Enlarging the Retelling 1
Why is this mitzvah different from all other mitzvos? “Whoever enlarges
his relating of the story of the Exodus is praiseworthy,” Chazal tell us,
effectively urging us to act differently than in regard to other
commandments. Ordinarily, we are not told to do more of a mitzvah we have
already fulfilled. Once we have taken the lulav, or heard the
shofar, or even eaten the required amount of matzoh on the
night of Pesach, we are not urged to repeat the performance. Why is the
mitzvah of sippur yetzias Mitzrayim different?
Moreover, mitzvah of recalling the Exodus has a daily component. We
fulfill it simply by our recitation of the Shema. We are not
instructed to go the extra mile and lavish more time on this recitation.
We treat the parallel mitzvah on the Seder night, however, quite
Rambam describes our obligation of sippur yetzias Mitzrayim
at the Seder, fine-tuning what we relate to the grasp of the son. We
include even the dullest of children – even the one who asks us no
questions. We point to some servant, and tell the child that we once
served similarly, till Hashem took us out to freedom. We have more to say
to the bright, adult son, relating to him the details of the many miracles
that were performed through Moshe. Rambam implies that there are no
exceptions – that the father is required to instruct his son even if the
son knows more than he! What point can there be to telling the son what
he already knows, what he has listened to and digested in previous years?
In answering these questions, we discover the very essence of the Seder
evening. Pesach, simply put, is the holiday of emunah. The Seder
night acts as a Rosh Hashanah in regard to our core belief in HKBH. We
recount the Exodus story on this night each year in order to implant and
strengthen our belief. To help us implement this, the Torah created a
special elevated potency within our retelling of these events on the first
night of Pesach, which widens and deepens the quality of our belief. Each
father relates to his son that which he heard from his own father, and he
from yet earlier generations. Through this, they become united with all
generations before, going back to the one that left Egypt. This process
has remarkable ability in bolstering and strengthening our belief,
particularly at the time that “matzah and maror are placed before
you.” Even should the son know more than the father, he stands to gain
because the specialness of the evening invests extraordinary power in the
conversation between father and child. As the Ohev Yisrael put
it, “On this night, the Light of understanding of truth and belief is
revealed. It hovers around each Jew. When a father tells the story, his
words penetrate the heart of the son, and he is able to absorb their
meaning and believe with all his heart.”
We have a tradition that HKBH Himself “observes,” in a manner of speaking,
the entire Torah. When the son asks his question, he is really asking our
Father to fulfill the mitzvah Himself, for Him to tell all of us the story
in a way that we will more fully comprehend. We ask that G-d raise our
belief consciousness to such a degree that it will spill over to all other
days of the year.
With this understanding in place, we readily understand why we spend as
much time as possible on this mitzvah. At the core of the Seder night is
the element of emunah, and there is no limit to emunah!
Unlike other mitzvos, there is no set amount or quantity of emunah,
that once achieved, fulfils our obligation. We always strive for
more. Through the experience of the first night of Pesach, in those few
precious hours at the Seder, we can mine as much belief as we are willing
to carry away. The more we take advantage of this special capacity, the
more praiseworthy we are.
The Baal Shem Tov was once told from Heaven that the seder of a
simple, ignorant villager equaled his own. The Baal Shem Tov sought out
this commoner, and asked him how he conducted his seder. The
villager admitted that he had no idea how a person was supposed to conduct
himself. Lacking the knowledge, he substituted his own invention. Upon
returning from shul, he would become very animated and excited,
and tell his waiting family about this accursed fellow Paroh. He would
remind them that Paroh inflicted all kinds of troubles upon us, and that
Hashem helped us and rescued us. “Come,” he would say, “let us give
thanks to Hashem, and drink a cup of wine in recognition.” Having downed
one cup, he would repeat his vituperation of Paroh, and his thanks to
Hashem. In great agitation, he would renew the invitation. “Come, let
us drink yet another cup in His honor!” This went several more rounds.
His strong and unequivocal emunah, accompanied by passion and
enthusiasm, left a great impression in Heaven. His observance was so
beautiful, because the Seder’s promise is realized in the clarity of
There are several other dimensions to the mitzvah of sippur yetzias
Mitzrayim. We find no parallel in any other Yom Tov, nor
in any of the other great miracles that we experienced, such as the
mon, or the well which gave them drink throughout their many years in
the wilderness. The Torah makes no demand that we gather our families and
tell them the stories of other holidays and other miracles, even thought
they could surely contribute to a deeper and more mature belief.
Know this well. We completely lack what others call “commemoration.” We
never tell stories about the past, even about Heavenly-driven events which
occurred but once in history. We are not interested in what has been, but
in what will be.
Yetzias Mitzrayim is important not for what happened in the
early days of our peoplehood, but in what it brings us anew each year.
Jews do not retell – they re-experience. The particular aspects of Divine
revelation that made the original Exodus possible are replayed and
revisited upon us each year. The Magid of Kozhnitz taught that
each year, Jewish souls leave Egypt. The nature of the night is such that
a Jew can escape the bonds (the metzarim, in Hebrew) that hold
him and win freedom. On this night, a Jew can completely reverse his lot,
and win freedom from all things that oppress and limit him. G-d’s
redemptive powers are, in a manner of speaking, in full and glorious
They are ready to be put to work for us. It is up to us, however, to
trigger their release. The Ramak taught that the revelation of
these Lights hangs on our involvement with them. Precisely through the
mitzvah of retelling the Exodus story, we make these Lights available.
Other great events in Jewish history were important in their day, but left
no eternal Lights to be switched on at fixed times in the calendar.
Without such Lights, there is no great point in telling their stories.
The Haggadah’s author instructed, “In every generation a person must
regard himself as if he left Egypt, as it is written, ‘Because of
this, Hashem did all of this for me as He took me out of Egypt.’
He did not redeem our ancestors alone, but us as well.” This is literally
true. Because of the eternal redemptive character of Pesach, we can all
become redeemed anew at the Seder. We are as much targeted by this Divine
gift as the generation that walked out of Egypt. Here we discover another
reason to go the distance in retelling the story. Our Exodus conversation
is the currency with which we pay for this Divine illumination. When we
offer more, we are given more.
The Zohar tells us that speech itself was exiled in Egypt. While in
bondage, the Jews did not have the ability to communicate properly. They
could not express themselves properly to HKBH. (This explains Moshe’s oft-
repeated refrain that he was of “uncircumcised lips,” or “not a man of
words.”  As the leader and representative of his people, their
limitations became his. Their constricted power of speech manifested
itself in Moshe as well.
Initially, in fact, their powers of speech were so hampered, that they
could not even manage a pre-verbal speech. “With the passage of many
days, the king of Egypt died. The Jews groaned from their labor, and
cried out to G-d.”  This should be understood as a change for the
better, as the beginning of their redemption. Prior to this, they could
not even groan! As the redemption approached, they were given at least
this much ability, although expressive speech would have to wait before
its shackles would be loosed.
With the Exodus from Egypt, speech emerged from its captivity. It is
fitting that we exceed the minimum in retelling the Exodus story, because
the Seder night marks the triumph and redemption of the power of speech.
1. Based on Nesivos Shalom, Pesach pgs. 247-249
2. Chametz U-Matzah 7:2.
3. Shemos 13:8
4. Shemos 6:12
5. Shemos 4:10
6. Shemos 2:23
Text Copyright © 2009 by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein and Torah.org