Posted on April 5, 2024
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Dr. Eliezer Jones

Pesach symbolizes the birth of the Jewish nation, our liberation, and the profound gifts bestowed upon us, including the Torah and the land of Israel. Yet, surprisingly, the narrative of Pesach in the Haggadah begins with our ancestors’ enslavement, a seemingly somber starting point. One might argue for a celebration that focuses solely on our triumphs and blessings. However, I was bestowed years ago with a wonderful story told over originally by the Chovetz Chaim that provides a meaningful perspective on why we begin with our enslavement.

Imagine a simple shepherd, dedicated to his flock, who catches the eye of the king due to his exemplary diligence and compassion. Offered a position within the kingdom, the shepherd’s integrity, and hard work propelled him to become the head of the treasury, a role that arouses the envy of his quick rise and false accusations of stealing from the treasury. Despite reservations, the king is forced to investigate these claims.

Upon entering the shepherd’s home, nothing could be found except run down furnishings and little decoration and certainly no signs of theft. However, upon apologetically leaving, a locked door was noticed and the shepherd refused to open it. Suspicion was aroused again, and the shepherd was forced to open the door despite fighting to block its entrance. Upon seeing what was inside, the king was embarrassed and confused. There was no gold, gems, or treasures. It was basically empty. All that was in the room was a barely standing chair and a shepherd’s whip.

The shepherd explained that each night after he got the position in the kingdom, he would return home and first go into this room, sit on the chair, hold the whip, and sing the songs he used as a poor shepherd in the field. It was his way of remembering his roots and maintaining humility before God, regardless of his status. It was his way of continually remembering that his rise and everything he had was from God.

This shepherd’s story mirrors the essence of why the Haggadah starts with our bondage in Egypt. It’s a reminder of our humble beginnings and the divine intervention that transformed our fate. This narrative teaches us to remain humble, acknowledging that our successes and freedoms are gifts from God. It’s a poignant lesson, especially relevant in times of hardship when we learn to appreciate the simple joys and the importance of gratitude.

As we approach Pesach, let this story enrich our Seder, reminding us of the value of humility and the importance of remembering our beginnings. As leaders, let it remind us to remain humble in the face of our great responsibilities and in service to those we lead. May this understanding deepen our appreciation for life’s blessings, encouraging us to cherish what truly matters, even in the face of challenges. This Pesach, let us embrace gratitude for all we have, recognizing that our most valued treasures are often the simplest ones, and hold onto that gratitude beyond the current moment. Wishing everyone a meaningful and joyous Pesach, with the hope that we all discover and retain what is most precious in our lives.