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One part of the Pesach seder that has always bothered me is saying that if God had not taken us out of Mitzrayim at that time we would still be slaves today. This seems lacking in faith in God; surely if not then, He would have had His reasons and would have redeemed us at a later time. Why do we hold that that single point in time was our only opportunity for redemption from slavery?

Edit: as pointed out in one of the answers, this translation of "mesheubad" was flawed, though the broader point about this being pretty much our last chance for redemption still holds (as discussed in some of the answers).

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Similar to what @ShmuelBrin said, but on more of a psychological level:

As brought by theyeshiva.net, The Maharal of Prague (Gevurot Hashem 61) explains what happened when the Jews left Egypt:

The Exodus of Egypt, he suggests, was not merely a political and geographical event, in which slave laborers were allowed to leave a country and forge their own destiny. It was also an existential mutation, in which the gift of freedom was “wired” into the very psyche of a people. With the Divine liberation from Egyptian bondage, a new type of person was created—the Free Man: The individual who will never make peace with oppression and who will forever yearn for liberty. The Exodus implanted within the soul of the Jew an innate repulsion toward subjugation and an inherent quest for liberty.

If G-d would have waited even a second longer to take the Jews out of Egypt it would have been too late. G-d could have taken them out later, but by that point they would never have been able to change their state of mind, they, and by extension us - their descendants, would always considered themselves slaves.

The "Free Man" of the Maharal could never have existed.

You can take the Jew out of Egypt, but you can't take the Egypt out of the Jew, so to speak.

As it was the Jews didn't feel truly free of the Egyptians until they saw their bodies washed up on the shore of the Red Sea, and even after that they complained many times in the desert that they wished to go back to Egypt. (In fact, if I remember correctly, this is one of the reasons given why the Jews had to wait a generation before entering the land)

So it's not that that was a single point of redemption, as much as it was the last possible time the Jews could have remained in Egyptian bondage and still be able to truly be free once they were redeemed.

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Interesting analysis, thanks. So once any generation of Jews gave up, no future generation could improve? But isn't there always a path for teshuva? Or is that only since Sinai? –  Monica Cellio Sep 14 '11 at 0:16
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@Monica: It's not about teshuva, it's about a state of mind. "According to the Maharal (Rabbi Lowe of Prague 1512?-1609), the purpose of the Exodus was not merely the liberation of the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery, but the creation of a new type of person, the Free Man; because of the Exodus, even if subsequently conquered and oppressed, the Jew remains inherently free." - chabad.org/global/popup/default_cdo/aid/2184/jewish/… - freedom (and slavery) is a mindset. And if the Jews would have stayed in Egypt any longer, they would have never have ... –  Menachem Sep 14 '11 at 2:38
    
... been able to mentally become free, they would have been stuck in a slave mindset. Perhaps something like Stockholm Syndrome. –  Menachem Sep 14 '11 at 2:40
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You need a more precise translation.

Had God not taken us out of Egypt, then we, our children, and grandchildren would have been indebted to Pharaoh.

Hebrew me-she-ubad, as used regarding real estate on lien for paying potential debts.

Had things worked out for our release in other fashions, we would have still owed Pharaoh one. Only by the dramatic show that it was clearly G-d's power, and Pharaoh's not, that we didn't feel indebted to Egypt anymore.

Though note that 800+ plus years later, when Israel was under Babylonian sovereignty and things went south, who did the Jews go running to? Egypt! Apparently the connection runs deep.

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This translation has a source. That is, there's a commentary on the hagada that asks something like the question above and answers that the standard translation is wrong. I don't recall which commentary that is. Any idea? –  msh210 Sep 12 '11 at 17:31
    
I'm interested in the source for this translation since it differs from what seems to be the plain meaning of the word. –  Monica Cellio Sep 13 '11 at 3:08
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@Monica, actually it doesn't. "Avadim" is slaves. "Meshe'ubad" is a Mishnaic legal term meaning "on lien." Check a concordance. –  Shalom Sep 13 '11 at 13:51
    
@Shalom, thanks for steering me in the right direction. I see now that my understanding of this word was wrong. –  Monica Cellio Sep 28 '11 at 2:07
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@msh210 I saw it in the Meam Loez. It also points out that had we run away on our own, we would have stayed those "former slaves" forever. –  Shmuel Brin Apr 3 '13 at 4:16
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We were at the 49th rung of impurity. We were already idolaters. 4/5 of the Jews didn't want to leave. If we would have waited a little more we would have gotten to the 50th rung which means we would have been too far gone.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that is why we had to run out of Egypt. The evil was still strong and we went out only because of Hashem's great kindness. When Moshiach will come, we will go out calmly, because by then evil will be uprooted. There will not be any danger of us falling back.

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I've heard that about the 49th rung too but I don't know a source. Do you have one? –  Monica Cellio Sep 14 '11 at 0:14
    
@Monica the source in note 4 references to the Zohar Chadash in the beginning of parshas Yisro. –  Shmuel Brin Sep 15 '11 at 4:53
    
related: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/17716/… –  Menachem Apr 12 '13 at 20:05
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To sum up, there are two answers.

  1. The translation is not accurate. We would not still be slaves, rather we would owe one to Pharoah. We would be indebted.

