Seeing yourself out of Egypt

We are invited to see ourselves as poor, afflicted, in the Seder. As in exile, in Egypt, in a moment of constraint. This is how yachatz begins. A poor person always eats a smaller piece and saves the greatest part for later, since they don't know whether there will be more food.

The Afikoman - the leftover matza - is the symbol of redemption. Where do you come from? asks the Sephardi leader of the seder - From Egypt, is the answer of the child.

Where is your Egypt? Is the question that our haggadah is also asking of us.

Where is Egypt today? Is another question that the haggadah is asking of us: the middle matza represents this world - or our present moment, and the other two our past and our future. The moment is broken, but we can't end the seder if we don't bring the broken piece back, symbolically reminding ourselves of redemption, both personal and communal, both communal and human. The idea brought by the two versions of the haggadah - to see yourself and to be seen as coming out of Egypt - point to those two poles of our Jewish experience: personal and transcendent.

(ה) רבן גמליאל היה אומר: כל שלא אמר שלשה דברים אלו בפסח, לא יצא ידי חובתו, ואלו הן: פסח, מצה, ומרור. פסח - על שום שפסח המקום על בתי אבותינו במצרים. מצה - על שום שנגאלו אבותינו ממצרים. מרור - על שום שמררו המצרים את חיי אבותינו במצרים. בכל דור ודור חיב אדם לראות את עצמו כאלו הוא יצא ממצרים, שנאמר (שמות יג) והגדת לבנך ביום ההוא לאמר, בעבור זה עשה ה' לי בצאתי ממצרים. 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 הללויה.

(5) Rabban Gamliel used to say: Whoever does not mentioned these three things on Passover does not discharge his duty, and these are they: the Passover-offering, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs. [The] Passover-offering [is offered] because the Omnipresent One passed over the houses of our ancestors in Egypt. Unleavened bread [is eaten] because our ancestors were redeemed from Egypt. [The] bitter herb is [eaten] because the Egyptians embittered the lives of our ancestors in Egypt. In every generation a person must regard himself as though he personally had gone out of Egypt, as it is said: “And you shall tell your son in that day, saying: ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt.’” Therefore it is our duty to thank, praise, laud, glorify, exalt, honor, bless, extol, and adore Him Who performed all these miracles for our ancestors and us; He brought us forth from bondage into freedom, from sorrow into joy, from mourning into festivity, from darkness into great light, and from servitude into redemption. Therefore let us say before Him, Hallelujah!

וּבְכָל דּוֹר וָדוֹר, חַיָּב אָדָם לְהַרְאוֹת אֶת עַצְמוֹ כְּאִלּוּ הוּא יָצָא מִמִּצְרַיִם, שֶׁלֹּא אֶת אֲבוֹתֵינוּ בִּלְבָד גָּאַל, אֵלָא אַף אוֹתָנוּ גָּאַל--שֶׁנֶּאֱמָר "וְאוֹתָנוּ, הוֹצִיא מִשָּׁם--לְמַעַן, הָבִיא אֹתָנוּ, לָתֶת לָנוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע לַאֲבֹתֵינוּ" (דברים ו,כג).

Haggadah according to the Rambam (aka the Sephardi version,

In every generation, a person is obligated to show himself as if he had left Egypt: for He did not redeem only our ancestors, but even us as well, as it is written "And He brought us out from thence, that He might bring us in, to give us the land which He swore unto our fathers" (Deuteronomy 6,23).

(1) In every generation each person is obligated to make himself appear as one who went forth from there: This statement is based on what was said at the beginning of the Haggadah, had God not taken our ancestors out of Egypt, we, and our children would still be enslaved; that is, we must say, God took us out from there because we are included in all the miracles. Therefore, we are obligated to give thanks and praise God…


בכל דור וכ' - כלומר כל יחיד ויחיד כמו שנאמר בעבור זה עשה לי וכבר דרשו למעלה לי ולא לו מכלל דדרשינן לי על כל אחד ואחד האמרו עכשיו מפיו


In every generation etc - that is to say, each and every individual, as it says: 'because of this that God did for me.' And it was already explained above "to me, and not to him" - from this general idea we explain: 'to me' applies to every single individual that speaks these words with his/her mouth.

Yismach Yisrael Haggadah p. 107a


In every generation a person is obligated to see his “essence:” The word atzmo, usually translated as “himself,” can also be translated as “his essence,” as in the verse, “It was the very essence (etzem) of the heavens for purity (Ex. 24:10)” This is an allusion to the inner divine spark found in each of us. A person must strengthen this holy spark no matter how low a state he reaches. In Egypt, we were so deeply mired in impurity that the Prosecutor said 'both the Israelites and the Egyptians worship idols – so how was one any better than the other?' And yet the Holy One in his great mercy looked and saw the inner spark of the people, as it says, “I am the one who explores the heart and the conscience. (Jer. 17:10)” So, too, each Jew must say that in every generation a person must strengthen the inner spark, which is still in him. This spark is capable of blossoming and becoming revitalized in the end. The Holy One not only redeemed our ancestors long ago but he redeems us as well along with them. As the holy Ari has said, “All the souls of the Jewish people were in the iron furnace of Egypt and we were redeemed from there."

Interesting Sephardic Customs Connected to the Rambam's Interpretation of the Mitzvah of Sippur

Participants at a Sephardic Persian (or Iranian) Passover Seder will simultaneously chant the Passover song "Dayenu" and hold bunches of either celery, chives, leeks or scallions in their hands and lightly beat each other on the back and shoulders to symbolize the sting generated by the whip of the Egyptian taskmasters. A variation of this custom with Sephardic Persian Jewish families will have participants at the Passover Seder table take turns being an Egyptian taskmaster, lightly beating another person with the celery, chives, scallions, or leeks. Once one person is done, they then pass the chives, scallions, or leeks on to the next person at the table who will then repeat the custom, and so on until all at the table have had their turns.

Moroccan Sephardic Jews will hold the Passover Seder plate aloft and pass it over the heads of all those at the Passover Seder table while announcing to each participant that they have left Egypt and are now free.

Tunisian Sephardic Jews touch the heads of each person with the tray which serves as a reminder to each person that they once carried burdens upon their heads as slaves in Egypt.

תני תנא קמיה דרב נחמן בר יצחק מניח הפרוסה בתוך השלמה ובוצע ומברך אמר ליה מה שמך א"ל שלמן א"ל שלום אתה ושלמה משנתך ששמת שלום בין התלמידים אמר רב פפא הכל מודים בפסח שמניח פרוסה בתוך שלמה ובוצע מאי טעמא (דברים טז, ג) לחם עוני כתיב א"ר אבא ובשבת חייב אדם לבצוע על שתי ככרות מ"ט (שמות טז, כב) לחם משנה כתיב

A Tanna taught in the presence of Rab Nahman b. Isaac : One should place the piece of bread with the whole loaf and break them both and then say the benediction. Rab Nahman said to him, "What is thy name?" He replied, "Shalman." He said to him, "Peaceful art thou and peaceful thy teaching, for thou hast restored peace between the disciples." Rab Pappa said : All agree that on Passover one should place the piece together with the whole and break them both. What is the reason ? "Bread of affliction" (Deut. xvi. 3) it is written. R. Abba said : On the Sabbath one should break bread over two loaves. What is the reason ? "Twice as much bread" (Exod. xvi 22) it is written...