The Seder: A Pattern of Identity
In the Haggadah, Rabbi
Yehudah divides the The Ten Plagues into three groups. Each one of these groups
represents a different component of Egyptian nationhood destroyed by the Yad
HaShem. The first three, represented by the acronym DaTzaCh (dam, tsefardaya,
kinim), concern the affliction of the Nile and the land of Egypt, which
formed the centerpiece of Egyptian identity. HaShem showed that those national
symbols were putrid. The river turned to blood; the frogs were damaging, noisy
and harmful; and the ground turned into lice.
Then there was ADaSh—arov, dever, shchin. These
plagues affected the national resources; shelter, property and the physical
body. The wild beasts of arov invaded their homes. Then their cattle,
their most prized possessions, were destroyed by pestilence. Shchin afflicted
The third group was BaChaB—arbeh, choshech and
makas bechoros. They represent the total bankruptcy of national purpose, of
the Egyptian future. HaShem destroyed any role they could have for the future.
He took away their food supply in barad and arbeh; barad,
the short-term supply, arbeh, the long-range, thereby stunting their
future prospects. The choshech immobilized them, preventing them from
functioning at all. Finally, makas bechoros decimated their next
generation, which embodied the future.
That’s the overall picture. For the purposes of this
discussion, however, we’ll focus just on the first three: The Nile turned to
blood. Blood and water are the two life-giving liquids. Blood is internal. God
puts the blood inside, circulating without the person having to worry about it.
Water, on the other hand, is man’s contribution. You have to find it, carry it,
make a brocho over it, drink it. You don’t create it, but you enhance it. By
declaring that they were self-made people, responsible for all their wealth and
power, conceptually, the Egyptians changed blood into water. The
self-made nation looked upon their God-given blood as if it were water, as if it
were their contribution to their existence. HaShem’s retribution, midah
keneged midah, consisted of transforming the water into blood. He was
teaching them that just as much as when the life-giving force on the outside
(water) is exchanged for the inside one (blood), it doesn’t give any life, the
same holds true when the inside one is exchanged for the outside one, it also
doesn’t give life.
The frogs that came from it are also no good; noisy,
bothersome and harmful. When a person thinks that everything he has in this
world is his own creation, then whatever emanates from him is also no good. In
the end it stinks, as the frogs did when they died and stunk up the river. When
a person thinks that he doesn’t receive everything from HaShem, he may seem to
be doing a lot of good things, but ultimately it’s going to end up in a stink.
Lastly, if you think you’re a self-made man, then you will
have no place to stand in this world, the very ground underneath you will be
taken away, turned into lice, and you’re going to become the ground for other
parasites. Instead of the ground providing you with a basis for life, you will
provide others with a ground, a basis for life.
HaShem rebuilt the Jewish people with three lashonos of
geulah—v’hotzeisi, v’hitzalti, v’goalti. These parallel the
aforementioned three components of Egyptian nationhood: identity, resources and
V’hotzeisi: I’ll take you out and separate you from the
Egyptians, so you’ll have your own new identity. V’hitzalti mi’avodaschem:
you won’t be working for them anymore. You’ll have your own resources.
V’goalti: I will redeem you and give you a purpose, a future. This HaShem
does in two ways: one, is with shefatim gedolim, great judgments.
Sometimes we are the ones who deter our purpose. We’re lazy, or interested in
doing other things. HaShem has to judge us and goad us to do what we’re supposed
to do. Other times, we want to do what we’re supposed to do, but the goyim won’t
let us. So then HaShem will act to enable us to fulfill our purpose.
The Vilna Gaon says that these are the three loshonos
of geulah. True, the Gemora says that the four cups of wine at the Seder
correspond to the four lashonos of geulah. However,
goalti is mentioned twice in the parsha, and that accounts for the fourth
expression of redemption and the fourth cup.
The Four Cups also fit into this thematic structure. The
first cup of the Seder is Kiddush, which refers to the identity of the Jewish
people. Asher bochar bonu mi kal am, that he chose us from all the other
nations. Elevated above all other people, all other tongues. That’s identity.
The second cup: Resources. They come totally from HaShem. The
second cup is drunk right before the meal. Everything is on the table, all the
food and the mitzvos. Those are our resources.
The Third Cup: Birkas HaMazon. This corresponds to redemption
with great judgments. Bentshing is not just a thank you for the food;
there’s also Torah, Bris, Eretz Yisrael, Beis HaMikdash. After eating, one is a
little bit fatter, has extended his life a little bit, but for what? The answer
is that this latest caloric intake provides the internal energy to fulfill our
national purpose as delineated in Birkas HaMazon.
The Fourth Cup: Hallel. In Hallel we thank HaShem for
defeating the goyim, the external obstacle against fulfilling our Jewish goals.