SALT - Monday 17 Nisan 5776, Omer 2 - April 25, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

            One of the most syntactically difficult verses in the narrative of the Exodus is one which we cite on several occasions at the seder.  Just after Benei Yisrael’s departure from Egypt, Moshe presents to the nation a number of commands intended to eternally memorialize this event, including the obligation to tell one’s child that “ba’avur zeh asa Hashem li be-tzeiti mi-Mitzrayim” (Shemot 13:8).  This verse is very difficult to translate, as it literally means, “because of this the Almighty acted for me when I left Egypt.”

            Rashi explains that the word “zeh” (“this”) in this verse refers to the mitzvot mentioned in the previous verses, namely, the various laws associated with the Pesach observance.  The Torah instructs parents to explain to their children that the purpose of the Exodus is for us to fulfill God’s mitzvot.  This verse thus means, “It is for this – the performanc of the mitzvot – that God acted for me by taking me from Egypt.”  This also appears to be the approach followed by the Haggadah, which interprets the phrase “ba’avur zeh” as indicating that the obligation to tell the story of the Exodus applies only on the night of Pesach, “at the time when matza and marror are placed before you.”  The word “zeh” (“this”) is generally understood by Chazal as a reference to something readily visible, and thus the Haggadah explains that when the Torah commands parents to tell their children, “Ba’avur zeh,” it refers to the time when the mitzva objects are in front of them – meaning, at the seder table.  The clear assumption underlying this inference is that “ba’avur zeh” refers to the mitzvot of the seder, in accordance with Rashi’s explanation.

            A seemingly simpler explanation is offered by Shadal, who notes that the word “zeh” is sometimes used in Biblical Hebrew to mean “which,” as opposed to “this.”  For example, God proclaims through the prophet Yeshayahu (43:21), “Am zu yatzarti li tehilatekha yesapeiru,” which likely means, “The nation which I created for Myself shall tell of My praise.”  Similarly, in the Az Yashir song of praise sung by Benei Yisrael after the splitting of the sea, they speak of “am zu ga’alta” (Shemot 15:16), which would seemingly be translated as, “the nation which you redeemed.”  Another example noted by Shadal is the verse in Tehillim (104:8), “el mekom zeh yasadeta lahem” – “to the place which You established for them.”  Accordingly, he writes, we might explain the phrase, “ba’avur zeh asa Hashem li” to mean, “because of that which the Lord did for Me,” and this is how parents are to explain their children the significance of the mitzvot of Pesach.