I found a fascinating discussion of the idea of being enslaved in my pre-Passover reading which I wanted to share. The Netivot Shalom in his discussion of the haggadah discusses the idea of what we mean when we say in the haggadah, “If G-d had not taken our ancestors out of Egypt, we and our children and our children’s children would still be enslaved to Pharoah.” The question that is posed is what does it mean to be “enslaved to Pharaoh” as opposed to any of our other exiles, when we were subjugated to different kingdoms and empires. He answers that the slavery in Egypt was unique in that it was not just an enslavement of the body, but of the mind as well. We are taught that the people had descended to the 49th level of Tumah and if they had stayed in Egypt longer, they would not have been redeemed. In other words, the enslavement went beyond physical labor but was a spiritual enslavement as well. The other exiles, as the Slonimer explains, were merely of a physical nature. Hence, Egypt we would have remained enslaved if G-d didn’t redeem us, but not in any other exile.
After having read that, I came across the following from Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks which echoed this sentiment (p. 14 Chief Rabbi’s Haggadah):
In the Kovno ghetto in the early 1940s an extraordinary scene took place on morning in the makeshift synagogue. The Jews in the ghettto had begun to realize the fate that lay in store for them. They knew that none of them would escape, that the work camps to which they would be transported were in fact factories of death. And at the morning service, the leader of the prayer, an old and pious Jew, could finally say the words no longer. He had come to the blessing in which we thank G-d for not having made us slaves. He turned to the congregation and said: ‘I cannot say this prayer. How can I thank G-d for my freedom when I am now a prisoner facing death? Only a madman could say this prayer now.’
Some members of the congregation turned to the rabbi for advice. Could a Jew in the Kovno ghetto pronounce the blessing thanking G-d for not having made him a slave? The rabbi replied very simply. ‘Heaven forbid that we should abolish this blessing now. Our enemies wish to make us their slaves. But though they control our bodies they do not own our souls. By making this blessing we show that even here we still see ourselves as free men, temporarily in captivity, awaiting G-d’s redemption.’