1. Why did Israel have to remain in Egypt during the ten plagues?
2. Why did we have to see it all and experience it?
3. Why couldn’t the Egyptians have been punished for enslaving us after we had already left?
Yismach Yisrael on Pesach Haggadah, Magid, We Were Slaves in Egypt 2:1
(1) We Were Slaves: The Exile and Liberation of Speech (Page 51b): From the narrow place (min ha’metzar) I cried out, and he answered me from the wide open space. It is obligatory to recall the Exodus from Egypt each day, morning and night. On this night, however, we do more than simply mention this event. We tell the story of the Exodus. We begin by saying, “How is this night different from all other nights?” and respond, “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Mitzraim (Egypt), and he took us out of there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm.” The Zohar teaches us that the story of the Exodus is really the story of the exile of speech. The words Pharaoh and Mitzraim (Egypt) are an allusion to this exile. When the letters of Pharaoh are switched around it spells oreph, restricting, just as the word Mitzraim can be read metzar yam, the narrow place. In exile, the Israelites lost the power of speech. They could not lift their voices in prayer and Torah. The powers of idolatry imprisoned them so that they could not be redeemed. It was only through the mighty hand of God that we were redeemed from speechlessness and we gained peh sach, an open mouth, though which we could offer prayers and thanksgiving. That is why the essential mitzvah of the first night of Pesach is Haggadah, declaring. Telling the story (at length) is a sign of our true freedom.
The Ishbitzer rebbe, Reb Mordechai Yoseph Lainer of Ishbitza (1800-1853)
...Not only did we live in Mitzrayim, but we were "IN" Mitzrayim. What does it mean to be "IN" Mitzrayim? Mitzrayim is not only a geographical location. In the Kabalistic and Chassidic traditions it is also a state of consciousness - specifically, a state of contracted consciousness. 'Yisrael' like the letters of the words 'li rosh / my head' symbolizes expanded consciousness, awareness, expansive thinking, while 'Mitzrayim' like the letters of the words 'metzar yam / the straits of the ocean,' symbolize contracted consciousness, limited vision and comprehension...We were literally enveloped with a state of 'Mitzrayim.' We were, so to speak, 'in a coffin in Mitzrayim' and therefore we needed to go through the plagues alongside the Egyptians. We too needed to experience the awe, fear and trepidation so that we could be cleansed from those Mitzrayim parts of ourselves.
From Rabbi Mimi Feigelson (Mashpiah Ruchani at Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University) http://ziegler.aju.edu/default.aspx?id=5327
We are often in a rush to get out of uncomfortable situations. We want to solve problems as quickly as we can so that we need not dwell on them. But it appears that bracketing our stay in Mitzrayim with the word 'Mitzrayim' functions as an invitation to actually sit in this space. It seems that the only way out of this constricted state of being is by going through it, not by circumventing it! We can't overcome limitations that we've encountered unless we are willing to own our part in the situation: to be able to name and face our pain, to be able to claim our suffering, to be able to hold our loss. It is only then, when we see ourselves in the light of our darkness that we can truly leave it behind as we walk towards new horizons. We are being asked to dwell in our pain and discomfort so that we will be able to indeed move forward. Without this process, it would appear that we will never be free from that which enslaved us - we would carry it with us, creating new Mitzrayims wherever we journeyed next. We won't be able to truly leave it behind us. We need to be able to name the emotion so that we can find a remedy to heal it.
It is with this in mind that I ask us all to sit one more moment in this discomfort, to own being a 'temporary citizen of Mitzrayim,' so that when we indeed do leave Mitzrayim we can be free. The one last piece, before willing to go back into our personal darknesses, is to also be able to name who the 'holders of light' are in our lives. In our story in the chumash we have Shifra and Puah - the midwives, we have Miriam, Bitya, Moshe and Aharon. In order to walk through this process it is imperative, as the Torah itself teaches us, to be able to identify those who hold on to our vision for us, those who see redemption and freedom on the other side, witnesses of true liberation. It is with their presence on the other side of the darkness that we are able to march through it.