Do we work for God or does God for us? Maybe the answer is that it’s a bit of both. We are called “avdei Hashem,” servants of God, who do God’s bidding. At the same time, God is our Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer. God takes care of us. We work for Him and He works for us. And I wonder what our attitude about this relationship should be. Should we see ourselves more as God’s workers or beneficiaries of God’s work?
This question may go to the heart of what the Seder night is all about. The source of the mitzvah to tell the Pesach story on Seder night is “v’higadta l’vincha bayom hahu lai’mor ba’avur zeh asah Hashem li b’tzaiti mi’Mitrazyim,” that we should tell our children on the first night of Pesach “baavur zeh” God did to me when I left Egypt. What does “baavur zeh” mean? The Rashbam, for one, explains that “baavur zeh,” literally “because of this,” refers to the miracles that God performed for us. According to the Rashbam, when the parent performs the Pesach ritual, he tells his child that the reason why he is doing this is because of the miracles that God performed for us in Egypt. According to the Rashbam, the rituals of Seder night are an expression of our gratitude to God for embracing us and performing miracles for us and taking us out of Egypt. According to the Rashbam, Seder night is about us thanking God for working for us.
However, Rashi explains the phrase “baavur zeh” differently. Rashi explains “baavur zeh” to mean “so that I will do this,” referring to God’s mitzvot. According to Rashi, when the parent performs the Pesach ritual, he tells his children that the reason why God took us out of Egypt is so that we would observe His mitzvot. According to Rashi, the rituals of Seder night are examples of what we committed to do once we were freed by God from Egyptian slavery. According to Rashi, Seder night is about us committing ourselves to the glorious mission of working for God.
Rabbi Menachem Leibtag delivered a shiur at our shul a few weeks ago and suggested that when our children are younger, we should focus on the first aspect of the Pesach seder, as an opportunity for us to thank God for working for us. However, as we get older, we realize that we can be more than spectators in the drama called life and we can actually make a difference and do something meaningful with our life. Once we realize this, the Seder becomes a time to reinspire us to achieve this goal, which is to work for God.
Rav Medan once pointed out that when Bnei Yisrael were slaves, they ate matzah all the time. In fact, the hagadah states, “ha lachma anya di achalu avhasana b’ara’a d’Mitzrayim” – “this is the poor man’s bread that we ate in Egypt.” We had no time to eat when we were slaves. The Egyptians gave us a short break to bake our food and eat quickly; meanwhile, our masters ate bread because they had all the time in the world to bake bread. Matzah symbolized no free time and bread symbolized free time. As such, when Moshe informed the Bnei Yisrael about an upcoming holiday celebrating their freedom, Bnei Yisrael probably believed that the name of their holiday would be Chag Halechem, a holiday of bread, a holiday of having all the free time in the world. But Moshe told them, “No. I hate to break it to you, but the name of the holiday celebrating your freedom will be Chag Hamatzot, the holiday of matzah, which is a holiday of no free time. See, you had no free time when you were slaves and now when you leave Egypt you also will have no free time. You will be busy doing work all day long for God.” Bnei Yisrael may have thought that this holiday was all about God working for them, a holiday to celebrate being free from Pharaoh. If that were true, then we might indeed celebrate this holiday by eating bread. However, we call this holiday the holiday of “matzah,” because this is a holiday celebrating how we switched from being slaves to Pharaoh without any free time to being servants of God without any free time. What is the difference between being slaves to Pharaoh and being servants of God? The difference is that now what we do is meaningful. Now what we do is a fulfillment of our mission. Now we will primarily see ourselves as working for God. This is what “Chag Hamatzot” represents and this reflects Rashi’s explanation of “baavur zeh.”
May we all emerge from the Pesach seder more grateful to God than ever before. More importantly, may we all emerge from the Pesach seder more inspired and prouder to be a member of God’s ambassadorial team to the world at large. Chag samei’ach.