The placement of the Maror in the order of the Seder is quite mysterious.
When we observe the 15 steps of the Seder, we see that there is a clear path of ascension. Our actions throughout the night take us through a virtual journey where we, ourselves, are experiencing a trek from bondage to freedom. Corresponding to the 15 steps entering into the courtyard of the Beit HaMikdash, every act that we do seems to take us one step farther away from the salty tears of Karpas to the festive bliss of Hallel and Nirtzah.
When we reach the middle five steps of the Seder, we find ourselves at a point of transition. The four steps revolving around Matzah and Maror are a recreation of the ceremony that the Jewish nation performed while still in Egypt but already smelling the scent of freedom. As we eat the Matzah and lean, it seems that we have finally gotten to the place in the Seder where we, too, are smelling the scent of freedom and it smells a lot like the delicious Shulchan Aruch food that is only a few minutes away.
And it is at that point of transition, moments away from freedom, when the Maror ceremony commences.
Maror. The symbol of bitterness. The symbol of pain. Chicken soup with Kosher for Pesach Luckshen is on our mind, yet tears of suffering are pouring down are cheeks! How do we understand this contradiction of emotions we are supposed to be experiencing at this time? And why would the Jewish nation be commanded to be eating Maror while still in slavery and specifically at a time when they are beginning their freedom? What are we to make of this?
Many suggest that the message here is one of “never forget where you came from” or “realize that it was the pain of the past that got you to this point”. But, I would like to suggest a somewhat different approach based on my work with so many people who are trying to make major changes in their lives, to go from whatever “slavery” they are experiencing in their life to whatever “freedom” they are looking for. It can be the slavery of an addiction, of a toxic relationship, of a dead-end job, or of a life without Torah values.
The message of Maror smack in the middle of the Seder can very well be teaching us that as difficult as slavery is, very often the pain of transitioning out of that slavery can be even harder, more painful and certainly scarier. For as bad as that slavery may seem, there is a certain complacency and comfort that is present, and the idea of having to pick up and enter into a “desert” without knowing what will happen there can be absolutely frightening.
Certainly, one who pays close attention to the subtle hints of the Torah and of our Sages can see that this was not an easy task for the Jewish people. We know that only a small number of Jews actually left Egypt. We read how when they are commanded to “request a man from his friend (rayaihu)” silver and gold vessels (Shemos 11:2), an usual term of affection referring to their Egyptian masters. And we see how whenever anything goes wrong in the Desert, some Jews fondly reminisce about their time in Egypt and how they “sat by the pot of meat” and “ate bread till they were full” (Shemos 16:3).
The Maror teaches us to be sensitive of the pain of transition from slavery to freedom. To look around us and see if there are people in our life who are experiencing this pain and maybe longing for those “good old days” of slavery, when life was just more simple. And Maror is a time to look inward and ask ourselves if, perhaps, we are avoiding a potential Exodus in our own life because we are afraid of the Desert ahead. And if in fact we are, Maror is a time to strengthen ourselves and remind us that Shulchan Aruch is only moments away.