Bo – A Personal Covenant

“In each and every generation one is obligated to view themselves as if they left Egypt.”

The obligation to experience the Exodus anew defines how the Pesach Seder is conducted. The story is told chronologically, “beginning with the humiliation and ending with the glory.” We eat the bitter herbs of slavery and drink the four cups of liberation. We feel the tension and then the release, spontaneously bursting into the songs of Hallel, not a song for the past, but the song of the present sung by those who have just experienced G-d’s grace.

The need to personally experience and commit is one that is inherent in the story of the Exodus. While in Parshat Shemot (2:24, 3:16-17) the initiation of the process of redemption is attributed to the covenant that Hashem had made with Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, its ultimate climax is reached in our Parsha (ch. 12) via the direct commitment of the Jews of Egypt as expressed in the Pesach offering. After the first nine plagues - known from the outset to be futile in gaining our freedom (4:21-23), the time for redemption was at hand. At that point we could no longer be passive witnesses to Hashem's miracles. Hashem was about to take us as His own. And that would only happen if we moved from being Avraham's grandchildren to becoming personal partners with Hashem.

And so, Hashem instructed us to bring the Pesach offering. This was to be a Korban different from all others. Its sacrifice was not simply a method of serving Hashem; it was a covenantal act. Without it we would not be distinguishable from our Egyptian neighbors and would not be redeemed, despite our Avrahamic pedigree. Yet this covenant did not stand alone; only those who had been circumcised - who had entered the covenant of Avraham - could participate.

Two covenants: The covenant of Avraham - administered by the father to his infant son – symbolizing the critical foundation of our relationship to Hashem, a product of our heritage. And the covenant of Pesach, a Mitzvah unique in the sense that it is limited to the personally committed Jew, as our Sages (see Rashi to 12:43) teach us, “anyone whose actions are foreign to their Father in Heaven may not eat of the Korban Pesach.” Here we move from the inherited to the earned, leading us to turn painfully to the rebellious son of the Hagaddah and tell him, "Because of this - because of the Korban Pesach - Hashem acted for me when I left Egypt.” To be redeemed, to be a part of the ultimate Jewish destiny, we must not rely on pedigree alone. We need to step into our own covenant with G-d.

Pesach, the festival that marks the beginning of our national history, is also a festival that disregards history. Suddenly everything depends on the present. A present built solidly on the past, to be sure, but one that cannot rely on the past alone to survive. On this night we must all view ourselves as if we left Egypt. We cannot satisfy ourselves with the glory of our past; we must move to make ourselves a living part of that history. It is our turn to make our own covenant.