Nisan - The Month of Redemption
We already mentioned our obligation to remember Yetziat Mitzrayim. Chazal state (Pesachim 16a), “One is obligated to see himself as if he went out of Egypt.” The Gra considers this a positive commandment. In all honesty, how can a person be obligated to feel this way, as though he himself left Egypt? We were never slaves; how can we be taken to task for not seeing ourselves as though we left Egypt?
Chazal state (Rosh Hashanah 11a), “In Nisan, they were redeemed, and in Nisan they will be redeemed.” The entire month of Nisan, and especially the Seder Night, is protected from the negative forces (Pesachim 109b), an auspicious time for geulah.
But it is still difficult to understand why the redemption took place specifically in Nisan and not during another month. One might suggest that it is because in Nisan the angels arrived at Avraham’s tent with the tiding of Yitzchak’s birth, on the following Pesach (Bereishit Rabbah 48:12). However, Nisan had already been designated to be the month
in which the geulah would take place many generations before this.
Why is Nisan the beginning of the months? Why is Nisan protected from negative forces? Why is it called The Month of Spring, and Pesach called The Spring Festival?
Perhaps we can answer with the following thought. Mitzvot must be done with proper intent (Rosh Hashanah 28b). They must be experienced and felt. This is the purpose of remembering Yetziat Mitzrayim. It is insufficient to remember the story as a once-upon-a-time occurrence. One must live through the story, so that it enters his mind and his heart. He must feel how much our ancestors suffered in Mitzrayim, and that if they had not been redeemed, he himself would still be there, enslaved and embittered.
Retelling the story of our Exodus instills belief in Hashem in our hearts. Since the Yetzer Hara always tries to weaken our level of emunah, when Pesach comes, we can recharge ourselves with emunah, with vigor and enthusiasm. By telling over the story of the Exodus, and feeling as though he himself was emancipated from Egypt, one will become tremendously inspired to believe wholeheartedly in Hashem.
The name ןסינ (Nisan) has the same root as the word ןויסנ (test). The month of Nisan is a testing ground to examine how each person will view the rest of his year. Will he, indeed, be a free man, liberated from the shackles of the Yetzer Hara, or will he still be under his influence?
Nisan, being the first of the months, is auspicious for strengthening one’s emunah in Hashem and bringing the geulah. One who recharges his spiritual batteries in Nisan is withstanding the test of the month. He will be re-energized, and will be able to ascend in his Avodat Hashem during the rest of the months of the year. But this is on condition that he feels as though he himself left Egypt.
In order to experience the slavery and redemption, one should strive to imagine what actually happened there. I have heard of various tzaddikim, such as Rabbi Moshe Mordechai MiLelov, zt”l, who would carry sacks on their shoulders and call out the pasuk (Shemot 12:34) “Their leftovers bound up in their garments upon their shoulders.” They felt as though they themselves had just left Egypt.
It is also told that one time, the Chafetz Chaim was seen laughing out loud. When asked for an explanation, he said, “I am learning about the plague of lice, and imagining the Egyptians scratching themselves all over. This makes me laugh.” It is important to relate to the bondage of our nation in Egypt and their subsequent redemption.
For that reason, Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel states (Pesachim 116b in the Mishnah), “Whoever did not say the following three things on Pesach, has not fulfilled his obligation. They are: Pesach, matzah, and maror.” The author of the sefer Yeshuat Hashem questions this. We never find that one must mention the mitzvah before he actually carries it out. Furthermore, we never see that one is considered as not having fulfilled his mitzvah obligation if he has not mentioned the mitzvah beforehand.
But here it is different. Remembering these three things helps us to feel that we ourselves left Mitzrayim. Mentioning them out-loud helps us to feel their import in our hearts. This is a most vital point of Pesach.
We find, in the Pesach Haggadah, that our Chachamim would remain awake, retelling the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim all night long. What took them so long? This is in line with what we said previously. They felt as though they themselves had just been liberated from slavery, and as if they had themselves experienced fantastic miracles this night. They spoke of emunah, which gave them the power to become freed from the shackles of Pharaoh, the human form of the Yetzer Hara. Therefore, they dwelt on relating the details of the Exodus all night long.
The Beit Yisrael of Gur quotes the Gemara (Pesachim 6b): “Two things are out of a person’s domain, yet the pasuk implies that they are in his domain. One of these is chametz from the sixth hour (before Pesach).” Chametz, he says, is a hint to the Yetzer Hara. On Pesach, everyone has the ability to rule over his Yetzer Hara. Hashem has brought us close to Him. We have the ability to vanquish the Yetzer Hara and empower ourselves with emunah. This is the true joy of Pesach.
On Pesach, the angels predicted Yitzchak’s birth, which would take place the following Nisan. They alluded to the fact that he would withstand a ןויסנ (test) in the month of ןסינ. Just as Avraham withstood ten nisyonot (Avot 5:3), so too, would his children have the ability to withstand trials and renew their Avodat Hashem. Then, the kelippah will have no control over Bnei Yisrael, for the night of Pesach will be a night of protection from all negative forces.
Now we can understand why this month is called The Month of Spring. In the spring, everything blossoms, the trees burst forth with buds, wearing a youthful look. A person suffers many nisyonot in his youth. When one does teshuvah, he brings himself back to the years of his youth and is rejuvenated.
Unfortunately, nowadays, we find many adults, some of them well on in years, who cannot withstand temptation. They emulate the young, wearing youthful garments, in order that they should feel young. They also wear short clothes, not in the spirit of tzeniut, succumbing to temptation in order to be fashionable. But there are those who refuse to give in to temptation. They withstand nisyonot admirably, just like our ancestors in Egypt. They merit special siyata di’Shemaya.
At the Seder table, we recite the passage “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt.” We are now free men. But a wealthy man who is blinded by his wealth and does not feel the galut, is not free at all, but a slave to his Yetzer Hara.
Chazal state (Esther Rabbah 7:25) that Hashem told the Shevatim, “You sold Yosef into slavery. You, too, shall become slaves.” The rectification for this is unity. On the night of Pesach, all remember our previous slavery, rich and poor alike. This is the way to break the middah of arrogance, which is so despicable. One’s heart becomes broken, and he comes closer to Hashem.
Unity is an asset in withstanding a nisayon. One who helps his fellow Jew also hastens the geulah. On Pesach night, we eat תסורח (charoset). The letters of תסורח stand for 'ס תורח, an allusion to the 600,000 Jews who emerged from slavery to freedom (since the letter 'ס has the gematria of 60).
We dip the maror into the charoset (Pesachim 10:3) to indicate a combination of the wealthy (as depicted by the rich charoset) and the poor (as depicted by the bitter maror). All should live in unity. In this manner, we remember the days of bondage and beseech Heavenly mercy for each other. May Hashem redeem us speedily, in His great mercy.