Every year Jews around the world recline at their dinner tables to recite words from the Haggadah—a text that has been passed down through the centuries—recounting the Passover story of the Israelites Exodus from Egypt. Within the text of the Haggadah (“the Retelling” in English) the phrase, “Avadim Hayinu…Atah B’nei Chorin—We were slaves…now we are free” is read or sung reminding the Jewish people of what their ancestors experienced in the land of bondage. But if the text of the Haggadah is supposed to remind the Israelites about days of yore, why does it use the word “we?” Does this phrase only apply to the Israelite ancestors? The Talmud tells us “In every generation a person is obligated to view themselves as if they personally left Egypt.” ¹
Why must every generation view themselves as personally liberated from Egyptian slavery? In 1967, the newly appointed Governor of California, Ronald Reagan, delivered his inaugural address. In his speech he spoke of the importance of freedom, “Freedom is a fragile thing…it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation.” When a generation forgets what it took for their ancestors to attain freedom, they take what they have received for granted. In Biblical times the aspiration of attaining freedom took 10 plagues and God’s intervention. In modern times it involves war, destruction and death. It is always a difficult process to cast off the chains of slavery, but it is so easy to put them back on. This is why God says that each generation should relate to the next; “This (the Passover) is done because of what the LORD did for me when I came up from Egypt.” We cannot forget the price of freedom. Blood, sweat and tears have watered the ground to bring to us the freedom many of us enjoy today. We must now bring what we have received to the entire world.
As a friend of ours in Israel says, “A Jew without a history is a Jew without a future.” Those who don’t know history are bound to repeat it. It is up to us to write a different story, a story that points to the Author of history telling the world His story line which in the end brings freedom to all God’s children. Because, as the saying goes, “With great freedom, comes great responsibility.”