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Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim – Giving Thanks To G-d

I’m going to ask you a question and I want a straight answer: When you say “Thank you” to someone, do you really mean it? You’re probably thinking: Who does this guy think he is pretending to know how I think? But the truth is, how many times do we say the words without conviction, as if by rote, just so as not to be impolite? For instance, a telemarketer calls up during dinnertime or while your bathing the kids, rattles on and on about how you, and only you, were selected to try out this wonder product from their company, and won’t let you even have the chance to say it isn’t a good time. She finally ends off by saying, “This is the perfect product for the perfect person” or something flattering like that, and what do you say – “Thank you very much”! For what?! So that the baby can fingerpaint his supper on the wall or the bathroom should look like a tidal wave hit!! I once even saw someone get pulled over by a cop, was made to sit for 20 minutes waiting – his car then died and he had to wait for another 20 minutes until he got a jump-start. He was stewing, but when the officer finally handed him his $95 ticket and said, “Slow down and have a nice day”, he politely answered,  “Thank you”! Actually, it was me!

When we thank Hashem – whether during davening, or while making a berachah on food, etc. – we’d like to think that we are sincere and forthright, but unfortunately, it isn’t always so. It’s hard to constantly maintain perfect concentration and our minds tend to wander from time to time. On Pesach, however, we are charged with a specific Mitzvah to thank Hashem sincerely for the wonders he performed for the Jews, and understanding and pure concentration is absolutely necessary or the Mitzvah is not considered accomplished.

In the Haggadah we say, “Rabban Gamliel would say: If one does not speak these three things on Pesach, he has not fulfilled his requirement. These are: Pesach, Matzah and Maror.” The Rambam says that Rabban Gamliel is referring to the requirement of reciting the Haggadah and the tale of the Jewish exodus out of Egypt, on the night of Pesach. Furthermore, these three things represent the main theme of the miraculous events that took place in Egypt – Pesach, when Hashem passed over the homes of our ancestors and spared the Jewish first-born males. Matzah, on account of the dough that was unable to rise, during the exodus, and became matzos. Maror, because the Egyptians embittered the lives of our ancestors through slavery and hardship. Explains the Rambam, these three ideas must be expressed at the seder or the entire Mitzvah of reciting the exodus, will remain  unfulfilled. Let us explain in further depth.

In reality, there were three very serious obstacles to the departure of Bnei Yisroel from Egypt. One, the Jews in Egypt were really quite unworthy to be redeemed. We find that they were on an extremely low spiritual plane, akin to the Egyptians. Two, it wasn’t the proper time yet. Hashem told Avrohom Avinu that his descendants would be exiled in a foreign land for 400 years and that time hadn’t yet ended. The third obstacle was that the Jewish nation was oppressed and enslaved, hurting from the terrible labor forced on them and physically unable to free themselves.

However, cites the Tiferes Yisroel in Mishnayos, Hashem in his infinite wisdom and mercy, utilized these three obstacles in a manner which actually facilitated the early redemption of the Jewish people. The fact that they were considered unworthy necessitated that they be redeemed ahead of schedule, for had they lasted even a bit longer, Chazal tell us the Jews would have slipped down to the lowest possible spiritual plane, from which they could have never climbed back out. In order to achieve this, though, the Egyptians were necessarily harsh and overburdening to the Jews, so as to “pack in” the full amount of servitude within a shortened period of time. It is for this reason, continues the Tiferes Yisroel, that we remind ourselves of these three obstacles, turned acts of Heavenly kindness, through the three themes of the exodus: Pesach – although they were unworthy, Hashem still passed over their homes. Matzah – the lack of time to bake the bread, corresponding to the shortened exile. Maror – the bitterness of the oppression correlating to the harsh physical bonds of slavery.

We can learn a tremendous lesson from these insightful words, a lesson that teaches us how, and why, to properly give thanks. The Maharal of Prague writes that the purpose of our elaborate and incessant recounting of the story of the exodus on the night of Pesach, is not just to lavish praise on Hashem, but rather to clearly identify ourselves as grateful individuals who know how to show our Hakaras Hatov to G-d for all the wonders that he has done for us. This is important, for as Rabbeinu Bechaye quotes from the Medrash, “One who is unmindful to show thanks to his friend will eventually become unmindful of G-d” – which inevitably leads to heresy.

Hashem did not just redeem his children from the slavery of Egypt, fulfilling his prophetic words to Avrohom Avinu, all the while performing miracles and wonders. What Hashem, in essence did, was he altered the natural course of history that was instituted and put in place from the beginning of creation, he overturned and reversed the physical and social impediments, causing them to become beneficial aids for redemption and he went above and beyond any promises that were made regarding the fate of the Bnei Yisroel. By allowing the Egyptians to overburden and torment the Jewish people, more than they possibly would have done, this allowed the prophetic decree of 400 years of enslavement to be condensed into just 210 years and afforded a nation, that was otherwise unrighteous, to be considered worthy of redemption. All the events that took place during Yetzias Mitrayim were unconditional acts of kindness – right down to the extreme bitterness of the enslavement – for a nation that was, at best undeserving, if not idol-worshippers themselves.

A good deed performed by one person on behalf of another, whether out of a feeling of good will or a sense of responsibility to repay a kindness, is reason enough to show a little gratitude. We say “Thank you” to the gas attendant who pumps the gas for us under arctic conditions, or the customer rep. who credits our account after the phone company overbills us by $200.00 – but then again – that’s their job, they get paid to do that! However, Lehavdil, when we give thanks to Hashem on Pesach night, a perfunctory “Thank you” just won’t cut it! The quality and quantity of Chessed that Hashem performed for the Bnei Yisroel at Yetzias Mitzrayim, especially when we definitely did not have it coming to us, demands our utmost sincerity, understanding and concentration of true Hakaras Hatov to our most beneficent creator.

Thus we now understand the words of Rabban Gamliel and the importance of discussing the 3 main themes of the seder night: Pesach, Matzoh and Maror. For these three, represent the extraordinary kindness, unwarranted wonders and unconditional Hashgacha that Hashem exhibited in releasing and redeeming his nation from tyranny and bondage, and were we not to actually speak out these incredible qualities – with the understanding of our words and utmost expressions of gratitude – we would not be fully fulfilling our requirement, on the night of Pesach, to praise and thank Hashem for Geulas Yisroel – Bnei Yisroel’s redemption.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we should not thank the grocery bagger for packing our bags or the postman for delivering the mail, but when we express our appreciation to Hashem, especially on Pesach, let’s try to make it a bit more meaningful and sincere, for the Chessed that he did – and does – for us, is truly the unconditional love of a father for his children.


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