True slavery is not just iron fetters or repaying a large debt. The roots of slavery go much deeper to the very soul and spirit of a person or people group. That is why true deliverance should be achieved consciously and on a personal level. One wise man said, “It was easier to bring the Jewish people out of exile than to bring exile out of the Jewish people”.
Pesach (the Feast of Passover) is the holiday representing the exodus from “the house of slavery”. It is the main holiday in a chain of the Jewish holidays. This feast, called “the first”, is one of four holidays commanded to the Jewish people by the Pentateuch. And, the fact that it is first is obviously not an accident. Pesach is dedicated to one of the most important events in biblical history: the exodus from Egypt and the subsequent deliverance of the Jewish people from four hundred years of slavery.
The word “Pesach” means “pass over or miss”. This is in remembrance of when the angel of death passed over the dwellings of Israeli’s killing only the Egyptian firstborns on the day the tenth plague was sent by the Lord to Pharaoh and his kingdom. Through Moses and Aaron, the Lord commanded the Jewish people to prepare a sacrificial lamb and then put the lamb's blood on the outer two sides and upper door posts of every Jewish house. Through this, God had mercy on the Jewish people and only destroyed the firstborns of Egypt. Only after the death of all the firstborns of Egypt did Pharaoh allow the Jewish people leave the land. This is why Pesach is connected with glory of the freedom of the Jewish people.
A slave is one who works hard for other people who, in turn, dictate the slave’s goals and lifestyle. As long as a slave (whether that be a person or whole nation) recognizes himself as the slave, but is still cognizant of his own interests and understands that they are being severely oppressed, the status of slave is not yet final. The situation gets worse when a slave forgets his own position and identity. At this point, slavery goes beyond only external circumstance and penetrates into the very soul of a person who slowly becomes not only accustomed to this form of captivity, but sometimes even desires it.
Prophets and wise men talking about Israel’s slavery in Egypt emphasize that the pain of slavery which the Jewish people initially felt slowly began to disappear and many began to instead actually appreciate the ideas of the Egyptians to such an extent that they began to execute heavy work that had been assigned to them with unfeigned enthusiasm. The story of the exodus from Egypt tells us that the Lord came to take His people away from this environment. It means that Israel was seriously stuck within this nation of enslavers.
The deliverance of the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery happened when the Jewish people themselves no longer had the desire to be delivered. The plagues became more severe for Egypt not only to persuade the Egyptians to agree to let the Jewish people go, but also in order to encourage all of the Jewish people who hesitated and continued to calculate which option was most profitable to make the right decision.
As it has been already said, in order for Pharaoh to let the Jewish people go, it was necessary to send ten plagues to Egypt which were predicted by Moses to Pharaoh. Nine of them came down from heaven, keeping the Jews out of them. In other words, God acted on behalf of the people of Israel in executing nine of the ten plagues and did not involve them directly.
This changed when the tenth plague came; the death of the firstborns. This plague was in God’s hands. But, the Jewish people had to sacrifice the paschal lamb and to put lamb's blood on the two side posts on the outside of their doors. The book of Exodus describes the reason behind this. It is said that when the angel of death would go throughout the cities and towns to kill all Egyptian firstborns, there would be a sign on the houses of the Jewish people which would prohibit the angel of death to enter. The blood of the paschal sacrifice was that sign.
The reason for God involving the Jewish people in this tenth plague might seem obvious, however it is not. Think about it! Why didn’t the previous plagues touch the houses of the Jewish people which were without any signs? Why was it that a sign was suddenly needed? God and His angels could surely see inside without a sign. So, who needed these signs? It turned out to be that the Jewish people themselves needed those signs.
Indeed, we still have to deal with slavery in our souls. This slavery mentality manifested itself in everyday life as the Jewish people made an effort not differentiate themselves from the Egyptians. The Jewish people tried to be like the Egyptians. Today we think, “Why should we irritate anti-Semites and cause problems? We will pray to the Only God within our homes as it should be and outside people won't be able to differentiate us from the idolaters.”
That is why every Jew must step out of spiritual slavery before an exodus from physical slavery. To put blood on two side posts and the lintel on the outside is a means of declaring openly, “Yes, I am different. I believe in the Only God and I am not afraid to confess my faith!”
