Shabbat – 8th Day of Pesach
Rabbi Daniela Szuster
Compassion as the first step of liberation
Among the fifteen steps we have in the Passover Seder, Maggid consists of the retelling of the story of Exodus. It is based on Midrashim which try to explain some verses of the Torah related to the story of Exodus. There are different versions of the Midrashim used to explain the story in different Haggadot.
One of the verses is: “We cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our plea and saw our plight, our misery, and our oppression.” (Devarim 26:7).
According to this verse, the people of Israel prayed to God, and God listened to them and saw their suffering while they were slaves in Egypt.
It is interesting to note that the Torah uses the same action verb, “see”, when it describes the first time Moses was walking around Egypt.
It is written in the Book of Sh’mot: “Sometime after that, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his kinsfolk and he saw their burdens” (Sh’mot 2:11)
This means that when Moses grew up and walked around the streets of Egypt, he could see the plight of the Hebrews. He was not indifferent to the suffering of the people of Israel. He was not happy to see someone suffering.
Many times, we walk and don’t see what really is happening around us. Moses stopped and saw the slaves’ suffering.
Not only did Moses see that the Hebrews were treated unfairly, but he also tried to help them, as it is written in Midrash Sh’mot Rabbah:
“And he saw their burdens.” What is, “And he saw?” For he would look upon their burdens and cry and say, “Woe is me unto you, who will provide my death instead of yours, for there is not more difficult labor than the labor of the mortar.” And he would use his shoulders to assist each one of them. R. Eliezer the son of R. Yose the Galilean said: [If ] he saw a large burden on a small person and a small burden on a large person, or a man’s burden on a woman and a woman’s burden on a man, or an elderly man’s burden on a young man and a young man’s burden on an elderly man, he would leave aside his rank and go and right their burdens, and act as though he were assisting Pharaoh.”
According to this Midrash, Moses saw the suffering of the people of Israel. Moses had compassion for their suffering and tried to help them physically.
The Passover Haggadah “The Feast of Freedom” edited by the Rabbinical Assembly, includes a Midrash explaining the word “see” from the first verse I mentioned before:
“And saw. What did He see? He saw that the Israelites had compassion for each other. When one of them finished his quota of bricks, he would help others”.
We may say that first, God saw the compassion Moses had for the Hebrew slaves, so He chose him to be the leader who would liberate the people of Israel. Then, God saw that His people showed compassion towards each other.
Having seen these two interactions, Moses having compassion for the Hebrews and the Hebrews having compassion for each other, God decided that this people deserved His compassion and needed to be liberated.
In contrast with Pharaoh, whose heart was hardened after experiencing plague after plague, Moses and the people of Israel showed compassion to each other during difficult times. Maybe the compassion the Hebrews had for each other was the key to their salvation.
We can learn from these verses about the importance of being compassionate towards others, our family and friends. Compassion allows us to live in harmony and in peace with everyone, including those who are very different from us.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!
Rabbi Daniela Szuster