  2. If we had not been redeemed, then the Jewish people would have ceased to exist as a separate entity. This is reflected in the idea that only 1/5 th of the Jewish people left. Or that we were at the 49 th level of Tumah. Meaning, the end of the Jewish people would have been that we were slaves to Pharoah. The Bnei Yisroel, would have became the same as the Hittites, or any other ancient people that we only know about from archaeology.

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The Haggadah does not say that we would still all be slaves today, nor does it say that we would be slaves. It says: “And if the Holy One, Blessed be He, had not taken our forefathers out of Egypt, behold, we (see below) and our children and our children’s children (three generations only) would have been subjugated (but not slaves) to Pharaoh in Egypt.”

The sefer Binyan Ariel here explains:

This statement can be explained by the well known fact that Hashem took us out 190 years before the completion of the 400 years that had been decreed upon us. And since the length of one generation is seventy years and since the youngest men who were enslaved when they went out were twenty years old, if we add a further fifty years to complete that generation and add a further 140 years for two more generations, the total would be 190 years. Thus, if they had remained in Egypt for the missing 190 years, they and their children and their children’s children would have remained subjugated to Pharaoh in Egypt.

And since, as Chazal explain, it was the harshness of the servitude which allowed Hashem to shorten the time to only 210 years, if they had actually completed all the 400 years that had been decreed upon them then they would not have needed to be harshly enslaved - it would have sufficient to have been merely subjugated to the Egyptians.

This is what the Haggadah is saying: Behold we and our children and our children’s children would have been subjugated - but not slaves. (And the reason why it says "we" is because in every generation a person must see himself as if he himself went out from Egypt.)

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1) Perhaps it means the culturally we would still be enslaved to Pharaoh. We would be entrenched in the Egyptian values, their ethical and philosophical beliefs. We would be assimilated into the Egyptian society never to break away if not for God taking us out and providing us with a new outlook on life.

2) Perhaps it is not telling us a historical fact. The import of the statement is to convey to us the appreciation we must have for Hashem. The situation as it stood in Egypt was a permanent one. Under normal circumstances we would not get free. There was no hope on the horizon. Egypt was doing well. From our perspective we were going nowhere. In terms of our appreciation of the event we need to view it as if we weren't going anywhere. “Probably” or “could be” or “statistically” it might have happened over time that we would be freed. However that doesn't take away from the debt of gratitude we must have for Hashem. We must appreciate what Hashem did for us. For us it was like we never would have been freed. Like in modern science when Feynman discovered Quantum, scientist said that it was ripe for the discovery. Other scientists were just about to discover it. However, when Einstein presented his theory on general relativity, the scientific community said they owed a debt of gratitude to Einstein. No one else would have come up with it at that time. He was light years ahead of his time.

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An interesting point that I have heard actually considers what happened in the United States after the civil war. American Blacks became "free", but examine what happened in the next hundred years. After the slaves became free we had the rise of Jim Crow laws, segregation, the attempt to live in the world of racial prejudice, the start of the modern Civil Rights era and it is still not over. Modern blacks, though they may be called "African American" are not African and are completely (culturally) American. Even when they try to differentiate themselves, they are still (in the rest of the world) regarded as Americans. Had Hashem allowed us to break away "derech hateva", or had we gone back after the death of the Egyptians at the Yam Suf, we would never had become "Jews", we would have been "Judeo-Egyptians".

As far as the 49th level of tumah is concerned, Rabbi Avigdor Miller compares it to the difference between the centigrade and fahrenheit scales. On the scale we were at, we were about to drop "below zero". Had we done so, we would have lost our standing on the spiritual scale and have begun living on the same scale as the rest of the world. We might have been among the best of society, but we would have been forever part of that society and treated on that scale.

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The comparison to US slavery came up at my seder this year. I wonder if a key difference is the purpose of the freedom -- "let my people go" is not the end of the sentence; it's "...so that they can serve Me". We were freed from Egyptian bondage for a purpose. Freed slaves in the US, on the other hand, were basically (as I understand it) just cut loose to find their own way. It's no wonder they were so easy to oppress with the laws and ill treatment that followed; they had no one to protect and guide them. –  Monica Cellio Apr 17 at 13:31
    
@Monica Cellio That is one of the reasons. It is also the fact that Hashem had to totally remove them from Egypt and immerse them in the new society that He was constructing. In spite of all that happened, they still wound up having to spend an entire generation in the midbar before we could enter Eretz Yisrael. In any case, had they been treated well, they still would never have "gone back" to their original culture, but would have remained "Americans". –  sabbahillel Apr 17 at 23:06
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The Maharal in Gevuros Hashem ch. 52 explains this line in two ways.

In his first explanation, he writes that the point is not that Hashem would have / could have only taken us out then, but rather that no one else could have taken us out, whether then or at some later point. This is because the Exodus was the creation of the Jewish nation from potential to actual, and is tantamount to the birth of the Jewish people, and the "key" of birth is solely in the hand of Hashem (Gemara in Taanis).

In his second explanation, he explains that the reason it refers to specifically our forefathers being taken out and us remaining slaves is because Hashem taking out or forefathers results in intrinsic freedom (not just us being free because our forefathers happened to be free), as opposed to if an angel had taken us out it would be incidental freedom for future generations. The difference is that because we are intrinsically free, we are immune to future enslavement.

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