In Each and Every Generation

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Erev Pesach 5782

Rabbi Meir Sendor

The approach to Pesach this year finds the world, the State of Israel and the Jewish people at-large in crisis upon crisis. The horrific war in the Ukraine, the malevolent activities of Iran and its proxies, the wave of terrorism in Israel and attacks against Jews in the United States and Europe — violence and oppression continue to spread around the planet. Foolish, short-sighted political wrangling in Israel that has thrown the government into paralysis and disarray while the world burns doesn’t help matters. Yet it’s just this condition of crisis upon crisis that Pesach comes to address.

Rabbi Aharon ben Yaakov haKohen in his Orhot Hayyim asks why the Mishnah and Gemara Pesachim (116a) insist that the mitzvah of telling the story of the Exodus from Egypt must begin by recounting our state of disgrace and distress, and only afterwards praise our redemption. He refers to the passage in the Haggadah that cites the covenant in which HaShem warns Avraham Avinu that his descendants will be slaves in Egypt, but God will judge their oppressors and redeem them. Why was this warning necessary? If this distress was destined by God for some purpose, it was inevitable and there was nothing to be done to avoid it, so why trouble Avraham with this information?

Rabbi Aharon answers that the Haggadah itself gives the reason in the next section, commenting: “And this is what has stood for our ancestors and for us – that it was not just one enemy who arose against us to destroy us, but in each and every generation they arise against us to destroy us, and the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hand.” There’s always one crisis or another in this world, caused by people of violence and oppression seeking to impose their will on others, making trouble for Israel and for all humanity. We hope that progress is possible, that humanity will eventually learn to grow up and grow out of these destructive attitudes and behaviors. But through this process, as anxious and bleak as things seem, we have a promise from HaShem that He is looking after us. This divine providential care doesn’t mean we will all, always be saved in this world, as the Shoah and the many persecutions we have suffered have shown. But we are looked after by God, in this troubled world and in every world – God works with a vast canvas. This reassurance, to Avraham and to us, gives us inner strength and clarity of mind and purpose to persevere. This, according to Rabbi Aharon ben Yaakov haKohen, is why telling the story of the Exodus must begin in distress – to recognize the ever-relevant message of Pesach that speaks to us in every challenge of our lives. This fulfills one of the key purposes of the mitzvah to tell the story of the Exodus, as the Hagaddah itself states: “in each and every generation a person is obligated to seem themselves as if they came forth from Egypt.” This is really true, and this never-ending story grants us hope and strength to face and deal effectively with our own crises with the confidence that HaShem is with us, guiding each and every one of us, guiding us all towards the ultimate redemption.

May we all share a joyful, meaningful, redemptive Pesach together!

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