The Source of Mitzvas Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim

Even those with only the most cursory knowledge and understanding of Pesach know that, at its root, is a requirement to tell over the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt. What is the halachic source for this requirement?

The Rambam (Hilchos Chametz u’Matzoh 7:1) writes as follows:

מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה שֶׁל תּוֹרָה לְסַפֵּר בְּנִסִּים וְנִפְלָאוֹת שֶׁנַּעֲשׂוּ לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בְּמִצְרַיִם בְּלֵיל חֲמִשָּׁה עָשָׂר בְּנִיסָן שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שמות יג ג) “זָכוֹר אֶת הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר יְצָאתֶם מִמִּצְרַיִם” כְּמוֹ שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שמות כ ח) “זָכוֹר אֶת יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת”. וּמִנַּיִן שֶׁבְּלֵיל חֲמִשָּׁה עָשָׂר תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר (שמות יג ח) “וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא לֵאמֹר בַּעֲבוּר זֶה” בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁיֵּשׁ מַצָּה וּמָרוֹר מֻנָּחִים לְפָנֶיךָ. וְאַף עַל פִּי שֶׁאֵין לוֹ בֵּן. אֲפִלּוּ חֲכָמִים גְּדוֹלִים חַיָּבִים לְסַפֵּר בִּיצִיאַת מִצְרִים וְכָל הַמַּאֲרִיךְ בִּדְבָרִים שֶׁאֵרְעוּ וְשֶׁהָיוּ הֲרֵי זֶה מְשֻׁבָּח:

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 Nisan, as [Exodus 13:3] states: “Remember this day, on which you left Egypt,” just as [Exodus 20:8] states: “Remember the Sabbath day.” From where [is it derived that this mitzvah is to be fulfilled on] the night of the fifteenth? The Torah teaches [Exodus 13:8]: “And you shall tell your son on that day, saying: ‘It is because of this… [implying that the mitzvah is to be fulfilled] when matzah and maror are placed before you.[The mitzvah applies] even though one does not have a son. Even great Sages are obligated to tell about the Exodus from Egypt. Whoever elaborates on the events that occurred and took place is worthy of praise.

The Rambam holds that there is a Mitzvas Asei, a positive commandment, to tell others of the great miracles that the Ribbono Shel Olam did for our forefathers on the 15th of Nissan as it says זָכוֹר אֶת הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר יְצָאתֶם מִמִּצְרַיִם (remember this day that you left Egypt). The Rambam holds that this mitzvah is comparable to the Mitzvah to remember Shabbos – זָכוֹר אֶת-יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת, לְקַדְּשׁוֹ (remember the Shabbos in order to make it holy). This is a rather curious comparison. The passuk seems to speak for itself. Why does the Rambam feel it necessary to make the comparison to mitzvah of Zachor es Yom HaShabbos?

The Mechilta d’Rabbi Yishmael and Rashi HaKadosh both derive the obligation of Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim (the telling over of the story of the Exodus) from the verse in Sefer Devorim (16:3) לְמַעַן תִּזְכֹּר אֶת-יוֹם צֵאתְךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, כֹּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ (and you shall recall the day that you left Egypt all the days of your life). They utilize the verse of זָכוֹר אֶת הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר יְצָאתֶם מִמִּצְרַיִם as the source for the requirement to mention Yetzias Mitzrayim twice daily, which we do as part of Krias Shema. The Rambam, however, has a different approach. He derives the obligation to mention Yetzias Mitzrayim as part of Krias Shema from the verse לְמַעַן תִּזְכֹּר, leaving the verse of זָכוֹר אֶת הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה  as the source for the mitzvah of Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim.

Why do the Mechilta and Rashi derive the chiyuv of Yetzias Mitzrayim from a different source than the Rambam? Making this issue more complex, the Mishna (Berachos 12b) that discusses the argument between Rabbi Eliezer Ben Azariah and the Chochamim regarding the interpretation of the verse of לְמַעַן תִּזְכֹּר seems to agree with the Rambam.

