Rabbi David Etengoff
Dedicated to the sacred memories of my mother, Miriam Tovah bat Aharon Hakohen, father-in-law, Levi ben Yitzhak, sister-in-law, Ruchama Rivka Sondra bat Yechiel, sister, Shulamit bat Menachem, Chana bat Shmuel, Yehonatan Binyamin ben Mordechai Meir Halevi, Shoshana Elka bat Avraham, Tikvah bat Rivka Perel, Peretz ben Chaim, Chaya Sarah bat Reb Yechezkel Shraga, the Kedoshim of Har Nof and Pittsburgh, and the refuah shlaimah of Mordechai HaLevi ben Miriam Tovah, Moshe ben Itta Golda, Yocheved Dafneh bat Dinah Zehavah, Reuven Shmuel ben Leah and the safety of our brothers and sisters in Israel and around the world.
Our parasha contains the mitzvah of sippur yetziat mitzrayim — the recounting of the story of the Departure from Egypt — that is fulfilled during the Pesach Seder experience. The 13th century anonymous author of the Sefer HaChinuch begins his discussion of this commandment in the following manner:
The commandment to recount the exodus from Egypt: To tell about the Exodus from Egypt on the night of the fifteenth of Nissan — each person according to his own power of expression — to laud and to praise Hashem, may He be blessed, for all the miracles He performed for us there, as it is stated, “And you shall tell your son — v’he’gaddatah l’vinchah…” (Sefer Shemot 13:8, translation with my emendations, https://www.sefaria.org/Sefer_HaChinukh.21.1?lang=bi)
The Sefer HaChinuch generally follows the approach of the Rambam (Maimonides, 1135-1204) in his presentation of the mitzvot. Yet, when we examine the Rambam’s introductory words in the Mishneh Torah concerning sippur yetziat mitzrayim, we find that he bases this commandment on an entirely different proof text than that of the Sefer HaChinuch:
It is a positive commandment of the Torah to relate the miracles and wonders wrought for our ancestors in Egypt on the night of the fifteenth of Nisan, as the Torah states: “Remember this day, on which you left Egypt — zachor et hayom hazeh asher y’tzatem m’mitzrayim” (Sefer Shemot 13:3) just as it states: “Remember the Sabbath day.” (Sefer Shemot 20:8, Hilchot Chametz u’Matzah 7:1, translation, Rabbi Eliyahu Touger with my emendations)
In truth, when the Sefer HaChinuch cites “v’he’gaddatah l’vinchah” as his source for sippur yetziat mitzrayim, he does so in congruence with the position of nearly every classic meforash (commentator) on the Taryag (613) Torah commandments. This leads us to ask, “Why does the Rambam in the Mishneh Torah act as an outlier in his selection of zachor et hayom hazeh asher y’tzatem m’mitzrayim for his proof text, rather than the universally accepted v’he’gaddatah l’vinchah?” This question is particularly apropos, since the Rambam did adopt v’he’gaddatah l’vinchah as his source for the mitzvah of sippur yetziat mitzrayim in his Sefer HaMitzvot! (Positive Commandment 157)
In order to better understand the Rambam’s choice in the Mishneh Torah of zachor et hayom hazeh asher y’tzatem m’mitzrayim as the source for the mitzvah of recounting the story of the Exodus, we need to analyze how this verse is usually interpreted. In his Commentary on the Torah, Rashi (1040-1105), basing himself upon the Mechilta, Parashat Bo 16, states: “This teaches us that we have a daily [obligation] to mention the Exodus from Egypt.” It is noteworthy that while this is a daily, and for that matter, nightly chovah (obligation), the Rambam does not count it as one of the Taryag Mitzvot. Instead, he places it within the laws of kriat sh’ma: “There is a mitzvah to mention the Departure from Egypt during the day and at night…” (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Kriat Sh’ma I:3). While the Rambam supports this statement with a citation from Sefer Devarim 16:3, my rebbe and mentor, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik zatzal (1903-1993), known as “the Rav” by his students and followers, notes that “regarding the truth of the matter, the mitzvah [that is, the daily obligation to mention the Exodus] was really stated in the verse, ‘zachor et hayom hazeh.’” (Shiurim l’Zacher Abba Mori, II, page 152, translation and brackets my own) Why, then, did the Rambam chose zachor et hayom hazeh as the proof text for the commandment of sippur yetziat mitzrayim, when it seems its proper purview is the daily obligation to mention the Exodus?
In his exploration of this question entitled, “The Conjunction of Sippur and Zechirat Mitzrayim,” Rabbi Michael Rosensweig, rosh hayeshiva at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, suggests the following answer to our question:
The Rambam's carefully crafted articulation of the mitzvah of sippur yetziat mitzrayim subtly, yet artfully, conveys that the singular focus of the actual night of Pesach is further enhanced by its wide and pervasive impact, as expressed in daily zechirat mitzrayim…it is the ubiquitous zechirah…that determines sippur’s ultimate significance even as a concrete commemoration of the historical event of the Exodus. (www.Torahweb.org)
At this point, Rav Rosensweig elaborates upon the symbiotic relationship that obtains between sippur and zechirat mitzrayim:
Thus, zechirat yetziat mitzrayim and sippur yetziat mitzrayim are mutually enhancing, even mutually dependent. Without the detailed, intense and more concrete sippur practiced once a year, the more amorphous and abstract zechirah would be compromised; absent the continuous outlet and impact provided by daily zechirah, the anniversary of the Exodus would be nothing more than a nostalgic memory.
Rabbi Rosensweig has provided us with the tools to gain a deeper understanding of the inextricable relationship between zechirat yetziat mitzrayim and sippur yetziat mitzrayim. Each informs the other, to the extent that neither could reach their full potential without the powerful light of the other shining upon it.
May the Master of the Universe help us recognize the power and significance of zechirat yetziat mitzrayim, and in so doing, may we be zocheh (merit) to infuse our sippur yetziat mitzrayim with new and dynamic meaning. V’chane yihi ratzon.
Past drashot may be found at my blog-website: http://reparashathashavuah.org
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*** My audio shiurim on the topics of Tefilah and Tanach may be found at: http://tinyurl.com/8hsdpyd
*** I have posted 164 of Rabbi Soloveitchik’s English language audio shiurim (MP3 format) spanning the years 1958-1984. Please click on the highlighted link.
Talmid of Rabbi Soloveitchik zatzal