The Maror, the bitter vegetables we eat in the Seder, reminds us of the way in which the Egyptians mistreated us, demonized us and made us suffer. Rabban Gamliel mentions the Maror as one of the three central ideas that we should pass on to our children in the Pesah Seder, along with the Matsa and the Qorban Pesah. But, why is it important to transmit this “painful” information on the night of the Seder? Should we not focus exclusively on “celebrating” our freedom?
I think there are several reasons why we should emphasize the Maror.
Firstly, because our Sages understood, in discussing the order in which the Pesah story should be presented (shebah / genai), that the bad things that happened to us, serves to better appreciate the good things that happened to us.
Secondly, because hatred towards the Jewish people is not something of the past. Somehow our children must know that our destiny as a chosen people involves being exposed to demonization and persecution. It is an integral part of the package of belonging to the Chosen People.
I think that there is an additional, very important reason why we must preserve the memory of our suffering. The Tora teaches us to positively channel the memory of the pain that we suffered in Egypt. How? Doing everything possible so that other people DO NOT suffer. This idea is, it seems to me, a REVOLUTION in human thinking.
Let me explain. In the past, the same story was always repeated. Peoples who had been oppressed, fought for their freedom, and when they triumphed their first “need” was revenge: to make their persecutors suffer. But the matter did not end there. Once they became strong and powerful, they dedicated themselves to capturing other peoples, enslaving them and making them suffer, as they had suffered. This sadistic behavior, is well known, in the past and in the present. Statistics show that there is a very high rate of “abusive” people (in every sense) who have been abused in the past. Sometimes it is enough to know that someone was abused to understand or even justify people’s abusive behavior. I remember seeing a documentary about a gang, Asian teenagers who attacked and killed the elders of their own community to steal their pension. The History Channel documentary asked, “Why did they act like this?” And it showed that these young people had been abused as children. And it seemed to me that, for this reason, they were, implicitly, justifying them…
The Torah is a moral revolution. A view 180 degrees different.
The Mitzva that most repeats the Tora is: “And you shall love [= shall care for, shall take care of] the stranger [= the unprotected and poor, the person most exposed to abuse], because you were strangers in the land of Egypt” . The Tora teaches us to channel our suffering in a counter-intuitive, supernatural way. Instead of nurturing or justifying our (subconscious) thirst for revenge and abuse, the Tora tells us: “You know what suffering means, therefore do not let other people suffer. You are better qualified than those who did not suffer, to prevent others from humiliation, poverty and oppression.”
Those who experienced hardships naturally feel or think of revenge. The Tora asks us to teach our children to preserve the memory of our affliction, and to process it by doing everything possible to prevent others from suffering what we suffered.
An example: I met, and I still meet, many very good and generous people. But, the most generous, kind, compassionate and angelic people I have met are survivors of the Shoa. Among them, for example, rabbanit Esther Jungreis z “l (see video), or Yehuda Lindenblatt, from my neighborhood Manhattan Beach, who is a volunteer “First Responder“ in Hatzalah, an organization dedicated to saving lives. Over the years, I have met dozens of Holocaust survivors. And they have all shocked me by their kindness and altruism. Their families were destroyed, and now they dedicate their lives to build, to educate and to help others. I do not believe that there was ever a more terrible experience than the Shoah. And according to the “logic of the psychology of the rest of the world” (the abuser normally becomes abuser) Holocaust survivors should be the most perverse, evil and abusive people on the planet. However, it is quite the opposite. And I think it’s the Tora’s fault! I think that it’s this concept that the Tora instilled in us, TAKE CARE OF THOSE WHO SUFFER BECAUSE YOU HAVE SUFFERED, which is not an intuitively human concept, but definitely, a Divine one, and that became part of our character and DNA.
Something to teach our children this next Pesah Seder, when we eat the Maror