Preparing for an Intimate Encounter on Seder Night

The Maggid section of the Haggada is structured very carefully.  The initial stage consists of basic questions – מה נשתנה – regarding leil haseder, a basic answer – עבדים היינו, and a basic שבח or praise of Hashem.  The process begins a second time, though this round a bit deeper, with the questions/struggles of 4 sons (notice the parallel to the 4 questions), a deeper answer – מתחילה and a fuller שבח – ברוך שומר.  The next stage of Maggid includes the most comprehensive retelling of the Yetzias Mitzrayim story based on the psukim from Ki Tavo.  It is only after this stage, which includes “a show and tell session” (Raban Gamliel) of the Pesach, Matzah and Maror, do we arrive at the peak of Maggid.  All of the stages and rounds of Maggid build up to the crescendo when we make the very bold following statement:

“בכל דור ודור חייב אדם לראות את עצמו כאלו הוא יצא ממצרים”

“In every generation each person is obligated to see himself/herself as if he/she came out of Mitzrayim.”

How do we fulfill such a difficult, seemingly impossible mission?

The holy Baal Shem Tov guides us in a very powerful way.  He quotes a well known phrase from Tehillim 69 “קרבה אל נפשי גאלה” (coming close with my soul is redemption.)  This verse is a T’filla on behalf of our soul beseeching Hashem for personal salvation from the exile of the Yetzer Hara or evil inclination.  When each person is redeemed on a personal level, continues the Baal Shem Tov, the broader, national redemption will follow.

Indeed the greatest form of exile is when we are distant from our souls, from ourselves.  As Chaza”l teach us in the Zohar, the most essential form of exile is an exile that exists in our daas or inner minds.  That means that the external subjugation of Pharoh came nowhere near the inner subjugation of the yetzer harah on Bnai Yisrael.  This inner debacle brought Bnai Yisrael to the 49th level of impurity, which neared a place of no return.

Our first mission on Pesach is to recommit ourselves to the battle against the yetzer hara, the yetzer hara that wants to knock us down in practice and in emuna, bein Adam L’Makom and bein Adam L’Chavero.  As we eat our sanctified matza over Pesach which is diametrically opposed to the yetzer hara, we should have in mind that we are injecting into ourselves yetzer tov in its most unique consumer form.

Even deeper, there is a most specific yetzer hara on Leil Haseder that is alluded to by the Baal Shem.  It wants us to believe that there is no hope of connecting to Yitzias Mitzrayim in a way that will speak to me, in a way that will bring to life בכל דור ודור חייב אדם לראות את עצמו כאלו הוא יצא ממצרים.  And therefore, it is incumbent on us to do this very avoda of “קרבה אל נפשי גאלה.”The more that I come in contact with my soul, the more I will connect with the Geula.  It is for this reason that a minimum of four, very different children make it into the text of the seder.  Each child has its own needs and its own path and it behooves parents to be sensitive to the uniqueness of our children.

It is for this reason that we highlight in the special Leil Haseder bracha of Geula at the end of Maggid the words, “And we will thank you with a new song for our redemption   ועל פדות נפשינו and for the liberation of our souls.”

Practically, this means something very different for every person.  For some, it means that for their seder to meaningful the night must include a deep intellectual probing of the teachings of the hagada through the illuminations of Chaza”l and the Rishonim.  For others, it means filling the special night with song, both inwardly and outwardly.  Some connect with the unique halachik dimensions of the seder, while others are taken by the powerful spiritual currents of the night.

What is required of us is thought and preparation about what draws me in.  How do I connect on this auspicious night?  Maybe it is for this reason that we have the minhag on Shabbas Hagadol to go over the Hagada.  This should not be seen as a mere dress rehearsal, but rather, an opportunity to contemplate how and what I connect to this year.  Once each of us comes to this realization, it is just a matter of finding the opportunity at the seder to apply it.

On this night of nights, a night which not a day or a night, may we קרבה אל נפשי and experience a personal and national Geula Shlama!

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