“We Were Slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt”

Bo By :  Matthew Berkowitz Former Director of Israel Programs, JTS Posted On Jan 23, 2015 / 5775 | דבר אחר | A Different Perspective

© 2008, Rabbi Matthew L. Berkowitz, The Lovell Haggadah

Rav Hanina explained, “God said to the tribes, ‘You have sold Joseph into slavery. By your lives, every year you will declare, ‘We were slaves to Pharaoh,’ and thereby atone for the sin of selling Joseph. And just as Joseph went forth from imprisonment to royalty, so we too have gone forth from slavery to freedom” Midrash Tehillim, Mizmor X

Mount Sinai and a pyramid mirror each other, two halves of a whole. The pyramid is upside down, demonstrating that slavery is unnatural. Servitude distorts reality and ambition. This distortion comes not only from slavery to a human master, but also from when we become enslaved to our own drives—lacking the ability to envision an alternative or to hold fast to hope.

The midrash about Joseph and his brothers above is inscribed in the background set against the pyramid. The pyramid is draped with Joseph’s striped coat; the colors carry over into the border, a mosaic of multicolored glass, reflecting the shattered love of his family— torn apart by favoritism and hatred.

Mount Sinai is upright, indicating that learning Torah is a natural state, the very purpose for which we were created. Calligraphed in the sky, one sees Leviticus 25:55, “For it is to Me (God) that the Israelites are servants: they are My servants, whom I freed from the land of Egypt.” Thus, freedom manifests itself in becoming a servant of God rather than a servant to Pharaoh.

True liberation comes from the observance of Torah, which “inverts the pyramid of Egypt.”