Rabbi Mayer Twersky
Rabbi Mayer Twersky

Miracles and Wonders

The mishna in Pesachim teaches that the format for sippur yetzias Mitzrayim is maschil b'genus u'mesayeim b'shvach - one begins by recounting our disgrace and concluding with our glory (116a, translation adapted from Artscroll). Shmuel opines that genus refers to the fact that avadim hayinu, we were slaves. (This stands in contradistinction to Rav's opinion that genus refers to our ancestors having been idolatrous. We incorporate both opinions in the hagadah.) The gemara does not explicitly state what the contrasting, corresponding shvach is. Primo facie, it is obvious. The contrasting, corresponding shvach is that we are now free. And, in fact, the Maharal miPrag (Gevuros Hashem) explicates Shmuel's view in this way.

Rambam, however, interprets very differently. He writes (Hilchos Chametz U'Matzah 7:4) that the counterpoint to avadim hayinu are the "miracles and wonders that were performed for us [in Mitzrayim] and in our freedom." Rambam's interpretation is puzzling. The formulation maschil b'genus u'mesayeim b'shvach suggests sharp contrast, thesis and antithesis. How are miracles the antithesis of slavery?

The answer lies in understanding the spiritual deficit and handicap of slavery. "Ki Li Bnai Yisroel avodim - v'lo avadim la'avodim - Bnai Yisroel are My slaves, and not slaves to slaves [says Hashem]." The dependence, vulnerability and accountability which a slave feels vis-a-vis his human master obstruct his relationship with Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Being the beneficiary of nissim and niflaos (miracles and wonders) not only reflects a direct relationship with Hakadosh Baruch Hu, but a privileged one. Thus from a spiritual perspective the nissim v'niflaos she'na'asu lanu are indeed the ultimate antithesis of avadim hayinu.

If we simply read the words of Rambam carefully we will realize that nissim v'niflaos are not merely an important aspect of the shvach of sippur yetzias Mitzrayim. In fact, they constitute the defining focal point of the mitzvah.

"It is a positive biblical commandment to recount and delve into [translation based on Rav Soloveitchik's explanation of lesapper b' ]the miracles and wonders performed for our ancestors on the fifteenth of Nissan" (Rambam Hilchos Chametz U'Matzah 7:1)

The Rambam's quintessential definition of sippur yetzias Mitzrayim is absolutely remarkable. Sippur yetzias Mitzrayim, according to Rambam, is NOT about the exodus per se. In fact the Rambam does not even allude to, much less mention, freedom in his definition of mitzvas sippur yetzias Mitzrayim. Sippur yetzias Mitzrayim is the story of an enslaved, formerly idolatrous people who become so close to Hakadosh Baruch Hu that He bestows nissim v'niflaos upon them. The fact of liberation per se is only significant insofar as the freedom was a byproduct of nissim v'niflaos and enabled our new, privileged relationship with Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Sippur yetzias Mitzrayim is the story of spiritual transformation. An enslaved (and thus, remote), formerly idolatrous people through nissim v'niflaos become Hashem's chosen people (Rambam Hilchos Chametz U'Matzah 7:4) enjoying privileged treatment and relationship.

Without any sermonizing or editorializing there is a profound, compelling "take home message". Any material, financial, or political attainment, even something as essential as freedom, has no inherent significance if not translated into spiritual attainment. May we all leave Pesach with such a rechush gadol. Chag kasher v'sameach.

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