Virtual Egypt

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
Letting the subliminal message of the Seder penetrate our hearts
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Virtual Egypt

"In every generation, a person is obligated to see himself as if he were leaving Egypt, as it says 'And you shall tell to your son on that day'." (Pesach Haggadah)


The Seder is a virtual reality experience: The matzah reminds us of the bread that had no time to rise as our forefathers grabbed their belongings on that night of the Exodus. The bitter herbs remind us of the bitterness of the 210 years of slavery; the charoses resembles the mortar that was used to build the treasure cities of Pisom and Ramses. But when all is said and done, and we rise from the table, do we really feel that we have actually left Egypt? Or do we feel our stomachs turning over from what might be called 'Pharaoh's revenge' - four large glasses of wine and copious amounts of matzah, not to mention boiled egg with salt water followed by the main course of the Pesach meal!


The Torah wants us to actually experience coming out of Egypt. So why don't we do something far more dramatic at the Seder ? For example: Half the guests at the Seder could dress as Jewish slaves and start the evening by building a large wall with bricks and mortar. Periodically, the other half of the guests, dressed as Egyptian taskmasters, could come along and beat the living-daylights out of them! Of course, to make everything fair, halfway through the evening the roles would be reversed. Then, just before midnight, everyone would sit down together (on cushions!) and have a nice Pesach meal. I'm sure that everyone would certainly feel that they had 'left Egypt' after that! Or at the very least, couldn't we run a computer game called something like VIRTUAL EGYPT? The most sophisticated 3-D graphics would then transport us back to the Exodus.

And yet, the Torah, which sees to the very depths of the psyche, mandates very subtle observances to create the virtual reality of coming out of Egypt. It's a puzzle...


In the 1960s a new form of advertising was discovered and almost immediately made illegal. Madison Avenue advertising firms discovered that an image of their product on a single frame in a movie playing at 24 frames per second left a 'subliminal' message imprinted in the mind of the viewer. A message of which he was totally unaware. Because of its extremely subtlety, the message managed to sneak under the defenses of the consumer and plant itself into his subconscious. And without knowing it, the next time he was shopping, for some unknown reason, he had this overpowering attraction to Fidofeed over his usual brand of dog food...

Subtlety can be a far more powerful hidden persuader than the overkill of knock-you-over-the-head pyrotechnics. By means of the seemingly subtle experiences of the Seder, the subliminal spiritual message sneaks under the defenses of the coarser aspects of the physical make-up and lodges itself in the depths of our souls.


You often hear people complaining at the Seder: "You mean we have to eat all of this matzah in under four minutes?!..." "If I have another glass of wine, I'm going to fall into the charoses!..." "You mean I have to eat all that matzah again just because I forgot to lean?!..." "Whaddya mean we have to finish the afikomen by midnight in exactly 45 seconds time?!..." Why are we so particular to fulfill the physical dimension of the Seder to the letter? Would it really make so much difference if we had two grams less of matzah or if we ate the meal before the bitter herbs? After all, we're still commemorating the Exodus, aren't we?


The answer is that the Pesach night experience is a Seder. Seder means order. A precise sequence of events. It's like machine code for a computer. The order of the code has to be precise to effect the subliminal spiritual experience of coming out of Egypt. Just as in computer machine code one zero too many or too little will make all the difference between the program running or crashing, so too the Seder operates within precise parameters. It's a Seder. It has to be in this order. With a zero here. With a one here. And no other way.

So when you are singing Chad Gadya at the end of your Seder, and all you feel is that you would like a large glass of Alka-Seltzer, remember that whether you sense it or not, the Seder has put into your soul a spiritual program which will run every time you say in the Shema:

"I am Hashem, your G-d Who took you out of the land of Egypt to be your G-d."

The Torah is able to penetrate to the very depths of the human psyche. It wants us to experience the Exodus as a spiritual rite of passage on the deepest level. The soul experiences reality on a very fine and non-material plane. Things that impress and affect the body are rejected by the soul as indigestible. Keeping to the very precise formulation of the Seder allows its subtle experiences to reach beyond the coarseness of the physical - to elevate and enlighten the soul.

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