You too left Mitzrayim
The Mishnah (Pesachim 10:5, TB 115a-b), in a section quoted by the Hagadah, states:
רבן גמליאל היה אומר, כל שלא אמר שלשה דברים אלו בפסח, לא יצא ידי חובתו. ואלו הן: פסח, מצה, ומרור….
בכל דור ודור חיב אדם לראות את עצמו כאלו הוא יצא ממצרים. שנאמר (שמות יג), “וְהִגַּדְתָּ֣ לְבִנְךָ֔ בַּיּ֥וֹם הַה֖וּא לֵאמֹ֑ר בַּעֲב֣וּר זֶ֗ה עָשָׂ֤ה ה֙׳ לִ֔י בְּצֵאתִ֖י מִמִּצְרָֽיִם:”
לפיכך אנחנו חיבין להודות , להלל, לשבח, לפאר, לרומם, להדר, לברך, לעלה, ולקלס, למי שעשה לאבותינו ולנו את כל הנסים האלו, הוציאנו מעבדות לחרות, מיגון לשמחה, ומאבל ליום טוב, ומאפלה לאור גדול, ומשעבוד לגאלה. ונאמר לפניו, “הללו־י-ה!”
Rabban Gamliel used to say: Whomever doesn’t say these three things on Pesach did not fulfill his obligation. And they are: Pesach, Matzah and Maror…
In generation after generation, a person is obligated to see himself as though he left Mitzrayim [Egypt]. As it says (Shemos 13) “And you will tell your child on that day, saying, ‘Because of this Hashem Acted for me when He took me out of Mitzrayim.'”
Therefore, we are obligated to thank, praise, glorify, honor, exalt, extol, and adore the One Who did for our ancestors and for us all these miracles — took us out of servitude to freedom, from depression to joy, from mourning to holiday, from darkness to great light and from subjugation to redemption. And we will say before Him, “Praise G-d!”
Dov Bruce Krulwich asked on “God Save Us From Your Opinion: A Place For Serious Discussion of Judaism” about this obligation (posted here): “Putting aside jokes about Pesach prep, does anyone feel like they accomplish this? Does anyone feel they succeed in conveying this sentiment to their kids? I’d like to hear anyone’s thoughts on how to relate the hagadah to today’s world.”
My answer, a little touched up for blogging:
On Oct 15th, 2002, I was laid off from my job. (As was 80% of the business unit. I made it to the 2nd of 3 waves.)
On Oct 21st, my daughter wanted to watch TV. The only TV in our home at the time was in my room, so we had some control over what they watched. She plunked herself down on my bed, and sat right on my foot. My toe was in excruciating pain. Two hours later, I hopped to the ER to get it taped.
(Yes, this is relevant. Hang on.)
Turns out that — Barukh Hashem — I was born with a defective pinky-toe bone, a mere sliver that broke easily. This broken bone is what got me to the ER, where I finally showed the doctor that swollen gland that wasn’t going away after nearly a month and a half. She told me that swollen gland required that I “should see a doctor. Tomorrow.” So, I went to my own doctor the next morning. He sent me for a needle biopsy and by lunchtime I found out I had lymphoma.
(I bet you’re still wondering where I am going with this.)
It took the doctors at Sloane Kettering a while to figure out how to treat this particular form of lymphoma. As of 2010, only three people were diagnosed with it, which involves both T and B cells, and has features of both large and small cell lymphomas. (True as 2010.) To the doctors, it looked like a little of everything and was a variation on the theme they hadn’t seen before.
Michael Ryan (NYPD, died 5-Nov-2007, age 41), Brian Ellicott (FDNY EMS, died 29-Nov-2007, age 45) — both zikhronam livrakhah — and myself (who in Nov 2007 was 42). All three of us were men, similar in age, who were in downtown Manhattan on 9/11 — although obviously my exposure was far far less than that of two people who went down to “the pile” for rescue and retrieval work in the days after the collapse. But it turns out Hashem gave me a means of being forewarned about my cancer 3 years it became obvious. So my disease was caught in stage one, meaning: before the problem was visible beyond the first lymph node, the one removed in a second biopsy.
And being laid off? A severance package at 100% pay was better than being on disability.
That winter, I thought I was caught between a pair of life’s greater trials, but in truth Hashem had made sure my hard times was of the exact measure He planned.
The term for a pair of difficulties? Mitzrayim — the dual form of meitzar, from the same root as tzaros. (Etymologically, the name of the country “Mitzrayim” refers to the upper and lower Misr, what the Egyptians called each the lands on on either side of the Nile.)
Anyone who has had hard times can look for how Hashem took them out. No less than when He took us out of Egypt. And so, a person is fully capable of seeing himself too having left Mitzrayim. When I say Shema with appropriate concentration, this is the “ה֣׳ אֱלֹֽקֵיכֶ֗ם אֲשֶׁ֨ר הוֹצֵ֤אתִי אֶתְכֶם֙ מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם לִהְי֥וֹת לָכֶ֖ם לֵאלֹקִ֑ים — Hashem your G-d who took you out of Mitzrayim to be G-d for you” that I think of in the closing sentence. (Bamidbar 15:41)
I really think that’s what the mitzvah is about. More than believing that we too in the 21st century would still be enslaved to some now long-dead empire… Or maybe even to their values. It’s to realize that life today, even though it looks less miraculous, is no less Hashem’s doing than were the flashy miracles of the Exodus.
And it is for the redemption we relive in our own lives that we must “thank, praise, glorify, honor, exalt, extol, and adore the One Who did for … for us all these miracles!”
To be intellectually honest: The story loses some of its impact if you think about Office Ryan and Firefighter Endicott’s families, who lost their love ones specifically because they were determined to give other rescue workers’ families the closure of being able to make a funeral. On 9/11 itself, for every story retold of someone who was spared being there because they were out doing some mitzvah is a story of someone who seems no less deserving who was killed in the attack.
Every life has its own story.
I cannot know G-d’s calculus in my own, never mind in others’.
But the mystery of tzadiq vera lo (why the righteous suffer) doesn’t free me from feeling grateful for the good in my life (hakaras hatov) and feeling thankful to the ones — or in this case the One — who provide it (hoda’ah).