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Haggadah: Message of Hope

There is an unusual formula used in the format of the Haggadah.  It is revealed to us at the end of Tractate Pesachim [116a], where it states, “Maschil b’gnus u’masayim b’shvach – We start with our disgrace and conclude with our praise.”  There is a further argument between Rav and Shmuel whether the disgrace is comprised of, “Mit’chila ovdei avoda zara hoyu avoseinu – Initially our ancestors were idolaters (Terach, the father of Avroham),” or the disgrace refers to what we say after Mah Nishtanah, “Avodim hayinu l’Paroh b’Mitzraiyim – We were lowly slaves to Paroh in Egypt.”  The obvious question is: Why on the night of the Seder, when we celebrate the anniversary of the birth of the Jewish People, the night when we relive and celebrate our miraculous emancipation, do we have to first zoom-in and highlight our disgraceful beginnings?

There are those who say that to really appreciate something, we have to see the contrast.  Thus, we say the blessing daily, shelo asani goi – that we were not made a gentile, rather than merely saying sh’asoni Yisroel, that we were created a Jew – so that we should appreciate the privilege from the contrast.  So too, when we remember our disgraceful beginnings, it greatly enhances the celebration of our being selected as the Chosen People.

But, I think there is another vital reason for this formula.  The Haggadah impresses upon us a powerful message of hope.  No matter how low you have fallen, you can reach the pinnacle of success.  Look at our ancestors.   Over a century of being lowly slaves yet achieving the privilege of being worthy to see Hashem at Mount Sinai and, although they were initially full of pagan beliefs, they turned it around and achieved realization of monotheistic Truth. 

The late Spinka Rebba, Zt”l, Zy”a, asks why is it that every day of our lives we have to remember and mention the Exodus from Egypt, once in the morning and once in the night.  We can’t let twelve hours go by without talking about the Exodus.  There’s hardly another event that we must mention and think about so often and with such regularity.  The Spinka Rebbe answers with the following profound message.  In Egypt, we sank to the 49th degree of tumah, of contamination.  If we had stayed a second longer, symbolized by the single second’s difference between chometz and matzah, we wouldn’t have been worthy to been redeemed.  We would have been doomed to the 50th degree of contamination, a point of no return.  Yet, from this lowly state, a mere forty-nine days later, we were worthy to wed Hashem at Har Sinai.  This message of the ability to turn oneself around, to climb out of a very deep hole, is a message of hope that is worth reviewing every twelve hours of our lives.  

One of the great weapons of the Yeitzer Hara, the Evil Inclination, is to get us to give up on ourselves.   There are people who give up on their marriages and stop trying to make things better.  There are people who give up on their relationship with their children thinking that they messed things up beyond repair.  There are people who throw in the towel when it comes to their relationship with their parents.  There are people who give up on their learning, saying, ‘If only I’d started earlier.  Now, it’s too late.  My memory is fading and I’ll never amount to anything.”

The Baalei Mussar boom out, “Yiush shelo midas – Giving up is just not using your good sense.”  That’s what the Yeitzer Hara wants you to do; then he’s won.  However, where there’s life, there’s hope.  That’s the message of the Haggadah formula and the reason why we review the Exodus every twelve hours.  The Medrash tells us, “Ein v’atah ela lashon tshuva – The word ‘now’ refers to repentance.”  Firstly, this means that to repent successfully, one shouldn’t procrastinate – do it now!  But, it also means, start from Now.  Don’t look back.  Look forward with hope.  With the Talmudic promise, “Haba l’taheir mesai’in oso – One who wants to achieve purity, Hashem will surely help him.”

May this Pesach season bring us renewed hope and vigor for a better tomorrow in all areas of our lives. 

Please learn and daven for the refuah sheleima of Miriam Liba bas Devorah, b’soch shaar cholei Yisroel. 

Sheldon Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’s articles.

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