Ari Sacher

“Father and Son” Pesach 5778

Kids just love the Pesach seder. They spend the year looking forward to it. This should not come as a surprise as the seder was specifically designed to be child-friendly. It is littered with actions purposely inserted by our Sages so as to arouse a child’s curiosity. Examples include removing the food from the table before the meal has been eaten, dipping vegetables twice, and distributing treats[1] during the course of the somewhat-lengthy Maggid section. The reason that the seder is so child-friendly is because it was created specifically for children. The Torah commands us [Shemot 13:8]: “You shall tell your son on that day, saying, ‘Because of this, Hashem did [this] for me when I went out of Egypt.’” The Rambam rules in Hilchot Chametz u’Matzo [7:1] that “It is a positive commandment of the Torah to relate the miracles and wonders wrought for our ancestors in Egypt on the night of the fifteenth of Nissan… as it says ‘You shall tell your son on that day’”. The Rambam notes that the commandment of telling the story of the exodus from Egypt applies even to a person without children.

Rav Joseph B. Soloveichik, as quoted in “Harerei Kedem” [2:215], asks the following question: the Talmud in Tractate Kiddushin [29a] brings a list of things that a father is commanded to do for his son (mitzvot ha’ben al ha’av). The list includes circumcision, redemption via pidyon ha’ben, teaching him Torah, finding him a wife, and teaching him a trade. Some even say that a father must teach his son to swim. Rav Soloveichik notes that absent from this list is the commandment that a father must tell his son the story of the exodus from Egypt on the first night of Pesach. He does not offer a reason why this commandment is omitted. He simply ends his question with the words “a’yen a’lah”, literally “Figure it out”. Well, that’s exactly what we’re going to try to do.

The most straightforward answer to Rav Soloveichik’s question would be to assert that commandment to tell one’s son the story of the exodus from Egypt on the first night of Pesach is subsumed by the commandment to teach one’s child Torah, which is already on the list of the things that a father must do for his son. Indeed, Rav Yonatan ben Uziel, in his translation of the Torah into Aramaic, translates the word “v’higad’ta” – “You shall tell [your son] – as “v’titnei” – “You shall teach”. In other words, when a father tells his son about the exodus, he is, at the same time, teaching him Torah. Nevertheless, the fact that Rav Soloveichik did not propose this solution should lead us to continue our search.

Let’s proceed by taking a closer look at the end of the verse, at what we’re meant to tell our son: “Because of this, Hashem did [this] for me when I went out of Egypt”. Lots of pronouns here. What are the two “this’s” to which the verse is referring? What did Hashem do and why did He do it? The medieval commentators are divided into two groups on this issue: One group, including the Rashbam, the Ramban, the Ralbag, and Rabbi Marinus (quoted by the Ibn Ezra), explains the verse as “Because of what Hashem did – i.e. He took Am Yisrael out of Egypt – we perform all of these commandments that commemorate the exodus, such as eating matzo, marror, and the Korban Pesach (paschal lamb)”. The second group, including Rashi and the Ibn Ezra, posits that the cause and effect should be reversed: we don’t perform these mitzvot because Hashem took us out of Egypt. Rather, Hashem took us out of Egypt in order that we should perform these mitzvot. In the “Ten Commandments” Charlton Heston might have told Yul Brynner “Let my people go!” but that’s not what really happened in Egypt. Moshe told Pharaoh [Shemot 7:16] “Let my people go so that they may worship me”. The purpose of the Egyptian exile was to take a family and to forge it into one nation who would unite around the service of Hashem. The Ibn Ezra reminds us of Hashem’s promise to Moshe [Shemot 3:12]: “When you take the nation out of Egypt, you will worship Hashem on this mountain”. The only reason that I am taking you out of Egypt is so that you will worship Me and accept My Torah on Mount Sinai.

The Pesach Haggadah, or more precisely, the Midrash Mechilta as quoted by the Pesach Haggadah, can help us tie things together: “One may think that [the discussion of the exodus] must be from the first of the month [of Nissan, when Am Yisrael were first told about the imminent exodus]. The Torah therefore says, ‘On that day’. ‘On that day,’ however, could mean while it is yet daytime; the Torah therefore says, ‘It is because of this’. The expression ‘because of this’ can only be said when matzo and marror are placed before you.” Rav Baruch HaLevi Epstein, writing in the “Torah Temima”, explores the meaning of the word “this”, as in “because of this”. Rav Epstein points to a number of instances in the Talmud where the word “this” signifies an object that can be pointed at with one’s finger. For instance, the Talmud in Tractate Sotah [11b], explaining the verse [Shemot 15:2] “This is my G-d, and I will glorify Him”, teaches that Hashem’s Divine Presence at the splitting of the Red Sea was so evident and clear that any person could point with his finger and say “There He is!” Another example is in Tractate Menachot [29a], where the Talmud teaches that three things were so difficult for Moshe to comprehend that Hashem had to point them out with His finger, as it were[2]. All three of these things, the structure of the menorah in the Mishkan, the new moon, and the eight “creepy things” that cannot be eaten[3], are all introduced with the word “this”[4]. Rav Epstein extrapolates this concept, teaching that when we tell our sons “because of this Hashem took us out of Egypt”, we are referring to something that we can point at with our finger: the matzo and the marror arranged right in front of us on the seder table.

Let’s take Rav Epstein’s idea and manipulate it slightly. I suggest that the “this” in the phrase “because of this”, is not referring to something on the table, but, rather, to something even closer. When a father tells his son that “because of this Hashem took us out of Egypt”, he is pointing at himself. Hashem chose Avraham Avinu over every other human being in the world not because of something that Avraham did but because of something that he would do [Bereishit 18:19] “I have chosen him because he commands his sons and his household after him, that they should keep the way of Hashem to perform righteousness and justice”. Not because Avraham performs righteousness and justice today, but because one day he will command his children to perform righteousness and justice. It is the transmission of Jewish religious tradition – the “masorah” – that Hashem found so exceptional. When a father tells his son that “because of this Hashem took us out of Egypt”, he is telling his son that Hashem took us out of Egypt so many years ago because He knew that one day I would be sitting right here with you at the Pesach seder telling you stories of the exodus of Egypt, the same stories that my father told me, and the same stories that you will one day tell your son.

It should now be clear why the commandment that a father must tell his son the story of the exodus from Egypt on the first night of Pesach is absent from the list of things that a father must perform for his son. When a father circumcises his son or teaches him a trade, the father is the subject and his child is the object. The father is active and the child is passive. But when a father tells his son the story of the exodus from Egypt on the first night of Pesach, when he points at himself and tells his son that this father-son mesorah relationship is the reason that we are sitting here today, then the father and son merge together into one entity, an entity that guarantees the future of Am Yisrael.


Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach v’Kasher,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5778

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yechiel ben Shprintza, and Tzvi ben Freida.

[1] The Talmud in Tractate Pesachim [119b] calls them “k’layot v’egozim”, literally “puffed wheat and nuts”. We give our kids whatever happens to be on sale when we do our Pesach shopping, typically an aggregate of chemicals held together by sugar, something we would never give them if it wasn’t Pesach.

[2] See our shiur for Parashat Bo 5761.

[3] Some include the half-shekel that each and every Jew must give each year.

[4] For instance, Hashem commands Moshe [Shemot 12:2] “This moon [right here] shall signify for you the new moon”. The crescent was so small that Hashem had to point at it with His finger, as it were.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over thirty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2000 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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