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Parshas Bo

Bitter is Better
Rabbi Yosef Levinson

The Torah commands us to recount the Exodus from Mitzrayim on the first night of Pesach. Not only must we retell the story of the Egyptian servitude and persecution and of the Jewish people's salvation through Hashem's mighty Hand, we are also obligated to eat from the Korban Pesach (Passover sacrifice) together with matza and maror (bitter herbs), foods that remind us of this period in our history. We partake of the Korban Pesach to commemorate our salvation. We consume matza to recall our speedy delivery. The Jews did not even have enough time to bake bread for their journey before they were driven from their homes. We eat these foods with maror, to remind us of the bitterness and the pain that the Egyptians inflicted upon us.

Jews have been celebrating Pesach for over three thousand, three hundred years. Actually, the very first Seder was conducted even before we left Mitzrayim. On the eve of their departure, after they were all packed and ready to go, the Jews ate the Pesach together with matza and maror. We can understand why they were commanded to eat the Pesach and matza that year. These foods represent the ge'ula, redemption, which they were about to experience. Additionally, it was in the merit of fulfilling this mitzva that the Bnei Yisrael were redeemed. However, did the Jews leaving Mitzrayim really need a reminder of the bitterness that they had endured for so long? Could they ever forget the back breaking labour and the impossible tasks that the Egyptians forced them to do, or the babies snatched from their mother's arms and thrown into the sea and left to die. The Jews who suffered under the Nazis y"ms before their liberation did not perform any ritual to recall the horrors they endured in the camps. Yet most survivors remember all too well the atrocities committed. They would bear the scars of those terrible years for the rest of their lives. Why then were the Bnei Yisrael commanded to eat maror before they left Mitzrayim?

We perceive zechira, memory and shicha, forgetfulness in terms of black and white. After returning from the supermarket, my wife asks if I purchased a particular item that she had requested. I respond that I forgot. She suggests that next time I should write it down. Next week again she asks if I remembered: "No" I answer. "Didn't you make a list?" she asks. I reply "Yes, but I forgot the list at home."

Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz zt"l writes however that the Sages understood zechira and shicha differently. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 35a) rules that the Sanhedrin (Jewish Supreme Court) cannot try a capital case on Friday. This is because executions must be carried out the day after the court's ruling. The accused cannot be killed the day that he was found guilty, nor can his execution be delayed more than one day. Inasmuch as the Beis Din cannot mete out punishment on Shabbos, the trial is postponed until Sunday. The Gemara asks: "Why can't the judges deliberate on Friday and delay issuing their final ruling until Sunday?" (It is only forbidden to postpone an execution once the Beis Din issues their decision.) The Gemara responds that if they wait until Sunday, the judges might forget their original arguments. Although the Court's proceedings are fully transcribed, the judge's feelings, the inclinations of his heart, are not recorded, and this is likely to be forgotten. The Dayanim remember their arguments. And if not, they can always read the transcript. However they might forget their feelings about the trial and the reasoning of their original opinion.

All of us recall the tragic events of September 11th. We all remember the horrors of that fateful day. Nevertheless, if we would reflect today on those tragedies of a few short months ago - no matter how strong our emotions are - they will not match the shock and terror that we felt on September 11th.

This is why the Jews were commanded to eat maror before leaving Egypt. Hashem wanted them to capture all the bitterness of their servitude while it was still fresh. They should tremble as if they stood before their Egyptian task makers, they should hear the sound of the whip and feel the pain as if they were being lashed. Only then could they go free. In the future, the Bnei Yisrael would be able to portray their suffering to their children, keeping the tradition alive till this very day. Although we all know how maror tastes and we remember the sharp sting of the horseradish, nevertheless, this knowledge cannot compare to what we feel and taste when we actually eat the maror at the Seder each year. On Pesach, the Torah wants the pain and suffering of slavery to be as clear and vivid to us as the taste of the maror on our tongues. "In every generation one is obligated to see oneself as if he himself left Mitzrayim". After reliving the bitterness of the exile, we can fully appreciate Hashem's kindness in freeing us from bondage.

Rabbi Moshe Eiseman of Baltimore tells the story of a Holocaust survivor who was travelling through Europe when his plane made an unscheduled stop in Frankfurt, Germany. All the passengers were asked to disembark, yet this Jew refused to do so. Even after the pilot asked if he could just step outside for a few moments so that the plane may be cleaned, he would not leave the plane. He simply could not set foot on that accursed soil that was saturated with so much Jewish blood. Any of us would have no difficulty travelling through Germany. We know of the atrocities that were committed there, but we do not remember them in our hearts. That survivor remembered.

When the past is forgotten from our hearts, it is not just the past that is lost. We begin to forget the present as well. Everyone is aware of the troubles facing the Jews residing in Eretz Yisrael. All of us remember the wars that Israel fought, when her very existence was at stake. The Arabs have been voicing their hatred for us and committing unspeakable crimes against us for years. Much Jewish blood has been spilled defending the Jewish citizens of Eretz Yisrael. Yet those on the Israeli left, the architects of the Oslo Accord ignore all this and insist on continuing the peace process. Even the most casual observer of current events in Israel can clearly see that the Palestinians do not want peace with Israel. What they really want is a piece of Israel, and another piece and another…. The peaceniks know all the facts and figures but that is exactly as they see it: cold facts and figures. The left has ignored and forgotten Jewish suffering for so long that they are totally numb and desensitised to their brothers' pain. No matter what atrocities the Palestinians continue to perpetuate, the Oslo believers refuse to halt the negotiations.

May we truly recall the bitterness of the Egyptian servitude and may we appreciate the kindness of Hashem's salvation. Let us also feel the suffering of our brethren in Eretz Yisrael. In the merit of being nosei b'ol im chaveiro, sharing our neighbours' pain may we witness the ge'ula sheleima speedily in our days.

Daf Hashavua Kollel Beth HaTalmud Copyright (c) 2001 by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

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