After the last three “Makkot”-plagues, the Parsha is all about Pesach, and the Seder night. Remembering the command that the Seder night be an evening of celebrating our redemption from slavery, I recall my daughter Hadassa not long ago asking me: “Tati, we are supposed to feel like royalty on the Seder night which is why we recline and lean to the left during the Seder, right? -well what if I am not comfortable leaning to the left while I eat and drink. If I am supposed to feel like a queen, shouldn’t I only do what’s comfortable for me? I don’t feel like a queen when I lean, so why do I have to do it?
Hmmm…. great Kasha! what would you say?
Well, after some reflection I did what all good Jews do-hit my questioner back with more questions: The Haggada tells us that “B’chol dor vador, chayav adam lir’os es atzmo k’eelu hu yatza m’Mitzrayim-In every generation it is every person’s duty to regard him/herself as though he/she personally had come out of Egypt, as it is written: “You shall tell your son on that day: This is on account of what the L-rd did for me when I came out of Egypt.”
As I heard one writer express:” How can we fulfill this obligation if we didn’t really come out from Mitzrayim” Are we supposed to trick ourselves into believing that we did?
But what bothered me is more fundamental to the language of this strange demand. It commands us to do this “In every Generation”. Well, unless our name is Rip Van Winkle or Choni Hamaagal (See Talmud, Taanis 23a), most of us only live in one generation. So why is this particular Mitzvah prefaced by the admonition to “do it in every generation”? Don’t all the Mitzvos apply to all generations? Unless of course it means what it appears to be saying-that we have the obligation to do this every generation-but who lives that long?
The Chiddush I’d like to share with you is best brought out by reference to a slightly different version of this Haggadic command. In the alternative version, it states that in each generation one must Show himself/herself as if he/she came out of Egypt-in Hebrew, L’har’os”. In other words, the Haggada understands that we cannot truly feel like we left Egypt when we actually have not. But our job is “storytelling”. It is Hollywood show-acting. We must put on a show and act as if we just walked out of the split sea… And the acting has to be Oscar-worthy. Sufficiently so that the generation below us that is listening to the story believes that we actually were the ones who made that journey. The “In every Generation” command is a command that we make sure every generation below us successively believes that the generation above-the storytellers were the ones that this all happened to. We need to reenact history in the most powerful and convincing way we can. That is how the story will last through the Millenia-as it has!
The lesson I take from this is profound if not unsettling. Our actions often are not necessarily about US. Yes, WE know we never left Egypt. But we act and live for OTHERS. For the next generation, It’s about THEM. They need to feel, appreciate, learn about who we are-and by extension who they are. We may not love all the things we need to do as the “teaching generation”. We may feel that the time we take and efforts we make to share with others, to teach to care, to give is “not comfortable”. It’s “not who we are”. But the Haggada Masters are providing us a lesson for the eternalization of our essence: If you forget about it being about you…and focus on what you can transmit to others, it will guarantee your own posterity as well.
So, I told Hadassa, maybe you actually are not comfortable “reclining like a queen”. But it’s not about your comfort after all. It’s about how you can best share the experience of your own ancestors to the generation following you. Your arms may hurt, your body may be out of whack for a few moments. But your soul, ah, your soul will expand way, way beyond yourself.
Something to think about this Shabbat of “BO”, which means “come. As we enter this Shabbos, let’s all come out of our shells, our self-imposed limitations, and think about leaving our comfort zones-and create-and help perfect the generation beyond-our future. Shabbat Shalom!