Retelling the Exodus

  • Rav Doniel Schreiber


The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Special Holiday Shiur
Yeshivat Har Etzion




Sippur Yetzi'at Mitzrayim - Retelling the Exodus

by Rav Doniel Schreiber

[This is an excerpt from a much more comprehensive article on the Biblical commandments of the Seder night, which appeared in Alei Etzion Vol. 2 (Nisan 5755).]

1. Sippur vs. Zekhira

Sippur yetzi'at Mitzrayim, the mitzva to recount the story of the exodus, is a Biblical commandment. The mishna Pesachim (1) derives this from the verse (2): "And you shall tell your son on that day, saying...." Even though generally there is a mitzva every night of the year of zekhirat yetzi'at Mitzrayim (3) [remembering the exodus from Egypt], on the night of the fifteenth of Nisan there is a distinctive mitzva of sippur yetzi'at Mitzrayim, to tell the story of our exodus from Egypt. What precisely is the difference between zekhirat and sippur yetzi'at Mitzrayim?(4)

Rav Chayim Soloveitchik zt"l explains (5) that sippur yetzi'at Mitzrayim's peculiar character is expressed in four ways:

a) It should ideally be articulated to another person "derekh she'eila u-teshuva," in a question and answer mode; b) it must begin with "genut," the portions of Jewish history reflecting our disgrace, and must conclude with "shevach," the triumphant parts of our history (6); c) it must include the performances of the night; i.e. pesach, matza, and maror; d) it must mention that today (the night of the fifteenth of Nisan) is the day we left Egypt, just like we must mention on Shabbat that today is Shabbat (7).

Rav Chayim suggests that mentioning "today is the day of yetzi'at Mitzrayim" is accomplished through kiddush of Pesach when we say "zeman cherutenu" - "the time of our freedom," - just as the obligation to mention "Shabbat" is fulfilled in kiddush Friday night. If so, kiddush on the seder night is actually a constituent part of sippur yetzi'at Mitzrayim, and even according to those who understand that kiddush on Yom Tov is generally rabbinic, kiddush on Pesach night is min ha- Torah. Moreover, since sippur yetzi'at Mitzrayim is only operative at night, it follows that kiddush on Pesach eve may be recited only when it is actually nighttime (8), despite the fact that on Shabbat and other Yamim Tovim, kiddush may be recited even while it is yet daytime.

The Griz zt"l, Rav Yitzchak Zev Halevi Soloveitchik, understands (9) that sippur yetzi'at Mitzrayim possesses yet an additional idiosyncratic feature. He asserts that learning the laws relevant to yetzi'at Mitzrayim and korban pesach is a component of sippur yetzi'at Mitzrayim (10). This explains why the Haggada, which is dedicated to sippur yetzi'at Mitzrayim, states that the father should teach his wise son the laws of pesach. The fact that the Haggada cites the debate between R. Elazar ben Azaria and Chakhamim regarding the mitzva of zekhirat yetzi'at Mitzrayim, which seems unrelated to the act of sippur, is also eminently sensible. The Griz, however, leaves open the question if learning the laws of chametz fulfills sippur yetzi'at Mitzrayim, or if this is limited to the laws of korban pesach.

The Rav zt"l, Maran Rabbi Joseph B. Halevi Soloveitchik, develops sippur's talmud Torah motif more fully (11). He explains the rationale for this idea as follows. Sippur yetzi'at Mitzrayim is actually a mitzva of talmud Torah and mesora (the transmission of Torah knowledge). This idea is accentuated by a passage, located towards the beginning of the Haggada, whose wording has a striking resemblance to that of birkat ha-Torah - "barukh Ha-makom, barukh Hu, barukh she- natan Torah le-amo Yisrael ..." Since sippur yetzi'at Mitzrayim is accomplished through talmud Torah, we understand why the Haggada begins with a formulation recalling the blessing over the Torah.

Thus, not only must one tell the story of our exodus, but one must learn the story in the framework of Torah she-bikhtav and Torah she-be'al peh. It follows naturally, then, that sippur also demands the learning of the laws of the korban pesach, as its laws are also part of the mesora of yetzi'at Mitzrayim. Moreover, according to the Rav zt"l, our mesora entails understanding the significance of Torah and mitzvot. This is accomplished by both knowing halakha, and being fully prepared to fulfill all the mitzvot. If so, learning and teaching hilkhot pesach is indispensable to this night, since halakha represents the essence of our mesora.

The Rav zt"l (12) has pointed out five further distinctions between zekhirat and sippur yetzi'at Mitzrayim. First, sippur consists of discussing yetzi'at Mitzrayim in detail, whereas mere reference to yetzi'at Mitzrayim suffices for zekhira. Second, zekhira does not require Hallel, and sippur does - "lefikhakh, anachnu chayavim le-hodot u- lehallel." (13) Third, sippur means a total and all- encompassing experience, similar to the way we relate to Shabbat (14), which must be sustained the entire night. This idea is underscored by Rambam who rules (15) that one is obligated to appear as if he is leaving Egypt "right now."

