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This is adapted from the Shabbat HaGadol drasha given by Rav Kook in 1901, four years before he moved to Eretz Yisrael.

In the Haggadah we recall, “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Mitzrayim, and Hashem took us out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm.” Rav Kook says that the hand and the arm in this verse represent two different ideas. The outstretched arm is the potential might and the strong hand is the execution of a task. When Hashem uses His outstretched arm to save us, it requires special effort on our part to recognize His work, but when He acts with His strong hand, then everybody feels the impact.


This is why our galut has been so long – because we’ve had to go through every kind of difficulty imaginable until it becomes almost impossible for us to consider how things might be set right again. Then Hashem converts this potential into actuality and overturns all of the negative forces that have been allowed to accumulate over such a long time.

At our Seder we partake of matzah and maror. These correspond to the outstretched arm and the strong hand. The maror signifies the struggle and the suffering we had to endure while the hand of Hashem was outstretched, but the matzah shows how Hashem acted so quickly to redeem us that our bread didn’t even have time to rise.

On Pesach we change our behavior and perform unique rituals because we seek to invoke these redemptive forces from Hashem in our world. By eating the matzah and the maror we call for Hashem to unleash the outstretched arm and the strong hand for us in our time. But the changes themselves, the rituals in their bizarreness and the questions they elicit from the children, testify to our uniqueness as a nation. Avraham wanted to have offspring, and for his offspring to serve Hashem faithfully. But Avraham was concerned that maybe after many generations his children would deviate from the path and abandon their relationship with Hashem. On Pesach we recall how Hashem acted through hidden and revealed miracles to redeem us in consideration of His covenant with Avraham. But we also perform strange deeds that nobody else in the world ever does, to show that we are still faithful to Him.

Hashem took us out of slavery because a slave can never truly give himself over to a higher cause as he is not the owner of the self to give. In order to choose, in order to serve, we must be entirely free. So the freeing us from bondage was a precondition to our ability to dedicate ourselves to receiving and performing the mitzvot of the Torah. The Torah is the revelation of absolute truth, freeing us also from error and confusion and from the depravity of Mitzrayim.

Rav Kook says every true religion must be without deception and without coercion. The spiritual person seeks G-d through a longing to know and feel truth, and any attempt to mislead or compel that individual only separates him further from the transcendence he seeks. Avraham was dedicated to truth, the Torah is the manifestation of truth, and we serve a G-d of whom it is said that His “signet” is truth. We have to be free in order to perform the mitzvot, and we perform them because we are free and because we seek truth. The mitzvot are the highest form of freedom.

This is why the wise son is told all the details and the nuances of the Pesach service. On Pesach we celebrate our freedom, our dedication to the truth, and the love we feel when we serve Hashem and we know that He has accepted our service as true.


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Avraham Levitt is a poet and philosopher living in Philadelphia. He writes chiefly about Jewish art and mysticism. His most recent poem is called “Great Floods Cannot Extinguish the Love.” It can be read at He can be reached by email at [email protected].