מַתְנִי׳ מַזְכִּירִין יְצִיאַת מִצְרַיִם בַּלֵּילוֹת. אָמַר רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן עֲזַרְיָה: הֲרֵי אֲנִי כְּבֶן שִׁבְעִים שָׁנָה, וְלֹא זָכִיתִי שֶׁתֵּאָמֵר יְצִיאַת מִצְרַיִם בַּלֵּילוֹת, עַד שֶׁדְּרָשָׁהּ בֶּן זוֹמא. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר ״לְמַעַן תִּזְכֹּר אֶת יוֹם צֵאתְךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם כֹּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ״. ״יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ״ — הַיָּמִים, ״כֹּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ״ — הַלֵּילוֹת. וַחֲכָמִים אוֹמְרִים: ״יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ״ — הָעוֹלָם הַזֶּה. ״כֹּל״ — לְהָבִיא לִימוֹת הַמָּשִׁיחַ.

In this Mishna, Rabbi Eliezer and Ben Zoma derive that we must mention Yetzias Mitzrayim by day and by night. Apparently Rashi and the Mechilta were of the opinion that the verse of לְמַעַן תִּזְכֹּר is explanatory in nature rather than creating a Chiyuv m’D’Oraisa and, therefore, not obligatory. Rather, לְמַעַן תִּזְכֹּר explains the frequency with which the Mitzvah ofזָכוֹר אֶת הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה  is to be fulfilled.

In examining the Rambam we see that he derived the Mitzvah of Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim from the same source as the Mechilta d’Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. This Mechilta and the Rambam both refer to two obligations: that of “וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא” (and you shall relate to your son on that day) (שמות יג, ח) whether or not your son asks you to do so. This is the requirement to teach all children and to make sure to do so in accordance to their individual capabilities. The passuk of זָכוֹר אֶת הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה  teaches us that even an individual must relate the stories of the Exodus even to himself if there is no else around with whom he can speak בינו ובין עצמו (to himself). Though the Rambam and Mechilta differ in the order in which they quote the verses, they agree that the main obligation to retell the stories of the Exodus on this night derives from זָכוֹר אֶת הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה  and is supplemented with וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ.

Rav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik, zt”l, in a shiur given on 28 Adar I 5722 (March 3, 1962), asked from where do we find that the word Zachor (remembering) means Sippur (telling a story)? According to The Rav, apparently this question bothered the Rambam as well. If one compares the exact language of the Mechilta to that of the Rambam one would find that the words זָכוֹר אֶת-יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת לְקַדְּשׁוֹ do not appear in the Mechilta. Rather, the Rambam added these words himself in order to show how one the idea of Sippur relates to the word Zachor. Rashi on Chumash says that the word “Zachor” is to be translated as an act of constant involvement in the act of remembering. There is an obligation to constantly be thinking about Shabbos and to anticipate it with great desire. As a source for this, Rashi quotes the famous opinion of Beis Shamai, that one should always make sure to reserve their best possessions for Shabbos (eg the best clothing, the best food). This creates a chiyuv to be constantly thinking about Shabbos.

The Ramban agrees with Rashi. He points out that it is because of this obligation to be always thinking about Shabbos that we refer to the days of the week as numbers relative to Shabbos. The Ramban puts forth the following question: what is the connection between Kiddush on Shabbos and זָכוֹר אֶת-יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת לְקַדְּשׁוֹ ? The Ramban explains that it is the Mitzvah of the making of Kiddush on Shabbos that is the Peulas or Maaseh HaMitzvah, the tangible action relative to the Mitzvah. The Kiyum HaMitzvah, he explains, the complete fulfillment of the Mitzvah, is accomplished through the spending of the previous week in anticipation of Shabbos. Zechirah in the case of Shabbos is fulfilled through combination of the anticipation of Shabbos and the making of Kiddush on Shabbos.

There is another example of the distinction between the Kiyum HaMitzvah and the Maaseh HaMitzvah which is also quite familiar – Tefilloh, prayer. The constant obligation to daven is referred to as the Kiyum b’Lev (a fulfillment of a mitzvah through thought). And, yet, the Maaseh HaMitzvah only occurs when one comes before HKB”H thrice daily. The Rav brought a third example, the chiyuv to constantly maintain the Ol Malchus Shamayim upon oneself. In this case, however, the Maaseh HaMitzvah only happens twice daily with the recitation of Krias Shema. Therefore, the Rav explained, the commandment of “Shamor” is interpreted in the same way: during Shabbos, there is a chiyuv to be constantly thinking about the fact that one is actively refraining from doing Melochah (work) and other forbidden acts on that day. This is the Kiyum b’Lev, which brings us to the performance of the Ma’aseh HaMitzvah of Shevisah (refraining from work on Shabbos).

