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Let my people grow

by Mendel Starkman
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer

The wounded soldier lay restless in his hospital bed. He loved the army. The busy schedule, the action, and the thought that he did more before 7:00 AM than most people do in their entire day beckoned him to the battlefield. True, it was a grueling, exhausting schedule, but he found it fulfilling.

                                                                                                                      

The wounded soldier lay restless in his hospital bed. He loved the army. The busy schedule, the action, and the thought that he did more before 7:00 AM than most people do in their entire day beckoned him to the battlefield. True, it was a grueling, exhausting schedule, but he found it fulfilling. Now he was wounded, stuck in bed and unable to help his country in the way that he so wanted. All he could do was lay here and pray for a speedy recovery, so that he could once again dedicate himself to the protection of his country.

We read in the Passover Haggadah that if Hashem had not freed us from our slavery in Egypt, then we, our children, and our grandchildren would still be enslaved there. The Brisker Rav, one of the greatest Torah scholars of this century, questioned how this could be true. Throughout history, many mighty empires have fallen. Maybe Egypt would have been defeated in a war, and we would have been freed even without Hashem's help! How do we know that three thousand years later we would still be slaves there?

He answers that the Haggadah does not mean that we would still be in physical bondage. Rather, that we would never have progressed from the spiritual level that we were on as slaves. We were freed from Egypt in order to become Hashem's nation. If Hashem had not freed us, then we probably would have been freed by some change in history, but we would never have grown to serve Hashem. We would have remained on the same low spiritual level that we found ourselves when we were enslaved in Egypt, and not we, our children, nor our grandchildren would have been able to fill that void.

Later in the Haggadah we read that in every generation, we must view ourselves as if we were personally redeemed from Egypt. Based on the above explanation, we can understand why it is so important to feel this way. Since the purpose of our exodus was to form us into Hashem's nation, then by feeling that it happened directly to us, we can personally feel ourselves becoming the servants of Hashem. In this way, reading the Haggadah reminds us of the commitment that each of us has to Hashem for freeing us - personally - from Egypt. We must use this feeling to reaffirm that commitment to His Torah and mitzvot.

In this light, the Aruch HaShulchan, a great work of Jewish law compiled at the end of the 19th century, explains why the Haggadah states that even if we were all wise, understanding, or well-versed in the Torah, we would still have a mitzvah to tell about our exodus from Egypt. One might think that a person who already knows the story and already understands its lessons should devote his time to deeper or more practical Torah study on the seder night. But now we see that it is so important - even for the great Torah scholar - to relive the exodus, because the story reminds us why we made a commitment to Hashem and inspires us to reaffirm that commitment.

A theme that recurs throughout the Haggadah is the contrast between servitude and freedom. This contrast takes form in the discussion of our bondage in Egypt, as opposed to the freedom gained in our redemption. It also appears when we discuss the servitude of the exile that we are in now, as opposed to the freedom we will have when Mashiach (the Messiah) comes.

But all of this doesn't seem to make any sense. In the first contrast, it is clear that we were in servitude as Pharaoh's slaves. But when we were redeemed, we became servants to Hashem! So, in truth we were never freed - we continued our servitude, just to a different master! How is this considered freedom? Also, in the second contrast, who says that we're not free now? We are living in America, with all of our constitutional freedoms and inalienable rights! What freedom are we lacking for which we must await Mashiach?

Rabbi Yechezkel Sarna, a leading Torah scholar in this century, explained that the ultimate freedom is to be able to perfect ourselves, purifying our hearts and refining our character traits. We want the freedom to grow spiritually, without any restraints or detractors, but our evil inclination keeps us bound. It constantly influences our judgment, warping our perception and dragging us after our lusts and physical desires. It diverts us from spiritual perfection. This is captivity and we want to be freed.

This answers our questions. In the first contrast, we were in obvious captivity, entirely under Egyptian rulership. Then Hashem freed us, bringing us to physical freedom and giving us the spiritual freedom to grow by following His Torah and mitzvot. In the second contrast, while we may not necessarily view our exile as servitude, it really is. Evil runs rampant, suppressing our freedom to grow. We therefore hope and pray for Mashiach because only when he arrives will the evil inclination lose its monarchy. We will be rescued from this captivity and be given the freedom to grow closer to Hashem without any distractions.

Our handicap is similar to that of the wounded soldier. He wanted so much to return to an unwavering dedication to his military service, but he was injured and had to wait for his wound to heal. In the same way, we want to continually grow to serve Hashem with complete devotion. But we are wounded by the strength of the evil inclination, which pulls us and tricks us, weakening our strides towards this goal.

To combat this, we must internalize the lesson of Passover, realizing that Hashem rescued us - personally - from Egypt. We must dwell on this idea and then reaffirm our original commitment to Hashem's Torah and mitzvot. Instead of mulling our way through the Passover Haggadah as a rerun of an old story, we should look to it and its countless commentaries for new insight and new ways to improve ourselves. By recommitting ourselves to our Divine service and establishing new ways to grow, may we quickly merit the coming of Mashiach, when we will experience an exodus from our inclination's rulership, and be free to grow and serve Hashem without distraction, with utter devotion. In the words of the Haggadah: This year we are slaves, next year may we be free. Next year, may we celebrate Passover in Jerusalem!

Mendel Starkman, a native Atlantan, is studying at the Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim in Forest Hills, New York.

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