“Therefore we are obligated to give thanks…to the One Who performed all these miracles for our forefathers and for us. He took us out from slavery to freedom…and from servitude to redemption.” – Haggadah shel Pesach
What is the meaning of the Haggadah’s apparent repetition in the phrases “from slavery to freedom” and “from servitude to redemption”?
In what way is geulah, “redemption,” different from cheirus, “freedom”?
How were we in danger of being enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt for all generations, despite the fact that his rule eventually ended?
One of the saddest and most tragic things to witness is the terrible long-term impact that being or having been in an abusive relationship has on a person. Even after the relationship has been severed and the abuse has ended, the scars remain. There are countless stories of individuals who sustain the most horrible forms of abuse for years and decades – and when good people step in and try to extricate them from that abuse, they can’t leave. Even when a victim somehow does manage to extricate him- or herself from the abusive relationship, he or she often will enter another abusive relationship.
This is one of the most heartbreaking aspects of abuse – when the psyches of victims become so scarred from repeated abuse that not only do they not run away from it, they actually return to it.
There is an apparent redundancy that begs explanation in the above-cited passage from the Haggadah. The two phrases we have quoted, “from slavery to freedom” and “from servitude to redemption” appear to have the same meaning; both seem to be referring to the fact that Hashem freed us from slavery to the Egyptians and granted us eternal freedom. Why does the Haggadah use two phrases that mean the same thing?
(It should be noted that the Vilna Gaon states in his commentary on the Haggadah that the term “servitude” in the second phrase refers to the era of the Shoftim [i.e., after the time of Moshe Rabbeinu, before there were kings in Israel], when the Jewish people were repeatedly subjugated by other nations in their own Land, and the “redemption” is a reference to the era of the rule of Dovid and Shlomo, when the Jews dwelled securely in Eretz Yisrael and were not under the sovereignty of any foreign nations.)
Further, the Haggadah’s very statement that Hashem “took us out…from servitude to redemption” seems to be incongruously worded. We can understand what the Haggadah means when it says Hashem took us out “from slavery to freedom,” as the word “freedom” denotes the state of a person who is free. The word “redemption,” however, does not refer to a state but rather to an event; the moment of liberation can be called “redemption,” but the state in which a person exists after he is freed cannot be termed “redemption.” How, then, are we to understand the meaning of this phrase?
We Would Have Been Enslaved…Forever
Let us turn our attention to another puzzling statement the Haggadah makes, this one in the very beginning of the Maggid section: “Had the Holy One, Blessed is He, not taken our forefathers out of Egypt, then we, our sons and our sons’ sons would have been enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt.”
What is the reasoning behind this statement? Does the Haggadah mean to suggest that the Egyptian monarchy would have remained in power throughout world history? Many empires have risen and fallen over the course of generations, including that of Pharaoh in Egypt. Isn’t it reasonable to assume that Pharaoh’s dynasty would have fallen out of power at some point, even if the Jews had not been redeemed?
In fact, Abudraham (Seder Hahaggadah Upeirushah) quotes Machzor Vitri, which asserts that the text of the Haggadah should actually read, “Then we, our sons and our sons’ sons would have been enslaved in Egypt,” omitting the words “to Pharaoh.” Abudraham agrees with this position and explains that Pharaoh had already died by the time the Haggadah was written, and even though the word “Pharaoh” was once used as the general term for every king of Egypt, by the time the Haggadah was written it was no longer in use.
According to this version of the text, our difficulty can be resolved by explaining that the Haggadah simply means we would have been enslaved in Egypt in every generation, to whichever power was ruling the country at the time. Our version of the Haggadah, however, is cited by the geonim (Seder Rav Amram Gaon), Rambam (Hilchos Chametz Umatzah, nusach haHaggadah), and the version of Machzor Vitri that we possess (sec. 97). According to all these authorities, our question applies – and in fact, Abudraham’s assertion that Pharaoh’s dynasty had ended by the time the Haggadah was written only makes the question more powerful. See Maaseh Nissim on the Haggadah (by the author of Nesivos Hamishpat) for a lengthy discussion of this issue.
Perhaps we can answer this question by introducing a new understanding of the nature of the Jews’ servitude in Egypt. Halacha defines two different types of slaves mentioned in the Torah: an eved Ivri, a Jewish slave, and an eved Canaani, a non-Jew who is acquired by a Jewish person to be a slave. The essence of an eved Ivri is not affected by the fact that he is a slave; he is required to work for his master but remains intrinsically the same person he was before his enslavement. His “slavery” does not define his essence. It is his way of paying off a debt.
An eved Canaani, on the other hand, becomes so deeply enmeshed in slavery that he is intrinsically considered to have lost the status of an independent being. Proof of this can be found in the Gemara (Pesachim 88b). The Gemara rules that anything an eved Canaani acquires belongs to his master. Another proof is that the halacha also states that if an eved Canaani sells an object or gives it away as a gift, his master has the power to decide whether or not the transaction is valid; if the master wishes the transaction to take effect, then it does, but if he wishes to cancel it, it is considered null and void (Rambam, Hilchos Mechirah 30:2). In fact, even if someone injures an eved Canaani, the payments the assailant is required to make are given to the master, as per the Gemara (Gittin 12b).
Moreover, an eved Canaani of a kohen is permitted to eat terumah (Vayikra 22:11 and Toras Kohanim, ibid. ch. 5). Usually only immediate family members of a kohen are allowed to eat terumah. Even the daughter of a kohen who has married a non-kohen cannot eat terumah because she is not considered part of her father’s family anymore. Nevertheless the eved Canaani of a kohen is permitted to eat terumah.
