Forming a Nation
Exodus 13:8, Psalm 78:5
The exodus from Egypt was a foundational event in the history of our nation and the retelling of the story is an important aspect of preserving our heritage as Jews. On the first night of Passover, Jewish people around the world join together in a family setting and retell the story of the exodus. But the exodus is more than just a story from the past, the exodus is a living implement in the hand of God that serves to create a nation for Himself year after year.
The wording that the Torah uses to teach us to retell the story to our children does not directly indicate that the story ought to be told on the first night of Passover. By tying the retelling of the story to the special observances of Passover (Exodus 13:8) we are given to understand that the recounting of the exodus to our children ought to be done together with the observance of Passover.
One of the key observances is the eating of Matzah; the unleavened bread. The Torah teaches that this bread is to remind us that we left Egypt in a hurry (Deuteronomy 16:3). Why is the haste with which God took us out of slavery such an integral part of the story? Why is there such an emphasis on this seemingly peripheral aspect of the redemption from slavery?
The haste with which we left Egypt casts the entire exodus in a different light. It is easy to look at the exodus as a nullification of something evil. We were enslaved, and God intervened on our behalf so that we could go free. If that was the entire thrust of the exodus there would be no point in focusing on how quickly we left Egypt. The emphasis would be on the fact that Pharaoh and the Egyptians no longer enslaved us. Where we went and how we went after we obtained our freedom would be irrelevant. But the exodus is not just the nullification of something evil; it is the creation of something holy. The key of the exodus is not so much that Pharaoh is no longer enslaving us, but rather the focus is the idea that God created a nation and took them for Himself. The miraculous haste with which we left Egypt demonstrates God’s concern for us after we were freed. The emphasis on the haste highlights that the exodus is not so much about not being in Egypt, but it is more about where God wants us to be now.
The entire exodus experience was God’s way of crafting and designing a nation for Himself. The slavery itself is described as a formative experience for Israel (Deuteronomy 4:20). The Torah consistently reminds us of the slavery experience to encourage us to empathize with the weaker people in society (Exodus 22:20; 23:9; Leviticus 19:34; Deuteronomy 10:19; 15:15; 24:18, 22). In other words; the slavery experience was designed by God to impact us in a way that we could then serve His purpose as a nation before God. The miracles of the exodus also serve the function of impacting us in a particular way so that we could serve as God’s witnesses (Exodus 10:2; Deuteronomy 4:34). The entire exodus story is the story of God carefully crafting a nation who would carry His message and accomplish His purpose throughout history.
The exodus is not just a story, it is an experience that ought to change the way we live our lives. The exodus from Egypt is one of the hammer-blows that God used to create a unique nation.
This hammer-blow is not limited to the past, it lives on and it continues to impact us today. God established testimony in Jacob (Psalm 78:5). This means that God designed a method of preserving the exodus experience in a way that future generations of Jews will continuously be impacted by this foundational event. This method includes the observances of Passover. By telling the exodus story in the setting that God designed for this retelling of the story – the observance of Passover – the story becomes alive. We are able to touch the exodus and the exodus experience continues to touch us.
When we sit around the table with our families on the first night of Passover we should realize that we are being equipped by our God so that we could fulfill His purpose. Our observance of the Passover is the medium through which God’s testimony is passed from generation to generation – so that the last generation will know. As the Psalmist puts it; our responsibility is to put our trust in God and to keep His commandments (78:7) – this is the calling for which we were created.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal