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By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

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 differently.

Rambam [2]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 emunah.

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 display.

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, [3]�??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,”[4] or “not a man of words.” [5] 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.” [6] 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

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