"Originally Our Ancestors Were Idol Worshippers, But Now The Omnipersent (Makom) Brought Us Near to His Service"

In the Haggadah, we relate that our ancestors were idolators. This seems derogatory. Why point out negative elements of the past on Passover, a night of Hallel and praise to G-d for extracting us from Pharoah's bonds?
This is however, precisely the point. The Apter Rav, Reb Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apta, expressed the need to appreciate life's contrasts:
"One who has always been a tzaddik (righteous person), who has never tasted the taste of sin, can never despise and reject evil.. For how can one testify regarding something he has never experienced? The one who previously has been among the sinners however, and has subsequently repented, can now truly despise all forms of sin. From here on when he chooses the righteous path, he can legitimately testify that the good is truly good, worthy of being chosen as a way of life. He can also attest that evil is truly evil, for he has already tasted all the vices, and now recognizes with clear insight and intellect that it is wholly evil...
Rabbi Joseph B. Soleveitchik discusses how realization of G-d can be enhanced by some very serious contrasts.
"Sin reveals to man the beauty of good. Crime reveals the glory of the ethical. Mental disintegration reveals the enchantment of spiritual perfection. Values lost are more fascinating than ideals which are fully realized. The halachic concept if teshuva (repentance & return) vouchesafes us the revelation that there are new values accessible to man from the spring-board of sin, and that in attaining them the spirit of man can and does not only conquer sin but exploits it as a constructive creative force."
Terach, we are reminded in the Haggadah, was an idol worshipper. But of all his sons, one son, Abraham, was able to discern the contrast phenomenon that Rabbi Soveveitchik speaks of. Isaac in his day too discerned this, and passed on the blessings to Jacob. Jacob and his entire family went to Egypt, where the necessary purification and sifting took place, so that G-d could then bring us near to His service.

- Adapted from Kos Eliyahu by Rabbi Safran, pp 83-88 KTAV 1993

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