The Prophet Ezekiel conveyed to our people a Divine message where the Compassionate refers to the Exodus from Egypt as, "the day you were born" (Ezekiel 16:4).
Our "birthday" is of universal significance, as Moses was commanded to tell Pharaoh, "My firstborn child is Israel...Send out My child that he may serve Me" (Exodus 4:22,23). There were other nations, including Egypt, that existed before the birth of Israel, so in what way is Israel the "firstborn"? As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains, Israel is the firstborn in the spiritual sense, for the other nations will later experience their spiritual birth through dedicating themselves to serving the Divine purpose; thus, through the birth of Israel, "the womb of humanity is opened."
Before we entered the Promised Land, Moses described the miraculous Exodus from Egypt as the Just One taking "a nation from amidst a nation" (Deuteronomy 4:32). The Midrash explain this phrase through a metaphor which describes how a shepherd delivers a baby animal during a difficult birth process: The shepherd takes his hand and removes the baby from the womb; so too, the Just One caused our nation to be born by taking us out of the "womb" of Egypt. (Midrash Shocher Tov, Psalm 114 - said by Rabbi Abba the son of Acha, in the name of Rabbi Chanin)
Based on the above Midrash, the great sage known as the Maharal of Prague (1512-1609) stressed the following teaching: Through the Exodus of Egypt, we were born as a people (Gevuros Hashem: 3,52).
Through the Exodus from Egypt, we became a people; thus, the Liberating One proclaimed to our ancestors in Egypt: "I shall take you to Me for a people" (Exodus 6:7)
In his commenary on the above verse, Rabbi Hirsch offers the following insight:
"For a people" - With these words, the unique destiny of Israel is expressed. For the path of the Torah is not a "religion" centered in houses of worship. With the liberation of Israel, the Compassionate One founded not a religion, but a nation whose social life is to serve as a revelation of the Divine spirit. (Commentary on the Torah)
The path of the Torah is not just about the liberation of the individual soul. This Divine path leads liberated souls to create a just, compassionate and loving society. It was for this purpose that the Compassionate One enabled our people to be born, as this gives us the potential to serve as a social model for all the peoples of the earth. In this spirit, when we arrived at Mount Sinai, the Compassionate One proclaimed:
"You shall be to Me a kingdom of ministers and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:6)
Rabbi Hirsch elaborates on this idea in an essay which appears in the Hirsch Haggadah, and the following is a brief summary of his comments:
Jewish history serves as the educational process leading to this goal. Through it one thing becomes certain: whether the People of Yisrael remain faithful to the task of achieving this ideal or whether they backslide on their way towards this ideal, whether they draw near or pull away, hesitate or persevere, "Hashem will never cast off His people nor will He forsake His inheritance" (Psalm 94:14). Hashem will be with them through the centuries of trials and darkness, through pain and deprivation, until they reach their pinnacle of perfection, the goal set before them by the Torah, and the fullness of joy that the Torah promises.
We will reach this goal in the messianic age, when we will be reborn as a people. In this new age, the elders who remember the exile will remind this newborn people of the Divine providence which helped us to to reach this goal, as it is written: "They will come and relate His righteousness to the newborn people" (Psalm 22:32)
Yes, the Compassionate One took us as His people when we left the physical and spiritual bondage of Egypt; however, we also have the following Divine promise concerning the rebirth in the messianic age:
"Sing and be glad, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming, and I will dwell in your midst - spoke the Compassionate One. Many nations will join themselves to the Compassionate One on that day, and they will become a people unto Me, and I will dwell in your midst" (Zechariah 2:14,15).
Have a Good and Sweet Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
Related Teachings and Comments:
1. The Prophet Isaiah proclaimed the Divine promise that in the messianic age, "the earth will be filled with knowledge of the Compassionate One" (Isaiah 11:9). In this age of universal enlightenment, will the People of Israel still have a unique role? In another prophecy describing the messianic age, Isaiah conveyed the following message to the People of Israel regarding their role as "kohanim" - ministers - to the world: "And you will be called kohanim of the Compassionate One; 'ministers of our God' will be said of you" (Isaiah 61:6). This indicates that they will serve as teachers and guides to the enlightened peoples. For in an age of enlightenment, people do not stop learning and growing; on the contrary, they constantly strive to achieve new and deeper levels of wisdom. In this spirit, Maimonides writes in his chapter on the messianic age: "The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know Hashem; therefore, the People of Israel will be great sages and know hidden matters" (The Laws of Kings, chap. 12:5). The People of Israel, who studied the Torah for thousands of years - even during the darkest exile - will merit to serve as teachers of the Torah to an enlightened world.
2. The above teachings from Rabbi Hirsch's essay on the fourth cup can be found in "The Hirsch Haggadah" and in "The Jewish Year" - the collected writings of Rabbi Hirsch on the seasons and their festivals. Both "The Hirsch Haggadah" and "The Jewish Year" are published by Feldheim: www.feldheim.com . These books may be available at your local Jewish book store, which is providing your community with a valuable service.
3. The Shabbos before Passover is known as "Shabbos HaGadol" - the Great Sabbath. On this Shabbos, we chant the words of a prophecy from the concluding chapter of the Book of Malachi which speaks of the final redemption. Malachi was the last of the prophets, and in the concluding words of the prophecy that we chant, he tells our people how we can merit to experience the final redemption:
"Remember the Torah of Moses, My servant, which I commanded him at Horeb (Mount Sinai) for all of Israel - its statutes and its social laws. Behold, I will send you Elijah the Prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Compassionate One. And he will cause the hearts of parents to return (to the Compassionate One) through their children and the hearts of children through their parents, so that I do not come and smite the earth with utter destruction. Behold I will send you Elijah the Prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Compassionate One."