Lift Up!

As the Jews were getting ready to enter the Land of Israel, they were met with resistance from a few nations that hated them. The Torah tells us that Balak, the King of Moav, feared that the Jews would attack his nation, and hired Billam, a non-Jewish prophet, to use his powers to curse the Jews.

Balak sent a message to Billam stating, “Here is a nation that has come out of Egypt.” After Billam received the message, he made a slight but significant change, saying, “Here is a nation coming out of Egypt.”

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein o.b.m. explains the difference. Balak considered the Jewish nation a powerful force and understood that their exodus from Egypt was a thing of the past. He viewed their exodus as an escape from something that they wanted to forget.

Billam was much more astute and understood the Jewish nation’s relationship with their exodus from Egypt. He said they are a nation who are coming out of Egypt. Their composition is not to move on and forget their difficult past as other nations do. Rather, their enslavement and miraculous exodus from Egypt is what defines them and energizes them.

As Pesach approaches and we are in the mode of preparing for the Seder and Yom Tov in general, we realize how spot on Billam was in understanding what we are all about.

Our Sages tell us that Billam was one of the advisors of Pharoah when Pharoah saw the Jews multiplying and feared they would overtake his nation. Billam recommended that he kill the Jewish male babies.

When G-d miraculously split the Red Sea for the Jews, the surrounding nations turned to the prophet Billam to find out why the bodies and containers of water they had split. He told them about the miracle G-d did for the Jews which extended to include all the waters in the entire world.

When G-d was ready to give the Torah to mankind, He approached the prophet Billam asking if he would consider accepting the Torah. Billam asked what the Torah requires one to do, and when he was told its laws, he turned it down.

Thus, Billam was quite aware of the Jewish nation and their experiences, and it was through this keen understanding of them, that he said, “They are a nation who are always in the midst of coming out of Egypt.”

In fact, within the Hagadah there is a discussion of whether we have a responsibility to mention the Exodus of Egypt both by day and night, or just by day. In fact, we express the Exodus within the third portion of the Shema both by day and at night, and the Exodus is mentioned within our daily prayers as well.

On Pesach night, at our Seder we have an additional responsibility – “Lesapair” ­- to speak and discuss all that happened in Egypt. The Hagadah beautifully directs us in this discussion and helps us fulfill this great and unforgettable Mitzvah.

Billam’s words that are forever etched in our Torah, were expressed some 39 years after the Jews’ Exodus from Egypt. He did not and could not deny what the Jews went through, since he was part of the Pharoh’s advisory team. He was aware of their miraculous Exodus and that the Jews chose to accept G-d’s Torah at Mount Sinai. As wondrous and miraculous as it was to him, Billam couldn’t stand us. He continuously wished to curse us even though G-d communicated with him and told him he would not be successful. Such was his hate towards us.

Why? Because Billam, or for that matter, all those that hate us, can’t tolerate a nation that has the clearest and purest Divine mission and purpose. Our existence bothers them, for it makes them uncomfortable. Or perhaps they are jealous that we have an extra-ordinary relationship with the Almighty as a Priestly and cherished nation.

When we follow the 15 steps of the Seder and fulfill all the Mitzvos that are involved, together with our families at our side, we gain and ingrain within ourselves, what makes us unique. We realize that the enslavement was not for naught. It strengthened us to appreciate freedom and to fall into the embrace of the Almighty and to follow His directives. This is the only way we made it till now, 3335 years later!

At the end of the fifth step of the Seder, Magid, we recite a blessing on our redemption, over the second cup of wine. We say something that seems out of order, “Who redeemed us and our forefathers.” Didn’t G-d redeem our forebearers before us?

Rabbi Shaul Natinson o.b.m. explains that at the Seder, after we’ve elevated ourselves by identifying with all that happened in Egypt, with G-d’s miraculous intervention on behalf of the Jews, and recognizing what the Pesach offering, the Matza and Morror represent, we become one with our forebearers, and therefore can state with confidence that G-d would have redeemed us just like them from Egypt!

So, as we are reciting this special blessing while lifting up our cups, we are symbolically lifting ourselves up as well, expressing our hope and prayer that G-d will feel that we are fit for redemption from our present long journey of exile!

L’shana Haba’ah B’Yerushalayim!