Liberty…freedom…independence! These are words that can stir our souls, particularly at Pesach, which is known as “zman cheirusainu – the time of our freedom. However, which freedom are we talking about?
Are we talking about no longer being slaves? That doesn’t seem correct, for the Midrash tells us that physical enslavement ceased when the plagues began. Perhaps the freedom we’re referring to is the actual leaving Mitzrayim. Close, but not quite. On the 15th of Nissan, when we made our first Seder, we were still physically in Egypt; the departure didn’t take place until the next morning.
According to Rav Avraham Grodzinski, zt”l (the last Mashgiach of the famed Slobodka Yeshiva and father-in-law of Rav Shlomo Wolbe, zt”l) in his sefer Toras Avraham, the freedom we’re talking about is of an entirely different dimension. The Mechilta (Parshas Beshalach 14:30) comments on the verse “Has any G-d ever miraculously come to take for Himself a nation amidst another nation?” (Va’eschannan 4:34) that Hashem compares this freedom to the birth of a baby. Bnei Yisroel were at the 49th level of tumah, standing at the threshold of the abyss. If they had remained in Mitzrayim for another few minutes, the nation would have sunk to the 50th level – a point of no return. We were literally amongst them, and so, very similar to the Mitzrim. We needed to be separated to survive as a people. However, there is a much deeper explanation. “A nation from amidst another nation” refers to the birth of a Yisroel, the Jew. From this point forward, a Jew would be an entirely different species than the rest of mankind.
“I am Hashem, your G-d, Who has taken you out of the land of Egypt” (Parshas Yisro 20:2). All the commentaries ask why Hashem focuses on the Exodus as opposed to saying, “I am Hashem who created the entire world.” With our new understanding of “cheirus – freedom,” the answer is clear. When Hashem took Bnei Yisroel out of Mitzrayim, there was a new creation. In fact, there were now two creations. First, there was the physical creation of the world that took place long before. Second, there was the creation of the Jew. From after the sin of Adam until Yitziyas Mitzraim, there were a few individuals who raised themselves above their generation to get close to Hashem. Now, Hashem created an entire nation whose starting point was a tremendous connection to Him.
How was this new creation achieved? In the Haggadah we quote the pasuk, “Hashem took us out of Egypt … U’vmaoraah Gedolah – great awesomeness.” The Baal Haggadah says the great awesomeness was Gilui Shechina - a revelation of Hashem.
How was it possible that Bnei Yisroel saw Hashem and did not die? Is it possible for a mere mortal to see G-d? We should have died instantaneously! Yet, we didn’t and this is precisely the proof that Hashem changed our makeup, making us into beings that could see a revelation of Hashem without dying. And how did Hashem make this new creature? By revealing Himself. The revelation is what created the Jew and is the proof that there was a new creation. This is the definition of a Jew – “a being (an entire nation) that can experience a revelation of Hashem.”
Perhaps, we can better understand why “Hashem took Bnei Yisroel out of Mitzrayim personally and not through an angel, Seraph or messenger rather Hashem’s presence itself.” Hashem interacts with us differently…. for we are different than other creatures.
This is demonstrated by non-Jews who decide to convert. Why should anyone convert to Judaism? After all, everyone has a place in the World to Come (Gemara Sanhedrin 105a). We know that every human is commanded to keep the seven Noahide laws. A Jew, however, has 613 mitzvos, in addition to many other warnings, violations and prohibitions. It’s obviously easier to adhere to seven commandments perfectly than to 613. Why risk converting and messing up? The reason is clear: the convert recognizes that a Jew is a different entity. To be part of this new category, to have a soul of a Jew, is worth the risk.
Pesach… zman cheirusainu… the time of our freedom, the foundation of our faith was a time of this new creation, of our birth. The foundation of our relationship with Hashem, our Creator, now takes us to an entirely new dimension. We are a nation whose whole existence is founded on the ability to experience a revelation of Hashem.
This is what it means to be a Jew.
Yet today – in 2014 – how does that translate into something practical in our lives?
I would postulate that the very first step to success is coming to terms with our unique qualities and sense of destiny. If we feel in our bones that we can experience Hashem, we will have a solid ground to move on. Still, all privileges come with responsibilities. As we experience Hashem, we are the perfect Divine ambassadors. We, Klal Yisroel, represent Hashem in this world. Hopefully, we will remember to carefully scrutinize all our actions and dealings and be worthy of the awesome role we have been given.
About the Author: Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is Associate Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Passaic Torah Institute, Passaic, NJ.
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