To return to our initial question, according to the Rambam the example of זָכוֹר אֶת-יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת לְקַדְּשׁוֹ teaches us to understand the Mitzvah of Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim as a requirement to actually experience the events of the yetziah, the Exodus. The words בכל דור ודור, in every generation, means that there is a biblical imperative for each and every person to view himself as if he, himself, has just left Egypt with Moshe at this very moment while sitting down to the Seder. There is a Peulas Mitzvah on this night to teach the stories of the Exodus. However, there is also a Kiyum HaMitzvah b’Lev, an internal fulfillment of said obligation, to view ourselves as exiting Egypt at this very moment. It is important to understand that there is clearly quite a major difference between one who experiences an event firsthand and one who retells a story that they heard secondhand. In a way that is similar to the required Kiyum b’Lev found by Zechiras Shabbos all week that becomes complete on Shabbos through the making of Kiddush, so too on the night of the Pesach seder there is an obligation to truly, physically, and emotionally experience the Exodus from Egypt. This is accomplished by reciting the Haggadah.

The chiyuv to experience Yetzias Mitzrayim is seen at various points in the reading of the Haggadah. One relates to the Yetzias Mitzrayim on a personal level at the very start of Maggid when we say חייב אדם לראות את עצמו כאילו יצא ממצרים , a person is required to view himself as if he personally left Mitzrayim, and that had the Ribbono Shel Olam not taken him from Egypt he would have remained a slave to Pharaoh. However, at the conclusion of Maggid we say לְפִיכָךְ אֲנַחְנוּ חַיָּבִים לְהוֹדוֹת לְהַלֵּל לְשַׁבֵּחַ לְפָאֵר לְרוֹמֵם לְהַדֵּר לְבָרֵךְ לְעַלֵּה וּלְקַלֵּס. Therefore, as a result of all of the miracles that HKB”H did for us, we are obligated to praise Him. It is at this time that we recite Hallel.

It would not be possible to recite Hallel at the beginning of Maggid because we have not yet had the opportunity to relive the experiences of the Exodus. In order for one to be able to recite Hallel, which is seen as a form of spontaneous thanksgiving and praise, one must experience the miracles first hand. It is only after the stories of Yetzias Mitzrayim have been retold that we will be able to have the experience of being actual participants in the great Exodus that we can begin to say Hallel. It is only once we have become active participants in Yetzias Mitzrayim that at the end of Maggid we can recite the brochah of  אֲשֶׁר גְּאָלָנוּ וְגָאַל אֶת אֲבוֹתֵינוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם (He who has redeemed us and redeemed our forefathers) and it is only then that we can truly have Zechirah, a true experiential immersion in the retelling of the story.

It is with this understanding and appreciation that one can only now truly understand an enigmatic statement found in the Haggadah, יָכוֹל מֵרֹאשׁ חֹדֶשׁ etc.  Under what circumstances would one possibly think that the obligation to relive the experiences of Yetzias Mitzrayim would start with Rosh Chodesh Nissan? This is especially true in light of the passuk that teaches us “וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא” (and you shall relate to your son on that day)  (שמות יג, ח)on the 15th of Nissan. Nowhere in the passukim can one find a reference to any Kiyum HaMitzvah to retell the story any earlier than the Leil HaSeder. Now, based upon the comparison of the chiyuv to tell over the story of the Exodus on the night of Pesach to the Mitzvah of Zachor that exists by Shabbos, we see that this may very well be the case. Since there is a Kiyum HaMitzvah within the mitzvah of Shabbos to begin thinking about Shabbos on the very first day of the week, perhaps we can say that the same chiyuv to begin thinking about miraculous events of the night of Pesach also exists earlier, from the beginning of the month. The Beraisa then posits that perhaps we should consider starting by the fourteenth of Nissan, when the Korban Pesach was brought, as a Kiyum b’Lev of Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim. This is the lesson to be learned from the Haggadah. The Haggadah tells us that Pesach is different than Shabbos in this regard, that we begin thinking about Pesach, the Kiyum b’Lev, the same time that we perform the Peulas HaMitzvah as opposed to prior to that, as in the case of Shabbos. It is only when we have Pesach, Matzoh and Maror laid before us on the night of Pesach itself that one can fulfill this Mitzvah.

About the Author
Rabbi Benjamin G. Kelsen, Esq. is a rabbi and practicing attorney. He is active in local, national, and international Jewish communal issues.
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