Thoughts from the Hagaddah
By Avi Lazerson
The Talmud tells us that we must begin the explanation of the seder by speaking of our disgrace. This is because when we describe the state of our disgrace, we in effect increase the praise and thanksgiving that we have for G-d who, in spite of our disgrace, took us out of Egypt.
The Talmud tells us that there was an argument between Rav and Shmuel, two of the most respected heads of learning in their time in Babylon. Rav said that we should begin by telling that we were descendants of idolaters, meaning the family of our patriarch, Abraham. Shmuel argues with him and says that we should say that we were slaves.
As all discussions and arguments that are found in the Talmud, the roots of the arguments are very deep. It is important for us to understand the rationale of Rav and Shmuel and why they reject they other's opposite view.
The famed Maharal of Prague, who is well known as the maker of the famous Golom, offers his explanation. He says that it is possible that the concept of disgrace can be viewed in two manners: physical and spiritual. The two views expressed by these famed sages of the Talmud correspond to those two concepts of disgrace.
Rav, who says that the disgrace that we should mention is that we were idolaters, sees the disgrace in spiritual terms. In the eyes of G-d nothing is as disgusting as a person who abandons G-d and gives his life in service to an idol. A physical disgrace is nothing since slavery is a product of G-d's desire that we, the Jewish people, should become slaves. Did not G-d Himself tell Abraham that his children would be slaves? So how could it be that slavery such as that which we Jews endured in Egypt be considered a disgrace?
Shmuel on the other hand disagrees with him. Shmuel could very well claim that in the absolute world of G-d idolatry is of course the worst disgrace that man could bring upon himself. However, we at the seder are not concerned with the absolute truth as it is in the upper most worlds, but how we down at the seder look at things.
We have seen many examples of men who have given their life to idolatry, and yet, are looked upon by their fellow men as honorable and exemplary persons. What disgrace is there when a minister of idolatry is considered an honorable person and is treated with respect by the world around him. True in heaven, he is despicable and an abomination, but for his fellow man, he is revered.
Therefore, Shmuel will contend, the true disgrace that is to be mentioned at the seder is that of our being slaves in Egypt. A slave knows that he is in a state of disgrace, he can not live like a normal person, and he has no freedom to do as he needs and as he pleases. He is bought and sold like livestock. For Shmuel, this is the ultimate disgrace, because this is the disgrace that one feels in his soul.
What is the outcome of their argument?
The Haggada includes both opinions to be recited on Passover night. But Shmuel's explanation is the opinion that the Haggada uses to begin to answer the Four Questions.
This is as we mentioned, because, it is for us to feel on this night the great kindness that G-d did for us. That although we were in such a low level of disgrace, He kept his promise to Abraham and took us out from the bondage of Egypt and gave us the most precious of gifts, the Holy Torah, the Holy Land of Israel and the Temple.
And so may it be in our generation, even though we are not a generation of wholly righteous people, even though we may posess faults, may G-d grant us the dream of all generation, to see the righteous Messiah, together with the rebuilding of the Third Temple, speedily in our days.
from the April Passover 2004 Edition of the Jewish Magazine