In our Parasha we see different dimensions of the commandment to remember slavery in Egypt and the redemption from there. It seems that the two verses are talking about the same thing, but in fact each of them has a different message in its context and place. The first verse is related to the commandment regarding the freeing of a Jewish slave, and the obligation not to send the slave away empty handed, but to give him everything good we have. “And you remembered that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore, I have commanded you this thing today.” (15:15).
This verse is very similar to the verse we have already encountered in the book of Deuteronomy, regarding the observance of Shabbat: “And you remembered that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a strong hand, that is why God is asking you to keep the seventh day.”
The second verse in the Parasha appears during the commandment about holidays. There, before the commandment on Sukkot, the Torah mentions: “And you remembered that you were a slave in Egypt, therefore you’ll keep and do these laws”.
These two commandments, although they are similar to each other, speak to the people of Israel in two different and important circles. The first circle is the personal circle: the master versus the slave, the rich versus the poor, the strong versus the weak. There the confrontation is mainly of man against his desires, negative inclination, and his weaknesses. That is why the Torah states “remember”. Each and every individual has the duty to remember “that you were a slave, and the Lord your God redeemed you”.
The second circle is the holiday circle, the national circle. The holidays in the Parasha are mentioned after the commandment on choosing a place to build the Temple. The people of Israel have reached the resting place and the inheritance, and they make a pilgrimage to celebrate in the Temple and offer the proper sacrifice. And right here, after the Passover sacrifice and the holiday of Shavuot, the Torah mentions, as a commandment to a nation that celebrates in its land, the obligation to remember the slavery of Egypt. The emphasis here is not freedom but a different kind of memory. Not everyone understands what the great joy of the holidays and Shabbat is about.
That is why Moshe teaches the future generation that all the good that they will encounter in the future, is not self-evident.
Sukkot is an agricultural holiday, the yield holiday, and the emphasis is not on the past, but on the present, “and rejoice in your feast.” Sukkot is a holiday for the great abundance and the crops of the field (or of the business today…)
The emphasis is, as in keeping Shabbat and holy days, it’s not just about the redemption from slavery to freedom, but its also about the divine power that took us out of misery. In order to increase our faith level and to recognize God as the unique power that affects us with infinite abundance, asking us to keep being close to him and to keep his commandments.
Rabbi Refael Cohen