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The Imperative of Maror!

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

The main theme on Passover is, clearly, the celebration of freedom. However, the Mishnah (Pesachim 10:4) teaches us that, when fulfilling the Mitzvah of telling the story of the Exodus from Egypt, we must begin with [the account of Israel’s] shame and conclude with [Israel’s] glory. Therefore, we begin the Haggadah with “We were salves to Pharoah in Egypt” and “In the beginning our forefathers were idolators.”

We are instructed to relate the story of the difficult and shameful beginnings of our nation. Similarly, on Passover night, we are commanded to eat bitter herbs (maror)—emphasizing how our lives were embittered with back-breaking labor. On a simple level, one can explain that we can only really know and appreciate something when comparing it to its opposite. We only truly appreciate daylight in contrast to darkness. Without feeling and understanding slavery, pain, and degradation, one cannot deeply appreciate freedom.

Maharal explains the structure of beginning with degradation and concluding with upliftment on a deeper level. He explains that God created the world in such a way that pain, suffering, darkness, and degradation always precede jubilation, enlightenment, and freedom. In creation, night always precedes day. The fabric of creation dictates that joy, freedom, and spiritual greatness must be attained through the process of life. Challenges, struggles, and hardships are part of the fabric of life and an essential part of the process on the path to freedom and spiritual growth.

We communicate to ourselves and our children that this is the will of God, and it is to be both expected and embraced. Pain and degradation are an essential part of our national and individual journeys toward freedom and spiritual enlightenment. I once heard the analogy of how the butterfly can only survive if it first struggles and builds up its strength to break open the cocoon. Similarly, perhaps it is our very struggles, hardships, and degradation that make our emergence strong and sustainable. Pain and struggle are not bad! They are simply challenges to overcome on our path to physical and spiritual freedom.