In each and every generation a person is obligated to see himself as if he
went out of Egypt, as it says, “And you should tell your child on that
day, ‘Because of this HASHEM did for me when I went out of Egypt!’ Not
our ancestors alone did the Holy One blessed is He redeem but even us he
redeemed with them!” (The Haggada)
There’s an open contradiction in this statement. I’m not the first one to
notice it. On the one hand each individual in every generation has an
obligation to see themselves as if they had gone out of Egypt and then
immediately the Haggada tells us that we too actually were redeemed when
our ancestors exited Egypt 3321 years ago. Which is it? Is it “as if” like
some imaginary morality play we perform or is it real and true? The
Maharal from Prague offers the answer but it needs a little explaining.
The “as if” goes on the individual while the “actual” refers to the group.
I once asked a group of high school students that had just finished a unit
in history, "Who's the most important person in human history?" and “What
is the most important moment of human history?” After guessing Avraham,
Moshe, and Dovid, I finally let them know...it is...Label Lam! They were
shocked. Most of them had never heard of me. I told them I would prove it.
There can be no more reliable proof than an open statement from the Sages
of the Talmud. When a witness is about to give testimony in a life and
death trial he is strongly reminded about the hazardous consequences of
his words. They ask him, "Why was “man” created singular?" He could have
been created as a couple, or a gaggle, or a corporation. The answer the
witness is told is: "A person has an obligation to say, 'the whole world
was created for me!'".
When Adam opened his eyes he beheld a universe of trees and breezes and
rays of golden light, constructed with precision for his for his benefit.
That’s not only true of Adam the first man but every individual
subsequently has the same obligation to see himself as the centerpiece of
I told those students that if you ask your parents, "Who's the most
important person in Jewish history?" and then you tell’m, "Label Lam" then
you didn't understood the message. Everyone has to say himself! I am only
an actor in your morality play. So what is the most important moment in
Jewish history? You guessed it! THIS moment!
This is all included in a statement by Hillel, "If I am not for me who
will be for me, and if I am only for myself then what am I and if not now,
then when?!" Hillel says that nobody else can play my unique part in
history but me and nobody can make me want to realize that role but me.
However, if my part is only about me or for my sake then I am no longer
suffering an identity crisis, (WHO am I?) but rather, a humanity crisis
(WHAT am I?). The reason I’m obligated to develop my SELF is for the good
of the aggregate. We need the help of and we have to act on behalf of the
entirety of humanity over many the millennium.
How does "if not now, when?!" fit in here? Is it simply a nice rhetorical
device? “Seize the day! No time like the present!” Actually, the first two
parts tell us that there are no extra actors in the play of history and
everyone fits perfectly into the plot, adding color and texture to the
living fabric of life. The third part tells us that there are also no
extra or repeat moments. Twice daily we say in our prayers, “He renews
with His kindliness all day the act of creation.” Each moment the world is
being recreated and affirmed by The Almighty no less than the first moment
So too when we are seated around the Pesach Seder, we are obligated to
imagine that the entire exodus from Egypt was all because of me. “Because
of this HASHEM did all this for me…” He had me in mind at that time that I
would be seated here in the 21st century munching Matzos. By imagining it
so we weave our way into the fabric of Jewish history and destiny.
Ultimately it’s about being an important part of the entirety of Israel,
from its very beginning and Maxwell House Haggada in hand, good ‘till the