Yet a fourth distinction is based on the fact that Rambam (16) refers to sippur yetzi'at Mitzrayim only in terms of the miracles which occurred in Egypt proper, but not those that occurred at the parting of the Sea. In addition, Rambam's Haggada does not include the reference to the number of blows suffered by the Egyptians at the Sea, nor the paragraph "kama ma'alot tovot la-makom aleinu." Zekhirat yetzi'at Mitzrayim, however, must include kriat yam Suf (17). What is the reason for this difference? The Rav zt"l explains that according to Rav Chayim Brisker, zekhirat yetzi'at Mitzrayim of the whole year is actually part of the fulfillment of the obligation to accept the yoke of heaven, which is exemplified by the parting of the Sea (18). Sippur yetzi'at Mitzrayim, though, aims to recall and relive the drama of yetzi'at Mitzrayim only, and thus there is no need to mention keri'at yam Suf. (19)

A final distinction, based on Rambam (20), is that sippur yetzi'at Mitzrayim cannot be merely a restatement of what everyone already knows about our exodus. Since sippur yetzi'at Mitzrayim is characterized by talmud Torah, sippur entails being mechadesh, innovating, in the understanding of yetzi'at Mitzrayim, broadening and deepening its essence yet further every year. Accordingly, when one is telling the story to a child, it is easy to fulfill the requirement of chidush, since most every idea is new to a child. When there are no young children at the seder, however, and all present are talmidei chakhamim, this requirement demands deep thought and hard work from those attending in order that they may compose original thoughts on yetzi'at Mitzrayim. This is the meaning of "afilu kulanu chakhamim;" even the sippur yetzi'at Mitzrayim of chakhamim must contain original ideas.

ENDNOTES --------

(1) Pesachim 116b. (2) Shemot 13:8. (3) Interestingly, even though zekhirat yetzi'at Mitzrayim is a mitzva min ha-Torah (see Rambam Hilkhot Keri'at Shema 1:3, gemara Berakhot 21a, and Rashi ibid. s.v. Emet), Rambam does not count it in his minyan ha-mitzvot. See Minchat Chinukh, mitzva 21. Rav Chayim Brisker (Haggadat Siach Ha-grid, by Rav Yitzchak Lichtenstein shlita, pp. 35-37, 1995) has suggested two explanations for this oddity: 1) Rambam does not count mitzvot in his minyan ha-mitzvot if they will be batel le-atid lavo (Sefer Ha-mitzvot, shoresh 3), and R. Elazar ben Azaria (Berakhot 12b), in establishing zekhirat yetzi'at Mitzrayim's obligation at night, discounts the limud which proclaims zekhira to be operative even bi-ymot ha-mashiach; thus zekhirat yetzi'at Mitzrayim cannot be counted in Rambam's minyan ha-mitzvot since it will be batel; or alternatively 2) Zekhirat yetzi'at Mitzrayim is actually not a mitzva unto itself, but is rather a kiyum in kabalat ol malkhut Shamayim (see main text below); thus it is in counted in Rambam's minyan ha-mitzvot - under mitzvat keri'at shema, since kabalat ol malkhut Shamayim is part of mitzvat keri'at shema. (4) See Minchat Chinukh, mitzva 21. (5) See Haggada Mi-beit Levi, p.110, and vol. II, Kovetz Hosafot, p. 79-80 based on Rambam Hilkhot Chametz and Matza 7:1-5. (6) See Mesorah Torah Journal, vol. 5, Adar 5751, pp. 36-38 for a discussion on the significance of this format by the Rav zt"l. (7) See Rambam Hilkhot Chametz ve-Matza 7:1. (8) See Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chayim 472:1. See the Rav zt"l's development of this idea in Shiurim Le-zekher Abba Mori z"l, vol. II, pp. 154-156. (9) Quoted in Haggada Mi-beit Levi, p. 110. (10) The Griz proves this from a statement by Tosefta Pesachim 10:8 to this effect. See also the Tur Orach Chayim, siman 481, in the name of Rabbenu Yona. (11) See Shiurim Le-zekher Abba Mori z"l, vol. II, pp. 156- 163. (12) Shiurim Le-zekher Abba Mori z"l, vol. II, pp 153-154, and Mesorah Torah Journal, vol. 3, Nisan 5750, pp 27-28, and ibid. vol. 5, Adar 5751, p. 38. (13) Mishna Pesachim 116b. (14) See Ramban al ha-Torah, Shemot 20:8. (15) Hilkhot Chametz ve-Matza 7:6. (16) Hilkhot Chametz ve-Matza 7:1-5. (17) Gemara Berakhot 12a. (18) "Az Hashem'aminu ba-Shem..." See also Magen Avraham, Orach Chayim, siman 67. (19) Mesorah Torah Journal, vol. 3, Nisan 5750, pp 27-28. See however Shiurim Le-zekher Abba Mori z"l, vol. II, pp 159-160, where the Rav zt"l suggests that according to Rambam, sippur yetzi'at Mitzrayim entails not only the miracles which occurred in Egypt, but even those that transpired afterwards until matan Torah. (20) Hilkhot Chametz ve-Matza 7:1-2.



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