Passover commemorates the first redemption of the Jewish people from exile. I am sure it was fun to celebrate Passover while we enjoyed the fruits of that redemption, while we were living in Israel, free and independent in our land. But sadly, our people have been exiled again several times since the redemption from Egypt, and yet we continue to celebrate Passover.
Isn’t there something ironic about celebrating our freedom when we are still in exile?
On the surface, it seems fitting to celebrate Passover today because though we are in exile, we are still free. Most Jews live in democratic countries where they enjoy an unprecedented level of freedom and prosperity. Moreover, Israel is once again a Jewish country and any Jew who wishes may move to Israel. Under such conditions, it is fitting to celebrate Passover.
But upon deeper analysis, this doesn’t stand. Firstly, it fails to explain why and how it was fitting to celebrate Passover during the darkest periods of our exile. Jews held seders in places like Auschwitz and Treblinka. Seders were held during blood libels and pogroms, under the inquisition and during the crusades. Why and how did that make sense?
Second, if we consider the primary purpose of the redemption from Egypt, we quickly conclude that despite our current freedom, we are not there yet. When G-d appeared to Moses on Mount Sinai at the burning bush, he said, “When you bring the people out of Egypt, you will worship G-d on this mountain.” The purpose of leaving Egypt was to arrive at Sinai.
At Sinai, our ancestors saw G-d directly. They trembled in fear and melted in ecstasy as they proclaimed their collective loyalty to G-d. That is the reason we celebrate Passover. It isn’t merely the freedom from slavery and oppression. It is the freedom to see G-d, to know G-d, and to serve G-d. Most people remember that G-d told Moses to tell Pharaoh, “Let my people go.” Most people forget the second half of the passage, “So they can worship me.”
The purpose of the exodus was to worship G-d at Sinai and after Sinai for the rest of history. Look around the world today and note the terrible reality of assimilation. After the Holocaust, there were approximately twelve million Jews. Over the last seventy-five years, we should at least have doubled that number, but there are nowhere near twenty-four million Jews in the world today. Where are they? Hiding in assimilation.
If G-d were visible today as He was at Sinai, all Jews would have worshipped G-d enthusiastically. As Rabbi Levik of Bardichev once said, “If You would hide the world in the books and place Yourself before our eyes, we would surely worship You. But You are hiding in the books and You placed the world before our eyes, yet You expect us to remember You?”
G-d is in hiding today and so is the Jew. A Jew never stops being a Jew, but the Jewishness is often so deeply hidden that some of us forget that we are Jewish. Is this a state worthy of the Passover redemption? And if not, how and why is it appropriate to celebrate Passover today?
The answer can be summed up in five words. “History is a journey.” Speaking of the messianic era, the Prophet Micah (7:15) said, “As in the days that you left Egypt, I will show you wonders.” The exodus was miraculous, but even by that measure, the messianic miracles will be wonderous. This implies a continuum that began at the exodus and will culminate with the coming of Mashiach.
Let’s unpack this a little. When G-d took us out of Egypt, He swept us off our feet. He smote our oppressors, showed Himself in his full glory, provided lovingly for us in the desert, brought us to Sinai and proposed a relationship. We were overwhelmed and we accepted. It was a relationship, but He was clearly the courter. G-d courted us, and did it well.
But in a relationship, it is critical for both sides to be equally active. Even if one party initiates the courtship, once the other party accepts it needs to be mutual. If the accepting party remains passive, the relationship can’t last. The same holds true for our relationship with G-d. At the exodus and at Sinai, in the desert and in Israel, G-d courted us and showed how much He loves us. Now it is our turn to reciprocate and show G-d how much we love Him.
G-d does not need to prove His love anymore. We need to prove our love. We can’t be fair-weather-fans and only celebrate our Judaism when we are in a state of spiritual and material prosperity. We can’t sit back and wait for the wheel of fortune to turn our way before we invest further in the relationship.
The very fact that we sit in exile, the very fact that we can’t see our beloved G-d, and are here for Him anyway, cements the relationship in a way that makes it real. Concrete and grounded in real life reality. This is why we can celebrate Passover even in exile, even when G-d is in Hiding.
This is also the key distinction between the exodus from Egypt, which forms the first step in the journey, and the redemption we will experience with the coming of Mashiach, the last step in the journey. In the first step, G-d played His hand and showed Himself. He put everything on the line hoping for a positive response from us. And He got it.
To bring about the Mashiach, we need to play our hand. We need to be permanently bound to G-d without waiting or needing to be courted. We need to be just as committed to G-d as G-d was to us. We need to do for G-d as much as G-d did for us. This means that even when things don’t go our way, we don’t think of ourselves. We think of G-d.
When we reach the pinnacle of this relationship, Mashiach will come and both sides will come to the table openly. If at Sinai, G-d wore His heart on His sleeve, so to speak, and in exile we wear our hearts on our sleeves, when Mashiach comes, we will both reveal our hearts. G-d will be openly revealed, and we will be openly invested. He will show Himself, and we will be there for Him without asking for anything in return.
As it is with all good relationships, when both parties are there for each other and not looking out only for their own interests, the relationship flourishes. As wonderful as it feels to be courted, it feels a million times better to pull together, to be on the same page and pull in the same direction.
This is what it will be like when the Mashiach comes. As wonderous as our relationship was at the exodus, it will be infinitely more wonderous with the coming of Mashiach. No relationship happens overnight. No one falls in love. Love is a journey and often a long journey. The relationship between us and G-d is also a long journey. It began in Egypt and will culminate with the coming of Mashiach.
Indeed, the Baal Shem Tov taught that we celebrate the exodus during the first days of Pesach, and we celebrate the coming of Mashiach during the last days of Pesach.