(From the teachings of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef ztvk”l)
(written by his grandson HaRav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a)
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
We recite in Hallel (Tehillim 113:1), “Halleluyah! Give praise, you servants of Hashem”. Our chachamim (Megillah 14a) explain, “servants of Hashem and no longer servants of Paro”, since we were redeemed from Egypt and now we are free people. In truth, the only free person is the one who studies Torah [Avot 6:4]. A person who lives their life according to the Torah is free but a person who is “unbridled” and does whatever he wishes, is not called free because he is a slave to his desires. Only a mighty person, who quashes his desires and acts based on what he knows that there are forbidden and permitted things, is called free, “servants of Hashem and no longer servants of Paro”.
We are soon to be at the Seder Night. Chag HaPesach is called the “Festival of Freedom” and also the “Festival of Education”, because at this time we have a unique mitzvah, to educate our children to believe in Hashem. As we recite in the Haggadah, “The Torah spoke about 4 children, one wise, one wicked, one simple and one who doesn’t know how to ask”. It is an obligation to relate the Exodus from Egypt to each person in a way that is suitable to them, “So that you will be able to confide to your children and grandchildren how I made fools of the Egyptians, and how I performed miraculous signs among them. You will then fully realise that I am Hashem ” (Exodus 10:2).
Every person must tell his children what happened in Egypt. He should clearly depict the plagues that Hashem smote Egypt with and how He did wonders in distinguishing between Am Yisrael and Egypt. How all Am Yisrael took pleasure and saw how Hashem exacted retribution against their evil enemies that He made fools of them, whilst they sat safely. This experience impacted them for the rest of their lives, for they saw with their own eyes Hashem’s Divine Providence that was in Egypt. At the Seder Night we must convey this feeling with a strong belief in Hashem’s Divine Providence for each person.
The Egyptians greatly influenced Am Yisrael, and had warped ideas that Hashem had forsaken the land and that He has no direct involvement in the world. Therefore, Hashem brought these plagues on Egypt so that all of Am Yisrael should learn and be educated, that they should clearly witness what Divine Providence is. How Hashem looks and sees everything. So that when the children will hear this vivid explanation on Seder Night, they too will be educated. They will learn that a person must give an account and reckoning for his actions. Even though we see that people aren’t punished for what they do, this is because Hashem is full of compassion, “slow to anger with tremendous [resources of] love” [Shemot 34:6], and He doesn’t rush to punish a person, but rather patiently waits, perhaps he will repent.
The children should hear how much Paro the wicked hardened his heart, but “He who sits in heaven will laugh” [Tehillim 2:4). He punished him over and over again and led him until Am Yisrael went out from under his rule, and Egypt were punished for their actions. So shall they be educated from a young age and know that a person who does something which isn’t good, will be punished for what he does. We must implant into the children’s hearts this belief of reward and punishment. This is the time to instil this belief into their tender hearts.
We must explain to them, how everything is in Hashem’s hand, whether better or worse. Many people who were in great distress and trusted in Hashem and were saved in the end. As it states, “On the day of my distress I will call upon You, for You will answer me” [Tehillim 86:7], a person turns to Hashem on the day of his sorrow and Hashem helps him; immediately He can help him. Therefore a person must not remove his trust from Hashem, “Blessed is the man who trusts in Hashem” [Yirmiyahu 17:7], He can do everything, nothing is too wonderous for Hashem.
On this night of Pesach, there is an obligation on each person to dedicate his energy to the Haggadah and relate the story of the Exodus from Egypt. It is true that there are many important mitzvot on Pesach night, matzah, marror, the four cups and many more, but “the highlight”, the record high of this holy night, is relating the Exodus from Egypt, which is a mitzvah from the Torah [one of the 613 mitzvot] on this night of Pesach.
