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[Passover eve we eat bitter herbs because of the bitterness of our slave labor in Egypt]


My second cousin Joey slaves away at this hi-tech firm, never seeing much of the light of day. Of course he claims he works there and earns well – but I know better. So one rare day when he took a few days leave he comes over and tells me this story:


"I've gotten a promotion and a salary raise," he starts.

"Well," I reply, "I told you that eating a large piece of celery on the eve of Rosh Ha'Shanah (New Year) works for getting a bigger salary".

"Well, whatever you say. The thing is: this other guy at work, Herby, he and me are both qualified for this promotion. Herby's a nice guy, brilliant, and he gets good results, but he doesn't get the promotion, I do," Joey muses out loud. (I have to admit that I'd never define him as brilliant, but I do know that he works hard and is always willing to make an effort above and beyond the call of duty.)

"So Herby comes over to me, all bitter like, and asks me why I got the promotion and not him? After all – he's telling me – he's better at the job than I am, smarter, quicker, you know. Now I start thinking: well, maybe that's the point! I mean if I was boss I'd prefer a guy who wasn't expecting a promotion, so he's going to be more appreciative, than a guy who thinks a whole lot of himself and is expecting a promotion". (I couldn't argue with that. That's one of the reasons why Moses, Moshe, was leader and not Korach: Moshe was pleading with God to pick someone else, saying he's not worthy, while Korach was actually implying: "Pick me!")

"So I don't say anything. I just nod in what I hope looks as a sympathetic manner. I mean – is he expecting me to give up the promotion, or gang up with him against the boss? Anyway he goes off, muttering, towards the office of the boss. Two hours later the boss calls me in, and as I go I'm thinking: maybe Herby convinced him to trash me and promote him. Hesitantly I entered the room.

"'Joey! Hiya! Hey – close the door behind ya and take a seat!" my boss said in his regular booming voice. 'Sit down. Listen, I wanna cut to the chase: the reason I called ya in here is t'explain t'ya why you got the job. Herby was in here before asking, y'know, so I told him and now I'm telling you. The difference between you two guys is that he don't work hard, he don't have to sweat to get results. That's nice – as long as everything is hunky dory, but when the stuff hits the fan – the guy won't know what to do, 'cause he's ain't used to working hard. Now you, on the other hand, you work hard all the time, you know that real results require real effort. That's why I'm giving you the promotion'.

"So you see", Joey finishes the story, "Herby's all bitter about it, but it's his problem because he's so used to everything coming to him easily."


That's Joey's story, but it's really part of the Passover story. We eat bitter herbs at the seder (Passover eve ceremony) to commemorate the bitterness of the exile and the subjugation in Egypt. But you can ask: since we're free now, what's the point in remembering the bitterness of before?

There are two immensely important points made by eating the bitter herbs:

1] You can't really fully appreciate your freedom unless you compare it with your slavery, whether the historical slavery of the Jewish nation in Egypt or throughout our history of exiles, or your personal slavery and addictions, whether physical, psychological or spiritual.

2] You have to realize that the path from physical or spiritual slavery to real freedom comes through good, hard and continuous work and effort. Because bitter herbs as a reminder of hard work, really hints at the need to work strenuously for a greater good.


The bitter herbs – being willing to "eat" the bitter times and to work hard, are an intrinsic step on the way to real freedom and accomplishment. Once you are willing to undergo the bitter herbs you may find out that they're not so bitter in the end.


So it is better to eat bitter herbs than be a bitter Herby. 

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