In the present day — when the Pesach offering is not brought — there exists a major difference between the obligation to eat matzah and the obligation to eat maror on the Seder nights: the former is a Torah command, while the latter is only a Rabbinic ordinance. As a result, says the Ragatchover Gaon,1 the “commemoration of slavery” accomplished through eating maror has ceased, since the injunction to eat maror is currently only of Rabbinic origin.

Truly, this needs explanation. Seemingly, the reason maror is not a Torah law during the time of exile is only that maror was subordinate to the Pesach offering — it is not a mitzvah in and of itself, but is considered a preparation for the Pesach offering (“Machshirei Pesach”). Since we are presently unable to bring the Pesach offering, the commandment of maror is only Rabbinic.2

But how does this prove that the whole aspect of the “commemoration of slavery” has now ceased? Moreover, why specifically now, when exile is felt even more and freedom is felt even less than during the time the Beis HaMikdash stood, do we say that the “commemoration of freedom” remains while the “commemoration of slavery” has ceased?

The commandments of the Seder nights contain two general obligations with regard to the Exodus: the commandment of speech, relating the tale of the Exodus, and the commandments of deed, eating the “Pesach offering, the matzah and the maror.” The theme of both are the same, that of remembering and re-experiencing our redemption and liberation from Egyptian bondage.3

The tale of the Exodus as related in the Haggadah “begins with disgrace,”4 that we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, we were badly mistreated, etc. Only afterwards do we conclude with the miracles and wonders that G‑d wrought, and recount our liberation from captivity.5

The same is true regarding the commemoration of our freedom through deeds: we are to stress not only the aspect of our freedom, but also the intensity of our slavery and servitude. And this is why we are obliged to eat maror: “Because the Egyptians embittered our fathers’ lives in Egypt.”6 Only by eating maror do the commandments of Pesach and matzah become whole and complete.

All the above is meant not only to convey that our forefathers were enslaved and then liberated, but more importantly, that this aspect of slavery and freedom is something that relates to each individual personally.

Thus it is that in relating the tale of the Exodus we begin by stating, “We were enslaved, and we were liberated through miracles.…” So, too, with regard to our actions on Pesach night. In the words of the Rambam:7 “A person is obliged to act as if he, himself, at this present moment, departed from Egyptian bondage.”

Obviously, the obligations of this night are not merely a commemoration and a symbol of past events, but are meant to impart within the person the feeling that he himself has become a free man; he himself has been redeemed and freed.

Accordingly, we can well understand that there exists quite a difference between the time the Beis HaMikdashwas extant and present-day exile:

During the time of the Beis HaMikdash, when the Jewish people were free, they were able to fully fulfill the obligation of demonstrating the aspect of freedom. Moreover, they could do so even while eating maror, an act that expressed the intensity of their former servitude.

Nowadays, however, in our present state of exile, the specific act of remembering the servitude through eating maror may bring about a weakening in our true feeling of freedom; after all, we are now in a state of exile. Thus “the commemoration of slavery has ceased,” inasmuch as this commemoration would unduly interfere with the theme8 that all of the night’s events are to be performed in a manner of freedom.

The reason for constantly remembering the state of freedom of the Exodus, notwithstanding the fact that we are presently in a state of exile, is that the exile of Egypt was truly unique; all subsequent exiles do not compare to being slaves of Pharaoh and Egypt. Although we may still find ourselves in exile, the Jews were eternally freed from the harsh state of Egyptian exile.9

Indeed, herein lies the difference between the two items at the Seder that symbolize Egyptian servitude, maror and charoses: maror commemorates slavery in general, for all slavery is bitter, while charoses symbolizes and serves as a remembrance of the mortar that the Jews were forced to make for the Egyptians — the extraordinary slavery of Egypt,10 the redemption from which is fully commemorated, even while we await our speedy liberation from our present state of exile, through the arrival of our righteous Mashiach.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXXII, pp. 46-49.