Chaim Ingram

The Secret Of Our Immortality. A Pesach Message for 5784

In prescribing how the Hagada ought to be narrated, the Mishna in Pesachim (10:4) states the following succinct guideline: matkhil bi-gnut umesayeim ba-shevakh, “we commence with the inglorious and conclude with the glorious”.  In other words, we begin by telling of the bad – the slavery, the oppression, the bitterness, the exile, the spiritual darkness,  and then we proceed to relate the good – the deliverance, the relief, the sweetness, the redemption, the light of G-D’s presence.

This leitmotif permeates the entire Maggid section of the Hagada.  At the very start, we refer to the matsa as lakhma anya, the bread of affliction, while proclaiming “now we are here (in exile), but next year we hope to be (all of us) in the Land of Israel (free from existential threat).”  Then we declare “we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt but G-D our G-d took us out …” Later we observe that “originally our ancestors were idol-worshippers, but now G-D has brought us near to His service”. Even in the Ma Nishtana, the child first asks about the matsa, the bread of slavery, and maror,  the herb of bitterness, before inquiring why we dip our foods and recline as befits free men and women. In a climactic moment, we lift our cups and declare that “in every generation they have risen up against us but G-D always delivers us from their hand!” Finally we expound at length upon a Scriptural passage (Deut 26:5-8) containing a series of declarations proclaiming that G-D lifts us from physical and emotional exile to deliverance.  Lest we have failed, after all this, to grasp the “first-the-bad-news-then-the-good-news” pattern, Hallel is introduced with a paean of gratitude to G-D for bringing our nation “from slavery to freedom, from grief to joy, from mourning to festivity, from darkness to great light and from servitude to redemption!” Jews always look to the future with an optimistic lens!

At one crucial point, the pattern is reversed. This is when we complete our re-enactment of the past and wake up to the present.  The point in the Seder when we have done with the mitsva of sipur yetsiat Mitsraim, the telling of the Exodus, and are about to engage in the other principal mitsva of the night, the eating of matsa and maror.

We are told that in every generation we must regard ourselves as if we personally went out of Egypt (the Hagada redacts this from Mishna Pesachim 10:5). Having completed the triumphant tale, we are now, as it were, “redeemed”. The matsa. as we now declare, has transformed from being the bread of slavery to the bread baked in haste at our redemption!  The passage introducing the matsa and maror mentions this joyous haste as the reason we eat matsa. It reads as a type of meditation prior to consumption.  Only then do we reflect upon the bitter maror, eaten “because the Egyptians had embittered our lives”. This is replicated when shortly afterwards we prioritise the berachot and consumption of the redemptive matsa over the acrid maror.

The pattern of gnut to shevakh is broken. Now it’s the good news, then the bad! Why the reversal, and why just at this point?

The answer I posit will seem particularly apposite this year but I believe it can speak to us each and every year.

We are no longer immersing ourselves in past narrative  We have returned to present reality. We are physically consuming the matsa and maror at our contemporary Seder tables.  

Jewish history testifies that time and again we have emerged from darkness to light. But now we are in the midst of a new chapter of history.  And as the tapestry of this new history is being woven as we speak  we dare not accord precedence, on this night of hope, to the troubles we are currently facing. We lay them to the side, to be acknowledged only after we joyously and confidently hold aloft the matsa and consume it, in copious quantities, as if to say we triumphed before and we shall triumph again!

In our pre-messianic world, as a lone persecuted sheep among seventy-plus predatory wolves this message is always relevant to Am Yisrael. But I would suggest it has never been more relevant than now, post 22/7.

The Hamas massacre has been compared in its brutality, if not its scope, thank G-D, to the Holocaust. But there is one critical difference now. Thank G-D we have a seven-million-strong Jewish state, now much more unified at last, many of her hitherto secular citizens having returned to faith and to mitsvot and, above all, affirming life.

In a UN poll commissioned just last month despite the Gaza war, Israel was ranked as the world’s fifth happiest country in the world. (Australia came in tenth.) Even more remarkably, among the under-30s, Israel is ranked  second happiest in the world. I find this phenomenon absolutely mind-blowing!

Mi k’amcha Yisrael! Israel is beset by war, by losses, by uncertainty, by sirens, by world condemnation and yet we choose life, we affirm happiness. Is there a nation that has ever existed that can be compared to us!

But I shouldn’t be surprised.  It’s in our DNA. When we tell our history at the Seder, we start by telling of the gory beginnings and proceed and conclude by relating the glory of happy endings  But when we are living a new chapter of our history, when there is no happy end in immediate sight, we set aside all negativity and concentrate on the positive, on the Matsa, on the bread of freedom. And even when we reluctantly, as an after-course, partake of the maror, we dip it in sweet charoset to take away some of the bitterness.   We dare not let ourselves be consumed by sadness. We eat and live in faith, in hope and in joy.

Mark Twain famously wonders (Concerning The Jews) about the secret of our nation’s immortality. Have we possibly just uncovered the answer? Is not the secret of our immortality that we passionately believe in our immortality? That we know we shall, with G-D’s help, overcome, prevail and continue to flourish until the end of covenantal time. It is our destiny!

About the Author
Rabbi Chaim Ingram is the author of five books on Judaism. He is a senior tutor for the Sydney Beth Din and the non-resident rabbi of the Adelaide Hebrew Congregation. He can be reached at