The redemption story of the Haggada opens with Matza, the bread of affliction – הָא לַחְמָא עַנְיָא. It’s what our ancestors ate, and we invite whoever is hungry to join – כָּל דִכְפִין יֵיתֵי וְיֵיכֹל.
If you think about it, it’s a strange invitation. It’s one thing to invite someone to a lavish banquet; what sort of invitation is it to share in my bread of affliction?
R’ Jonathan Sacks teaches that what transforms the bread of affliction into the bread of freedom is the willingness to share with others.
The Maharal notes that the reason the Exodus is so fundamental is that it associates Judaism with an essential quality of fundamental freedom – we can act as we choose with no external coercive influence.
Freedom is oxygen for the soul – and freedom is a state of mind.
Rav Kook explains that the difference between a slave and a free man is not solely defined by physical liberty. There can be an enlightened slave whose spirit is free; and a free individual whose whole life is slavishly lived on other people’s terms.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe writes that Elazar ben Azariah discovered Ben Zoma’s teaching to recall the Exodus at nights on the day he became a leader; because a leader must be a beacon of hope during times of darkness and difficulty.
God physically freed the Jews of that time, but mentally, they never left. The people who walked out of Egypt and through the Red Sea to stand at Sinai spent 40 lost years pining to go back “home” to Egypt.
God can save you from Egypt, but not even God can save you from yourself.
Even in the worst of times, we can choose to share with others, and in doing so, we become partners in redemption.