Forming A Nation




by: Rabbi Yisroel C. Blumenthal

Content Producer and Lecturer for Jews for Judaism


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 G-d 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 the 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 G-d 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 G-d intervened on our behalf so that we could go free. If that were 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 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 idea that G-d created a nation and took it for Himself. The miraculous haste with which we left Egypt demonstrates G-d’s concern for us after we were freed. The emphasis on the haste highlights that the Exodus is not so much about being in Egypt but is more about where G-d wants us to be now.


The entire Exodus experience was G-d’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 G-d to impact us in a way that enabled us to serve His purpose as a nation before G-d. The miracles of the Exodus also serve the function of impacting us in a particular way so that we could serve as G-d’s witnesses (Exodus 10:2; Deuteronomy 4:34). The entire Exodus story is the story of G-d carefully crafting a nation who would carry His message and a accomplish His purpose throughout history.


The Exodus therefore 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 G-d used to create a unique nation.


This hammer-blow is not limited to the past; it lives on and continues to affect us today. G-d established testimony in Jacob (Psalm 78:5). This means that G-d designed a method of preserving the Exodus experience in such a way that future generations of Jews will continuously be influenced by this foundational event. This method includes the observance of Passover. By telling the Exodus story in the setting that G-d 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 G-d to fulfill His purpose. Our observance of the Passover is the medium through which G-d’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 G-d and to keep His commandments (Psalm 78:7) — this is the calling for which we were created.


References:

“And you shall explain to your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I went free from Egypt.’” (Exodus 13:8)


“You shall not eat anything leavened with it; for seven days thereafter you shall eat unleavened bread, bread of distress — for you departed from the land of Egypt hurriedly — so that you may remember the day of your departure from the land of Egypt as long as you live.” (Deuteronomy 16:3)


“but you the Lord took and brought out of Egypt, that iron blast furnace, to be His very own people, as is now the case.” (Deuteronomy 4:20)


“You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:20)


“You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9)


“The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens, you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I the Lord am your G-d.” (Leviticus 19:34)


“ — you too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:19)


“Bear in mind that you were slaves in the land of Egypt and the Lord your G-d redeemed you; therefore I enjoined this commandment upon you today.” (Deuteronomy 15:15)


“Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and that the Lord your G-d redeemed you from there; therefore do I enjoin you to observe this commandment”……”Always remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore do I enjoin you to observe this commandment.” (Deuteronomy 24:18, 22)


“…and that you may recount in the hearing of your sons and your son’s sons how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I displayed My signs among them — in order that you may know that I am the Lord.” (Exodus 10:2)


“Or has any god ventured to go and take for himself one nation from the midst of another by prodigious acts, by signs and portents, by war, by a mighty and outstretched arm and awesome power, as I the Lord your G-d did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?” (Deuteronomy 4:34)


“He established a decree in Jacob, ordained a teaching in Israel, charging our fathers to make them known to their children, that a future generation might make known — children yet to be born — and in turn tell their children that they might put their confidence in G-d, and not forget G-d’s great deeds, but observe His commandments.” (Psalm 78:5-7)

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