While demanding that Pharaoh let the people of Israel go, Moses and Aaron reinforced the necessity of making a sacrifice to the Lord in the desert. Pharaoh and Moses were arguing on it. At first glance, it seems that the request of Moses and Aaron was not more than a simple trick, but actually all this speaks to the essence of exodus from slavery.
Slaves do not have true gods. The sacred duty of a slave is to do his job. However, when a slave discovers the Lord of lords to Whom everything is subjected to, this slave is no longer a slave in soul. Pharaoh was correct in thinking that the Jewish people would have to have the desire to go out of Egypt in order for them to find true deliverance and release from physical and spiritual slavery. He tried to prevent a national restoration by means several measures designed to break spirit of the people through backbreaking work. This work led to such a condition that people could not even wish anything that would be more than the most simple of life’s needs.
The attempt to achieve deliverance by means of physical exodus can never lead to true deliverance. The one who denies his own identity remains a slave even if he has no master breathing down his neck. True freedom is impossible without understanding one’s own goals and finding one’s own definition of value.
The exodus from slavery can lay the foundation for great deeds, but in and of itself, it isn’t even a gleam of deliverance. That is why it is important to point out the objective of the exodus from Egypt which is to sacrifice the paschal lamb unto the Lord in the desert. When the key spiritual objective manifests and new perspectives emerge that reject any continuation of a life lived in slavery, true deliverance comes.
It is said in the book of Exodus, “And Moses said unto the people, remember this day, in which ye came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the Lord brought you out from this place”. Why is this historical event so important for us today? Why do we recall this deliverance each year? Why do we pass this story to our children and grandchildren? Our aim is that everyone through the generations can see themselves as personally coming out from Egypt. It is our duty to ask ourselves each year during Pesach whether or not we will live in this freedom and make an exodus from slavery to deliverance in our own lives and whether or not we are truly free?
The feeling of not being truly free is probably familiar to most of us when we are faced with difficulties and when we feel restrained and disappointed. We don’t often use the word “slavery” to describe our feelings, perhaps because we are just somewhat accustomed to feeling this way from time to time. Yet, most of us realize that the surrounding world can dominate us. Slavery happens when we feel under control of a dictator and when the person can’t manage to find a way out. He feels he is “under the dominion” of the current situation and enslaved by the world around him. This often happens when plans and dreams vanish and all of our efforts seem in vain. It feels like our life is broken.
The world is full of suffering, humiliation and injustice. Deliverance doesn’t come in an instant, but rather, it is a process that started more than three thousand years ago and continues today. We have to “come out of Egypt” every single moment of our lives. Egypt is a symbol of our unconquered (but quite overcomable) limitations. When we continue to remain slaves of prejudices and behavioral stereotypes, we remain slaves of Egypt. When a situation we are in controls us instead of us controlling it, we are enslaved by it. When we stop short of our potential and tell ourselves that we can’t go higher, deeper, better… that we are not able to do more, we are still slaves of Egypt.
When the Jewish people cried out to the Lord, began to look for Him and desired to serve Him, the Lord not only delivered them from oppression, but also gave them the law to keep for all time through the centuries. In this, the nation received the foundation of their faith and bright hope for the future.
The exodus, which most scientists believe happened in the XIII century, or approximately in 1200BC, has become a central point in all Jewish, and even world, history. This event formed a national consciousness within the Jewish people and laid the foundation for Israel as a free nation. The lessons learned from the experience of Egyptian slavery and the miraculous deliverance became that foundation for which the most important principles of Jewish religious and ethical teachings are based on. God desires that this exodus from Egypt would hold a special place in the hearts of His people. The first of the Ten Commandments confirms this, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”
Pesach is very diverse feast. This is a holiday commemorating the deliverance of the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery. This is also a holiday that celebrates a national unity of the nation of Israel born in a melting pot of suffering and deliverance. This is a holiday that acknowledges the greatness of the Jewish family and the miracle of unity. This is a spring feast. In fact, the blossom that occurs in nature signifies renewal and awakening among people who enjoy life. But first and foremost, this is a holiday celebrating the freedom of every Jew and freedom of the Jewish people as a whole.