Ra’anana Community Kollel
Childhood Accounts of the Exodus
Adapted by R’ Binyomin Lipson from “Haleilah Hazeh”
by Rabbi A. A. Mandelbaum
We are all familiar with the idea that on the seder night each person must view himself as if he or she personally went forth from Egyptian slavery. Obviously, this is far more easily said than done. However, if such is our obligation at the seder we can be sure that it is within our ability to achieve.
The story is told of a Jew who happened to pass by the house of the Chofetz Chaim one Shabbos evening just after midnight. Hearing the Rav’s melodious voice, the man’s curiosity was overcame him and he quietly made his way to the window. When he looked inside his eyes met an amazing sight. The elderly sage was sitting and reviewing the week’s Torah portion of Va’era which describes the first several plagues which were brought upon the Egyptians. Every time he reached the description of the next plague, the Chofetz Chaim was visibly shocked and repeated to himself in a tone of wonder, “Oy! Oy!”. When he reached the description of the plague of boils in which the Torah tells us, “And the magicians were unable to stand before Pharaoh as they were suffering so greatly from the boils . . .” the man was astounded as he heard the Chofetz Chaim cry out loud as if he was witnessing the suffering of the Egyptians right before his very eyes.
Indeed, we may never reach the level of the Chofetz Chaim in his near-personal experience of the pains of Egyptian bondage and the joy of the exodus which followed, however, by simply using a bit of creativity to make the experience of the seder night more real to ourselves and to our children, we can begin to get some idea of the direction in which we should be moving.
A person can imagine feeling that…
I was born in Egypt, in the land of Goshen where the Jewish people lived differently from the Egyptians with their own language, Jewish names, and unique manner of dress. My father and grandfather were successful wine merchants who owned and operated and beautiful vineyard. All of the Jews bought wine from their cellars, and there were also many Egyptians who established themselves as regular customers.
One day, the king of Egypt called an urgent meeting of all the Jewish men in his beautiful palace. The Jews were loyal members of Egyptian society and they wanted to find favor in the eyes of its powerful Pharaoh. I can remember my father getting dressed that morning in his best clothes in honor of the king. When everyone had arrived at the palace, Pharaoh surprised them by changing from his royal robes and jewelry into common work clothes much like those that my father had just changed out of. He began to mix together straw, water, and mud to prepare bricks which were used for building. No one knew why Pharaoh was doing this, but they couldn’t just stand by and let him work alone. Everyone began to help him to make the bricks. My father and grandfather too worked with all their strength to assist the Pharaoh. Throughout the day they worked very hard, and by the time they finally arrived home for dinner they were both completely exhausted.
The next morning, as they were getting ready to return to their work of tending to the grapes in the vineyard, Egyptian policemen came to our house and told my father and grandfather that they would not be allowed to return to their work. Rather, they were expected to continue making bricks as they had the day before. The policemen read from a book the number of bricks that they had made the day before when they had helped the Pharaoh, and told them that they would be expected to make the very same amount every day from now on.
From that day onward, we hardly saw either of them again. They would leave very early in the morning to begin making the bricks and would only return at night completely exhausted from the work. Before he started working for the king, my father and I would always spend time doing things together. My grandfather used to take me on long walks in the vineyard and tell me about when he was a little boy and the many stories he remembered about our forefather Ya’akov and his family and how they first came to settle in Egypt. But from the day that they started to work for the Pharaoh making the bricks they never had any time for me. They were always either running off to work or trying to eat and sleep a bit before the next day of labor began. Sometimes, the policemen would even come and wake them up in the middle of the night and force them to do other strange kinds of work. There was no time when they were free to do what they wanted to or to maintain the vineyard that they had worked to build up for so many years. Slowly, the vines began to die and what was once a beautiful vineyard became a bramble of weed and bushes.
This was the way that the Jews lived in Egypt for eighty-three years. For three generations they were forced to continue their daily lives under the heavy burden of their merciless Egyptian masters.
I was born seventy-five years after the slavery began. My father told me that as long as he could remember the lives of the Jews were always the same. Every day from dawn to dark they worked making bricks for Pharaoh. Neither in the scorching heat of the summer nor in the freezing cold of the winter was a day of work every missed. The Jews had to work with great diligence in order to ensure that the quota of bricks was completely filled. The Egyptian soil did not stick together very well and they would have to spend even more time remaking the one that had fallen apart. My mother’s childhood memories were much the same as my father’s. The Egyptians forced the women to do the kind of heavy work that the men would usually do like plowing the fields, cutting down trees in the forest, and moving large stones from place to place. When they weren’t able to complete their work the Jews were beaten terribly by their masters, and sometimes the police would come to our house in the middle of the night to punish my father for not working hard enough that day. It was soon after my seventh birthday that things began to change. One day, at the beginning of the month of Nissan, Moshe Rabeinu came to Pharaoh one morning when he was bathing in the Nile and told him that Hashem had commanded that he set the Jewish people free. When Pharaoh just laughed at him, Moshe told him that if he did not let the Jewish people leave all of the water in the land of Egypt would we turned in to blood! For three weeks Moshe warned Pharaoh of the plague that would come if he did not listen, until one day it actually happened! There was nothing for the Egyptians to drink and even the fruits on the trees were oozing blood. I ran to the well near our house expecting to smell the terrible smell of blood, but the water was clear and clean as always. Egyptians came and tried to draw water from our well, but as soon as they put it into their buckets it changed to blood. They even forced Jews to pour the clean water in to their mouths but as soon as it reached their lips it also became blood. The only way that an Egyptian could drink water was if he bought it from a Jew. The Jews became very rich from selling water, and took all of this money with them when they left Egypt.
From that time everything was different. Every month Moshe would warn Pharaoh about another plague and at the end of the month it would strike just as he had predicted. After half a year had passed bringing with it all of the destruction of the first six plagues, the backbreaking work that had continued for three generations finally came to a stop. One day, in the month of Nissan, exactly twelve months after the first plague of blood had begun, my father gathered us all together, and with a joyous expression on his face told us that we would soon be leaving the land of Egypt forever. There were so many preparations to be made. Everyone was running around gathering their belongs and packing them into heavy loads which would be carried by the animals. In addition to their own things, each family had several donkey loads of gold and precious vessels which the Egyptians had given them.
That night as we were eating the special Pesach sacrifice that Hashem had commanded, we heard the shouts of the Egyptians running through the streets and crying in anguish over the deaths of their first-born sons. The noise was so great that I wanted to go outside to see, but my father told us that we were forbidden to do so. Afterwards we heard that Pharaoh himself had come to Goshen looking for Moshe and Aharon and begging the Jews to leave Egypt. It is impossible to describe the awesomeness of that entire year and that was actually only the beginning . . . streets and crying in anguish over the deaths of their first-born sons. The noise was so great that I wanted to go outside to see, but my father told us that we were forbidden to do so. Afterwards we heard that Pharaoh himself had come to Goshen looking for Moshe and Aharon and begging the Jews to leave Egypt. It is impossible to describe the awesomeness of that entire year and that was actually only the beginning . . .
summer nor in the freezing cold of the