“And you shall tell your child on that day saying, ‘It is because of this that the Lord did (all these miracles) when I left Egypt.’” – Shmot 13:8
This line in the Torah speaks to the commandment of relaying the story of the Exodus from Egypt to your children. It is a difficult mitzvah to fulfil because: a) we must have a clear understanding of how the children at the table learn, listen closely to their questions and you articulate the story well; b) we have an obligation to know the story well, which means we need to do our readings and have a precise knowledge of what we learn from our ancestors fleeing the Pharaoh through the hand of God; c) we tell the story in the first person (“It is because of this that the Lord did (all these miracles) when I left Egypt”), which means we must see ourselves as being part of the Exodus.
The first two requirements are challenging, but by making a true effort to study Yetziat Mitzrayim – the going out of Egypt – we should be able to accomplish our goals. But how do we live up to the third obligation – seeing ourselves as one of the Jews who crossed the sea while being chased by the Egyptians?
The following might help. Put a string around your wrists two days before the seder. Make it somewhat tight so that it leaves a mark similar to those left on the whipped bodies of our ancestral Jews who ran from Egypt in the dark of the night. Feel the pain on your body so that you can empathize with the children who were abused and mistreated by Egyptian taskmasters.
A week before you sit down at your Pesach table with your loved ones, create a list of 10 countries where people are enslaved today and study what that means. Know that the master can treat his slave in any way he sees fit, such as cutting off a limb if the child tries to flee. Study up on child soldiers in Uganda. This is what indeed occurs in 2013.
And remember while you study that the Egyptians used the bodies of our children to fill in gaps in the walls of the storehouses we were forced to build. Slavery is brutal. We were slaves in Egypt. Feel and sense that.
Be meditative. Don’t waste your time at the seder hoping for it to end as early as possible. Rather, identify with the generations of Jewish men, women and children who suffered in chains. Ask yourself what it means to you that your history, where you came from, is not unlike that of African-Americans or the Roma, who were enslaved in the dark centuries of Europe.
As difficult as it is to imagine, know that someone else was entirely in control of your life, and God delivered you from their hands. That is the story of Pesach.
We the Jewish People were slaves, and despite the enormous freedoms and blessings we have today in Canada, Israel and around the world, our wrists were bound in chains and our backs were bloodied. That is our beginning. As gruesome as it sounds, you were a slave in Egypt.
Let Pesach move you, push you to grow as a Jew. We were slaves. God brought us out of Egypt. Tell the story just as if you were there. If you do, your children will listen, learn and be humbled. Chag Samayach.