Even if we were all wise, all erudite, all elders, all knowledgeable of Torah, we would still be commanded to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt, and anyone who expounds upon the Exodus deserves praise.

There is no limit to what we can draw out of discussing the Exodus from Egypt. As we go through different stages in our own lives, “Egypt” means something different to us. 

It may reflect moments of oppression in Jewish history. “Vehi she’amdah” certainly dwells on that theme. Many editions of the Haggadah have commentaries and additional texts that are meant to stir feelings about the Crusades; the Spanish Inquisition; the pogroms; the Holocaust; the treatment of Jews today in places like Iran, Yemen, France, or Poland; the many attacks upon Israel, both military and political. 

“Egypt” may be a personal difficulty. It may be a lack of personal independence or freedom, such as a toxic work environment, or an abusive relationship. It may be an illness or disability. It may be anxiety or depression. 

Whatever “Egypt” is, Judaism’s most fundamental claim is that whatever efforts we make in our spiritual lives release us from it. The origin of existence itself, the God who spoke the world into being, released us from slavery to Pharaoh so that we may devote ourselves to a life of mitzvot. 

This does not mean magical thinking, that if we keep kosher or wear tefillin, we will not be mistreated by other people, or be subject to natural disasters. What it does mean is that whatever our circumstances in life, we will not lose sight of the sacredness of life, of the beauty and meaning of our existence, or of our morality. This is best stated by Viktor Frankl, as he wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning:

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

But choosing our attitude is a skill to be honed over a lifetime. Most of us do not control our attitudes, but are controlled by them. Attitudes and feelings carry and move us. For us to realize that we have control over them as well, that the potential to control is mutual between ourselves and our attitudes, takes objectivity. Actually achieving that control takes dedicated practice.

The Jewish regimen for taking control over our own attitudes is Torah study, prayer, and acts of kindness. The seder is part of that regimen. We study Torah together. The Haggadah is full of Biblical texts, Midrashim, and Mishnayot, and our conversations inspired by them. It is full of prayer; blessings and Hallel. It is also written into the Haggadah that we should open our door and proclaim “All who are hungry, come and eat.” 

There is no limit to how often or how much we can allow these things to move us, enlighten us, and shape us. As we eat matzah and maror, and talk about leaving Egypt, we ourselves take our steps across the Red Sea. 

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