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, Shmuel Yosef ben Reuven, the Kedoshim of Har Nof, Pittsburgh, and Jersey City, 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 health and safety of our brothers and sisters in Israel and around the world.
Our parasha concludes with the well-known third paragraph of Kriat Shema whose focus is the mitzvah of Tzitzit. Its inclusion in the Shema during Tefilat Shacharit is understandable, as the mitzvah of Tzitzit is fulfilled at this time. Its recitation during Tefilat Arvit (Ma’ariv) is somewhat difficult to understand, however, since this mitzvah is not obligatory at night. If so, why is this final portion of our parasha a constitutive element of Kriat Shema during both the morning and evening prayers?
This problem was addressed by the Rambam (Maimonides, 1135-1204) in Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Kriat Shema 1:3:
Although the commandment of Tzitzit is not practiced at night, we nonetheless recite it [that is, this section] at this time, mipnei sh’yaish bah zichron yetziat mitzrayim — since it contains a mention of the Departure from Egypt; u’mitzvah l’hazkir yetziat mitzrayim b’yom u’b’lailah — and there is a commandment to commemorate the Exodus during the day and at night. As the Torah states: “…in order that you will remember the day you departed from the land of Egypt all the days of your life.” (Sefer Devarim 16:3)
There are two crucial phrases in this halacha: “u’mitzvah l’hazkir yetziat mitzrayim b’yom u’b’lailah,” and “mipnei sh’yaish bah zichron yetziat mitzrayim.” The Rambam is teaching us that there is a commandment to mention the Exodus during the day and at night based upon the verse, “…in order that you will remember the day you departed from the land of Egypt all the days of your life.” In addition, even though the time-bound mitzvah of Tzitzit is not practiced at night, its pasukim from our parasha are recited at this time mipnei sh’yaish bah zichron yetziat mitzrayim — since they contain a mention of yetziat mitzrayim.
We are now met with a classic Rabbinic problem that was given powerful voice by the celebrated Talmudic analyst and posek, Rabbi Yechezkel ben Yehudah HaLevi Landau (1713-1793) in his commentary on Talmud Bavli, Berachot 12b:
…and so, too, in the Rambam’s listing of the Taryag Mitzvot — 613 Commandments, he counts the mitzvah l’saper b’yetziat mitzrayim — to tell the story of the Departure from Egypt on the first night of Passover as Positive Commandment 157, based upon the verse, “v’he’gaddatah l’vinchah — and you shall tell your son.” Yet, he does not count the daily commandment of zechirat yetziat mitzrayim — mentioning and commemorating the Exodus — that is based upon the phrase, “in order that you will remember…” at all [in his compendium of the Taryag Mitzvot]. And as of this moment, I have no idea as to his [the Rambam’s] rationale for this.
In essence, Rav Landau asks, “Why does the Rambam include l’saper b’yetziat mitzrayim on the night of Passover and exclude the daily mitzvah of zechirat yetziat mitzrayim in his listing of the 613 Commandments?” We are fortunate he provides us with his solution to this quandary:
I applied my mind to this matter and reviewed it extensively. [Following this, I realized] that he [the Rambam] was certainly correct in his underlying rationale for not counting this mitzvah among the Taryag Mitzvot, since this commandment was never stated as an imperative [but rather as a narrative statement]. If, however, the Torah would have written, “Remember the day [rather than ‘in order that you will remember’],” then it would have been considered a mitzvah in its own right… (Translations and underlining my own)
In sum Rav Landau explains that the reason why the Rambam does not count the mitzvah of zechirat yetziat mitzrayim under the rubric of the Taryag Mitzvot is based on its wording, namely, as a narrative rather than an imperative formulation.
A different approach to Rav Landau’s quandary was offered by my rebbe and mentor, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik zatzal (1903-1993) in his work, Shiurim Lezecher Abba Mori (Vol. 1, pp. 1-7). Therein he cites his grandfather, Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik zatzal (1853-1918), who provides a conceptual framework as to why the Rambam does not include the mitzvah of zechirat yetziat mitzrayim in his compendium of the Taryag Mitzvot:
Rav Chaim Soloveitchik explained that remembering the Exodus is not a distinct mitzvah but rather forms part of the broader mitzvah of [kabbalat ol malchut Shamayim] accepting the yoke of heaven: G-d took us out of Egypt for the sole purpose of being our G-d. Thus, remembering the Exodus is included in the mitzvah of Kerias Shema, which is fundamentally an obligation to accept the yoke of heaven. (Translation, Chumash Mesoras HaRav, Sefer Bamidbar, page 127, underlining and brackets my own)
Both Rav Chaim and the Rav maintain that the mitzvah of zechirat yetziat mitzrayim is not listed in the Rambam’s 613 Commandments because it “is not a distinct mitzvah but rather forms part of the broader mitzvah of accepting the yoke of heaven.” In other words, it is a subset of kabbalat ol malchut Shamayim, and, therefore, cannot be counted as a separate mitzvah among the Taryag Commandments.
The Rav pointed out on numerous occasions that the inclusion or exclusion of a mitzvah as one of the Taryag Mitzvot was never a determinant of its actual import. In point of fact, all mitzvot are equally binding and have the same significance, regardless as to the conceptual category in which they may be placed. This is particularly of the moment since the Rambam and the Ramban, among others, disagree time and time again as to which mitzvah ought to be counted within the 613 Commandments. What is crucial is for us to recognize that all mitzvot are the words of the one and only Elokim chayim and, for this alone, we must ever strive to fulfill them. With the Almighty’s help may this be so. V’chane yihi ratzon.
Shabbat Shalom and may Hashem in His great mercy remove the magafah from klal Yisrael and from all the nations of the world.
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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