‘Remember that you were a slave in Mitzraim’


Our natural inclination at this time of the year is to focus upon the phrase, zacher l’yetziat Mitzraim (a remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt. This is the case, since one of the major mitzvot of Pesach evening is none other than l’saper b’yetziat Mitzraim (to tell the story of the departure from Egypt).

While this is a key element of our thoughts during the course of the Seder, the Torah also reminds us, no less than five times, “And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt.”

Two of the five instances explicitly discuss our responsibility to treat the stranger, orphan, and widow in an equitable and righteous manner, guarding the rights and privileges of the most powerless members of our  society by reminding us that our entire nation was once completely vulnerable and subject to the diabolical control of Pharaoh and his henchmen. Therefore, as a people and as individuals, we should ever remember our Egyptian servitude and become acutely sensitive to the needs of those who need our help to live dignified and meaningful lives. In other words, the Torah is commanding us to practice the highest standards of social justice.

The Rambam codifies our moral and halachic imperative to actively provide for the needs of those most at risk in a well-known halacha regarding the mitzvah of simchat yom tov: “When a person eats and drinks [in celebration of a holiday], he is obligated to feed converts, orphans, widows, and others who are destitute and poor. In contrast, a person who locks the gates of his courtyard and eats and drinks with his children and his wife, without feeding the poor and the embittered, is [not indulging in] rejoicing associated with a mitzvah, but rather the rejoicing of his belly.”

The Rambam is teaching us that kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh (every Jew is personally responsible for the welfare of every other Jew), and no one should be left behind.

Little wonder, then, that in the opening words of the Haggadah we declare as one:

“This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. All those who are hungry, let them enter and eat. All who are in need, let them come celebrate the Passover. Now we are here. Next year in the land of Israel. This year we are enslaved. Next year may we be free.”

B’shanah haba b’yerushalayim habanuyah! — may we join as one united people in the rebuilt Beit HaMikdash soon, and in our days. V’chane yihi ratzon.