It’s a first-hand account of the Exodus – thousands of years later.
The Torah instructs each of us to tell the next generation about all of the miracles that “Hashem did for me as I left Egypt” (Sh’mos 13:8). It is based on the first-person narrative in this verse that Chazal famously declared: “In every generation, a person is obligated to view himself as if he had personally left Mitzrayim” (P’sachim 116b).
Well, that seems strange. Sure, we could simply say those words; but what do they mean? How can one use the pronouns I, me, or we when telling over a story that occurred several thousand years ago?
Rav Shimon Schwab zt”l (Ma’ayan Beis HaSho’eivah, Parshas Bo) answered with the following analogy: An adult might gesture and say, “I broke this arm when I was seven years old,” even though, technically, it is no longer the same arm. From a biological perspective, every individual bone, tissue, and skin cell has been replaced many times since the childhood incident – and yet, a person still feels as if it is the same arm. This is because such a statement refers to a sense of “self,” rather than any specific flesh or cell particles. In other words, a person identifies with his or her body as a whole, recognizing the continuity of its overall existence. This self-defining feeling transcends the technical loss and replacement of any of its particular components.
Similarly, Rav Schwab explained, every Jew can honestly declare, “Hashem took me out of Egypt,” in the sense that we are each an individual cell in the larger body known as B’nei Yisrael. The Jewish nation is joined as a collective entity, so that even as its technical members continue to change over time, it always retains that same sense of “self.”
It is no different from a die-hard sports fan who identifies with the history of his beloved team, including the games that were played decades before, by players who have long since retired. The Jewish people are members of a national team, one with a communal history over thousands of years. The “players” on our favorite team may have changed many times since the days of Y’tzias Mitzrayim, but we still relate to our shared history!
As we gather round the Yom Tov table, let us remember that we are not retelling a fairy tale, nor are we simply recounting a historical event. Instead, Pesach is an opportunity to re-enact and re-experience an event from our collective past. Such a perspective may not come naturally or easily, and the Seder is the perfect opportunity to begin acting and feeling like a vital cell in the larger body of Hashem’s chosen nation.