Shortly after the four familiar questions of ‘Ma Nishtana’, the Passover Haggadah quotes a teaching attributed to the first century scholar Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah. The text explores the source behind the daily ritual of remembering the Exodus, once during the day and again at night. Although the relevance of this topic is not exclusive to Passover, according to Rabbi Aryeh Pomeranchik (1908 – 1942) it was nevertheless inserted into the Haggadah, in order to highlight the contrast between the daily ritual of remembering the Exodus with the particular annual requirement to share the story of the Exodus with someone else, on Passover. The short text, therefore, serves as an introduction to the subsequent story of the Exodus, as told in the Passover Haggadah.
Clearly, a feature of the Passover Seder is the story of the Exodus shared instead of just remembered. On Passover evening, it is not enough to remember the Exodus. Rather, we must verbally articulate the story and share it with our children and/or company. This is highlighted in our Parsha, ‘And you shall tell your child […]’ (Exodus 13:8).
When exploring the abundant biblical references to Moses’ speech disorder, the mystical teachings of the Zohar compare three stages of redemption to three levels in speech development. The first stage, in which the Jews are trapped in the depth of hopeless slavery, is symbolized by silence. When Moses appears with a message of freedom, sound replaces silence. Finally, when redemption is complete, sounds shape words. Moses’ personal battle with speech, in which he struggles to communicate clearly, is an expression of a national yearning to materialize hope into freedom.
Silence characterizes slavery, words represent freedom. The Halachik requirement to articulate the story of the Exodus on Passover evening captures the tragedy of slavery and the joy of freedom. A slave has no identity, no story to share, and therefore no voice. A slave is not heard or noticed, only used. A free person has an identity, a story to share, language and words through which he or she expresses oneself. Language and words are therefore a symbol of freedom.
On Passover evening, many rituals such as drinking wine, celebrating with family, and reclining, are symbols of freedom. Verbally articulating our story is an additional expression of our freedom. Therefore, we do not only remember the Exodus on Passover evening, rather we verbally share it as our story.