The reason for all these laws is that the very essence of an eved Canaani is considered to be subjugated to his master. The eved Canaani is viewed as an extension of his master; he lacks any independent power or significance of his own.
We suggest the Jews’ subjugation to the Egyptians was similar to the enslavement of an eved Canaani, and in fact it was far more profound. Not only were the Jewish people forced to engage in backbreaking menial labor in Egypt, but we find their spirits and souls were also crushed by the servitude, as they sank to the depths of the spiritual impurity of Egypt and became corrupted by Egyptian society and religion. They were in essence Egyptian slaves who had become the Egyptians’ possessions. Their identity as Jews has been lost.
This complete, crushing enslavement was planned by the Egyptians. It was with this objective that they subjected Bnei Yisrael to backbreaking labor that did not even have a purpose, as Chazal infer from the names of the cities the Jews built, Pitom and Ramses. The Gemara (Sotah 11a) explains the significance of these names: “Pitom” alludes to the fact that the pi tehom, the “mouth of the abyss” (i.e., the earth), would open up and swallow whatever they built, and “Ramses” is an abbreviation for the Hebrew phrase rishon rishon misroses, which means that everything they built would immediately collapse.
The clear implication is that the Egyptians forced the Jews to toil over the cities purely for the sake of making them work; the slave labor brought no actual benefit to the Egyptians, since nothing the Jews built was lasting. The Jews were thus forced to engage in work whose entire purpose was to make them do the bidding of their Egyptian overlords. The Egyptians’ intent was to cause them to feel like slaves, to be completely subjugated in an emotional and spiritual as well as a physical sense.
A present-day analogy to this state of mind is the mentality of a person who is locked into an abusive relationship. As we noted above, psychologists tell us that those who are victims of an abusive relationship often become so battered and scarred that they cannot leave the relationship. They may conceptually know it is bad for them, but they are so broken and shattered that they remain completely subjugated to the abuser. They can’t leave. Even when they do leave or are otherwise released from that relationship they still cannot free themselves from the “abused” mindset.
Similarly, the enslavement in Mitzrayim was the classical abusive relationship. Bnei Yisrael had been so broken that even when the servitude ended the scars of the enslavement still remained and they couldn’t see themselves as free people; they couldn’t leave. Even if they left in a physical sense, they would still remain emotionally subjugated to their Egyptian masters; they might have left Mitzrayim but Mitzrayim would never have left them.
Perhaps this is the meaning of the Haggadah’s definitive statement that had Hashem not taken us out of Egypt we would still be “enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt” even now. Even if Pharaoh’s rule had eventually ended and we would have been physically liberated from servitude, our inner essence would have remained subjugated to the wickedness of the Egyptians.
We had become so corrupted by the spiritual and emotional servitude the Egyptians forced on our ancestors that we would have been akin to a victim of an abusive relationship who remains a psychological prisoner to the abuser, even long after the abuser is removed from the scene.
Recognizing the Duality
We can now understand the apparent redundancy in the Haggadah we pointed to at the beginning of this essay. When Hashem liberated us from Egypt we actually experienced two distinct redemptions – a redemption of the body and a redemption of the soul. We had been enslaved to the Egyptians in both a physical and a spiritual sense, and Hashem liberated us from both forms of servitude. We therefore give thanks to Hashem for having brought us from “slavery” of the body to “freedom,” as well as from “servitude” of the soul to “redemption.”
We can identify the same duality in the conclusion of this passage of thanksgiving. The berachah at the end of the Maggid section of the Haggadah states, “And we will thank You with a new song for our redemption [geulaseinu] and for the deliverance of our souls [pedus nafsheinu].” Here too, we can explain that the Haggadah is referring to two distinct redemptions and that the term “our redemption” denotes physical liberation while the term “the deliverance of our souls” refers to freedom from spiritual enslavement.
With this idea that the exodus from Egypt was not merely a physical liberation but a liberation of the Jewish spirit from the clutches of the vice-grip of the Egyptian mindset, we can also resolve the difficulty we raised regarding the phrase “from servitude to redemption.”
The term “redemption” seems to imply that Hashem brought us into some sort of ongoing process of release from servitude, and in light of our explanation of this phrase as a reference to our spiritual redemption, this was indeed the case. While we were freed from physical slavery the instant we left Egypt, our liberation from the spiritual control of the Egyptians – from the ravages of more than 200 years of the worst possible abuse – took place over the course of time.
After the Jewish people left Egypt, they spent a period of forty-nine days emerging from the forty-nine “gates” of impurity and concurrently entering the forty-nine “gates” of holiness, until they were ready to receive the Torah on Har Sinai at the conclusion of this process. Thus, it is accurate to say we were taken out of the spiritual enslavement of Egypt into a process of geulah, which began with the moment of Yetzias Mitzrayim but was fully completed only seven weeks later, with the Revelation at Sinai.
May we speedily merit the ultimate redemption when both our body and soul will be freed from the shackles of this long galus, with the building of the Beis HaMikdash and the arrival of Mashiach when we will once again merit partaking of the Korban Pesach and serving Hashem as truly free men.Rav Dovid Hofstedter
About the Author: Rav Dovid Hofstedter is the author of the Dorash Dovid sefarim on the Torah and Moadim and the founder and nasi of Dirshu, a worldwide Torah movement whose raison d’être is accountability in Torah learning among all segments of Klal Yisrael, impacting more than 100,000 participants since its inception 19 years ago.
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.
If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.