Seemingly, one of the more depressing debates in rabbinic literature is one that the houses of Hillel and Shammai argued about for two-and-half years: "These say: It would have been preferable had man not been created than to have been created.
Much ink has been spilled and much discussion ensued in trying to analyze the difference between the question of the chacham and the rasha. On the basis of the question alone, there appears to be little reason to identify one as wicked and the other as wise.
As we all know too well, there is often a gap between the ideal and reality. In trying to implement our goals, we all too often fall prey to conflict, apathy, inertia and reality. The Jewish people faced this same problem as they approached the sea. Behind them was the advancing Egyptian army with its mighty chariots; in front of them was a foreboding sea. Yet their miraculous escape from the most powerful country on earth seemed to have finally convinced them that G-d surely would protect them.
“In each and every generation, one must see oneself as if they had left Egypt”.
In Judaism, we not only commemorate the past, we attempt to experience it, even to re-live it. Why else do we actually have to eat matzah and maror at Pesach, dwell in some flimsy booths each fall, or sit on the floor on Tisha B’Av lamenting the loss of a Temple some 2,000 years ago?
Twice a year, on Yom Kippur and at the Pesach seder, we conclude with the prayer L’shanna haba’ah b’Yerushalayim. It is specifically on these two days when the loss of the Temple is most felt that we express our yearning for Yerushalayim. Yom Kippur centres around the elaborate service in the Temple, one that we re-enact to this day through our Yom Kippur Mussaf davening.
Pesach is the Jewish holiday of hope. It marks the beginning of the Jewish (lunar) year – and new years are always times of hope. It is celebrated in the spring, the wonderful season of hope and renewal. We read Shir HaShirim, the Song of Songs, with its allegorical youthful message of love, which is only possible when hope abounds. The Seder night is full of hope for a better tomorrow—a redeemed world living in peace. We look forward to G-d pouring out His wrath on the enemies of the Jewish people, or perhaps, to put it in more contemporary lingo, on the enemies of freedom.
Our images of Egyptian slavery are those of forced labor and murder by a ruthless tyrant and his many followers. Despite Joseph literally saving Egypt from ruin, "a new king arose who knew not Joseph" (Shemot 1:8). Taxation, hard labor, loss of freedom of movement and eventually murder of Jewish children soon followed. This was a nation who knew not G-d, and even after ten plagues and the death of their firstborn, persisted in their stubbornness by chasing us into the sea.
"He made a feast for them and baked matzah and they ate" (Breisheet 19:3). The "angels" had come to Sedom to rescue Lot from the destruction that awaited the metropolis of Sedom-Amorah. Rashi, commenting on the strange menu that Lot served to his guests, notes that it must have been Pesach. Presumably, had it been any other time of the year, Lot would have served bread--a more appropriate staple food to serve at a "feast".
“In the first month of the second year on the first of the month, the Tabernacle was erected” (Shemot 40:2). Sefer Shemot concludes with the building of the Mishkan. As the Ramban notes (Introduction to Shemot), the Mishkan was the culmination of the Exodus, fulfilling the promise made to Avraham to make his descendants “into a great nation” (Breisheet 12:1). This meant physical freedom and independence but more importantly, the covenant of Sinai and the building of a symbolic resting-place for the Divine Presence, i.e., the Mishkan.
“Chanoch lena’ar al pi darcho, train each child according to their way” (Mishlei).
It is at the Seder that we analyze the questions of the “four children”, but their message is relevant all year round. One approach does not fit all, nor is any approach suitable at all times. While the Torah records four discussions between parent and child (hence the four children), a comparison of the text used by the Hagadah and that found in the Torah reveals some major discrepancies.