However, when we open the Rambam and look at how he formulates the mitzvah to tell the story of Exodus, he hardly mentions G-d. He writes that it is a mitzvah to tell the miracles and wonders that happened to our forefathers in Egypt. So did the Rambam mention G-d? No. But you might say, well, who do you think does miracles if not G-d? Saying that miracles happened to Israel is like saying that G-d did miracles which is praise of G-d.But then we look again at the Rambam and how he describes how to tell the story to the wise and to the child or the fool. To the young child he makes sure to say that the miracles happened by the Holy One blessed be He. Re. the wise son, he again does not mention G-d but rather states that we should tell the story of what happened to our ancestors and the miracles that happened by Moshe Rabbeinu! Not only does the hagadah to the wise son not mention G-d but it mentions Moshe which we otherwise seem to avoid at the Seder.But then we look at it again. Maybe we should translate that we must remember the miracles that were done not to our ancestors but for our ancestors. What is the difference? Telling about the miracles to our forefathers puts the emphasis on the praise of G-d, like the hagadah to the young son. But telling about miracles that G-d did, you know why? The miracles were done for our ancestors. Here the emphasis is on not that G-d did miracles but why he did them. He did them for us.Is the emphasis simply that G-d did miracles, haleluyah! Or that G-d has a special, close relationship, a loving relationship with us? Is Pesach about how great G-d is or about how loving he has been to us?Why will we read Shir Hashirim next Shabbat? The Song of Songs which talks about the love of G-d for the Israelites? Because exodus is not just about wonders and miracles. That’s kids stuff. Exodus is about the love of G-d for his people, for us, the potentially close relationship of us with G-d.The mystics say that we didn’t do much to deserve the exodus. In that sense it was an embarrassment of riches. We did nothing, we were sinners, and G-d saved us. But from another perspective what a love story it was. Although we showed no interest, G-d pursued us, he wanted us.Pesach is the time of Ata bechartanu, the time of G-d’s loving gifting to the Jewish people. And why still celebrate so many years later when we still live in an Egypt of sorts? Because while we may still be in exile, G-d’s chosing of Israel remains forever.Yes, Jews are great at remembering history. We remember the exodus and we tell the story. But that may not be what Pesach is really about, at least if we are truly wise. Pesach is about getting close with G-d, about how much G-d loves us. About answering G-d’s call to come close to him.Is Pesach about how great G-d is, how many miracles he made? Yes, but that is only the simple story line. Underneath, it is much more. It is about how much he loves us and how much he saved us and chose us and betrothed us as a people.As we approach Pesach, let’s not only remember the exodus, which is all very good, but let us remember how much G-d reaches out to us and loves us and in the next days let’s respond to this love, by figuring out how we can respond in kind. Good shabbos and a chag kasher ve’sameach.