[The1 Rebbe opened by quoting a passage from the Haggadah:] “In the beginning our forefathers were idolaters, but now the Omnipresent has brought us near to His service.”

[The Mishnah directs that when recounting the story of the Exodus,] “one begins by telling of [our forefathers’] disgrace.”2 In the words of the Haggadah, “In the beginning our forefathers were idolaters.” Now, why should we speak of their disgrace? Have we not been taught that the Torah does not speak of the disgrace of even an unclean animal?3

Seeking an answer to this question, we may observe that this account of our people’s past disgrace relates to every individual’s Divine service on “this night.”4

The Alter Rebbe writes in Tanya that “a person who violates G‑d’s Will,”5 “even if he commits a minor sin,”6 “is greatly inferior to and more debased than the sitra achara and kelipah which are called avodah zarah7 and ‘other gods.’ He is separated completely from G‑d’s unity and oneness even more than they are, as though denying His unity even more radically than they, G‑d forbid.”8

Looking inside himself, everyone knows what his spiritual state really is. Not only may he have stumbled with regard to matters that are permitted but dispensable;9 occasionally he may also have stumbled with regard to forbidden matters (whether unintentionally10 or even intentionally11 ) — and this is related to the sin of idolatry, as explained above. Considering this, a person may become disheartened.

At this point the Haggadah assures him: “In the beginning our forefathers were idolaters, but now the Omnipresent has brought us near to His service.” That is to say: Even if a moment ago (“in the beginning”) such a person was in a state in which he was subtly linked to idolatry, in one single moment he can transform himself from one pole to the other, from being an utter rasha to becoming a consummate tzaddik.39In the words of the Haggadah, “but now” — that is, at this very moment — “the Omnipresent has brought us near to His service.”

The possibility for such an absolute change is highlighted by the events of “this night” of Pesach.

The Children of Israel had fallen so low while in Egypt that they had become idolaters. Indeed, the Midrash teaches [that when G‑d announced in Heaven that He planned to release them from bondage, the Accusing Angels protested]: “These [i.e., the Egyptians] are idolaters, but so, too, these [i.e., the Children of Israel] are idolaters!” Yet despite their lowly spiritual status until that time, they were granted a revelation of Atzmus, the very Essence of Divinity — the ultimate expression of “the Omnipresent [bringing] near to His service.”

An echo of this dynamic reverberates every year. Even if until that moment (“in the beginning”) such a person was tainted by idolatry, or perhaps a tinge of it, when “this night” arrives he can have complete trust that “now the Omnipresent has brought us near to His service.” This trust surpasses mere hope. (As explained by my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe [Rayatz], a person with trust12 not only hopes for a certain eventuality; he is certain13that it will materialize.) He trusts that “now the Omnipresent has brought us near to His service,” for by virtue of this night’s revelation of Atzmus, the very Essence of Divinity, he can about-face and become a completely different person.