Therefore this Chag is also called the “The Festival of Education”, and not just the Festival on Freedom, for through it we receive moral instruction and hear pure things, we learn our flawless belief, which is the purpose of truth. Therefore, every person should strengthen themselves with yirat shamayim (fear of Hashem), so that the children will also receive yirat shamayim from his words. They will know that there is a watchful eye from above, “Know what is above you: a watchful eye, a listening ear and all your deeds are written in a book” [Avot 2:1].
The rebbe of the Gaon Rav Yisrael Salanter z”l (1810-1883) was Rav Yosef Zundel Salant z”l (1786-1866). Once Rav Zundel had to travel from city to city. He hired a wagon driver, a simple Jew, that would drive him on his journey. The days were during the harvest season. On their way, they crossed through spacious fields, which were full of bundles and bundles of straw, which had been prepared to sell to owners of livestock as animal fodder.
In the middle of the journey the wagon driver looked right and left and saw that there was no one watching. He descended the carriage and ran towards the bundles of straw and began swiping several bundles in order to feed them to his horses. Rav Zundel saw this and began to laugh, “You are watching! You are watching! You are watching!” The wagon driver heard this, and he discarded the bundles and ran back to the carriage, and he began to run the horses. However, he immediately realised, that in truth no one was approaching the area and for no reason the rav panicked him. He turned to the rav and said to him, “Rebbi, is it permitted to lie?” Rebbi Zundel replied, “In truth there are onlookers, there, there above, they see everything!”
This is a moral lesson of the entire story of the Exodus from Egypt, “Can a man hide in concealments and that I not see him? - The word of Hashem!” (Yirmiyahu 23:24). The children learnt that Hashem’s honour fills the world and they will be habitualised to the fact that we have belief. Through this they will develop well educated, G-d-fearing, wise and understanding. “The beginning of wisdom is fear of Hashem” (Tehillim 111:10). The main thing is to be G-d-fearing! Every person should weave in this lecture to the story of the Exodus from Egypt. He should explain how the nature of the punishments that the Egyptians received. He should depict how they oppressed Am Yisrael and therefore they were punished measure for measure [see Shabbat 105b].
Our chachamim said in the Midrash, that in the future Hashem will perform miracles and wonders for Am Yisrael in a way that wasn’t done for their forebears. As the passuk states, “As in the days when you left the land of Egypt I will show it wonders” (Michah 7:15). We need to consider that on the one hand our chachamim said that Hashem will perform miracles and wonders that were never yet done, and [on the other hand] they bring proof for that from the passuk that categorically states, “As in the days when you left the land of Egypt”, meaning literally those same miracles! What does this mean?
Our forebears said, “Who is like You among the heavenly powers, Hashem! Who is like You, mighty in holiness, too awesome for praise, Doer of wonders!” (Shemot 15:11). Something may only be considered a “wonder” if people are surprised by it. For example, before 120  years ago they developed a new patent, the “telephone”. A person would tell his friend, have you heard of the invention? A person may sit here and speak with his friend in London! His friend retorts, why are you talking nonsense? How is such a thing possible? His friend says to him, come to my home and you shall see. He dials his sons phone number and behold he is speaking with him whilst he is in London! His friend is surprised! What a wonder! He can hear and speak with his son in London!
Today however, if a person were to phone his friend in London and not hear a sound, he would realise that the phone is broken, because ordinarily the phone works. This is a wonder, something that people are surprised about, however, when they are accustomed to it, there is no wonder.
Therefore if Hashem were to make a second version against Am Yisrael’s adversaries of blood, frogs, lice etc. this wouldn’t suffice because every year we relate what Hashem did and all the children know exactly these ten plagues that Hashem smote Egypt with. Therefore He is forced to find a new way, “Before your entire people I shall make distinctions such as have never been created in the entire world and among all the nations”(Shemot 34:10). These miracles will be capable of being called “wonders”! Therefore our chachamim brought a proof from the passuk “As in the days when you left the land of Egypt I will show it wonders”, literally wonders that perforce are new.
So, in the future, Hashem will perform for us miracles and great wonders, He will redeem us a complete redemption. Amen ken yehi ratzon.
Chag Sameach and may you merit to many pleasant and good years!