The Exodus story is a foundation of Judaism and features prominently in most of our mitzvos and prayers.
Aware of the magnitude and scope of the Exodus, God tells Moshe and Ahron in real-time how consequential this story will always be:
וְהָיָה הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה לָכֶם לְזִכָּרוֹן וְחַגֹּתֶם אֹתוֹ חַג ה’ לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם חֻקַּת עוֹלָם תְּחגֻּהוּ – “This day shall be to you one of remembrance; you shall celebrate it as a festival to God throughout the ages, you shall celebrate it as an institution for all time!” (12:14)
We practice this command in festive detail at the Seder, as the Haggadah recounts the story of the Jewish people’s birth and liberation from Egypt and slavery.
But there’s a significant issue we ought to recognize immediately, without which the entire remembrance is irreparably compromised with no contemporary relevance at all.
We are fortunate to live in a vanishingly rare era of safety and prosperity, which obscures the fact that the Jewish People people have been exiled and persecuted time after time in place after place for most of our history.
But even today, we’re not as safe as it superficially seems.
Although largely safe from physical danger, the spiritual dangers have never been more powerful or seductive; most of our people are at different stages of assimilation or disorientation, disconnected in whole or in part from their heritage identity.
What’s the point of talking about redemption that happened long ago when we’re not yet redeemed today?
The Meshech Chochmah explains that if it were nothing more than the anniversary of physical liberation, it would make little sense to celebrate in a time of subjugation. But if we understand it correctly as the founding archetype of the liberation of the spirit, then it necessarily continues to have a residual effect forever as the source of all freedom, as the Torah so powerfully puts it, promising us today that our Seder matters and reflects that moment in full – וְחַגֹּתֶם אֹתוֹ חַג ה’ לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם חֻקַּת עוֹלָם.
As the Lubavitcher Rebbe explains, the Seder does not reinforce that an Exodus happened that one time; but that an Exodus can happen.
R’ Jonathan Sacks notes that throughout the highs and lows of Jewish history, our people have celebrated the Seder at the heights of civilization and in ghettos and concentration camps under conditions similar to or worse than Egypt.
The Exodus we celebrate was imperfect – it did not lead to a full and final utopia for anyone. The formerly enslaved people fought God and Moshe for the rest of their lives, yearning to return to the Egypt that had shackled them.
But the Torah and Haggadah openly embrace the notion of an imperfect and partial redemption; both subvert our expectation of a happily ever after ending where the Jewish People live in peace and prosperity in Israel.
R’ Shai Held notes that by celebrating imperfect redemption, the Haggadah seems to powerfully suggest that the journey is more important than the destination. The Gemara warns against believing someone who says they have searched for answers but found nothing. As R’ Louis Jacobs put it, the search for Torah is itself Torah, and in that search, we have already found. There is plenty of space between all and nothing; as the Kotzker put it, the searching is the finding.
The question’s premise is false; things don’t need to be perfect to be a whole lot better. Humans are not robots, and we are all perfectly imperfect in our own way.
We have yet to make it all the way, but the only analysis is that each step further is vastly better than no way.
There is still quite some way to go, but you’re a long way from where you used to be, and that’s also worth celebrating.
Our Seder isn’t the anniversary of an ancient generation’s liberation long ago; each of us must feel as though we experienced the great departure from Egypt. Our Seder continues it, reminding us that redemption exists, redemption can happen, and we are all worthy of it.