Retelling the Story of the Exodus

Aside from the many mitzvot involved in the holiday of Pesach, such as korban Pesach, eating matzah  and maror,  etc., there  is another mitzvah, which is particular  to this holiday. It is the mitzvah of retelling the story  of Yetziat Mitzrayim. The pasuk (Shemot 13:8) states, “You shall  tell  your  son  on  that  day, saying, ‘It  is  because of  this  that Hashem acted on my behalf when I left Egypt.’” Rashi explains that one tells  over  the  story  “in  order  to  fulfill  Hashem’s mitzvot,  such  as Pesach, matzah, and maror.” Why don’t any of the other holidays carry the directive  to discuss the reason for the festival?

All of the holidays which we commemorate are connected to Yetziat Mitzrayim. For, had we not been redeemed from Egypt, we would not merit celebrating any of the festivals. Nisan is the first  of the months (Shemot 12:2), and Pesach is the head of all festivals. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to retell the story of the Exodus on Pesach.

Moreover, the Torah enjoins us to narrate the events of the Exodus in detail. In this manner, we will imagine as though the episode were taking place before our very eyes. We will truly  feel as if we are being liberated here and now. This is, in fact, our obligation (Zevachim 116a).

There  is  good  reason  for  placing  remembrances  of  the  korban Pesach, matzah, and maror on the Seder plate. It is so that when we tell over the story  of Yetziat Mitzrayim, we literally  feel as though we are at this very moment being redeemed from Egypt. The story was not a legend of the past, but is unfolding right now, and we are a part of it.

Rambam writes (Sefer Hamitzvot, Mitzvah 157), “We are commanded to retell  the story  of Yetziat Mitzrayim on the eve of the fifteenth  of Nisan, at the beginning of the night, each according to his ability. Whoever adds and expounds on the miracles that Hashem did for us, describing the horrors which the Egyptians inflicted on our nation, and glorifying Hashem Who avenged His people, is praised. Our Sages state, ‘Whoever increases his narrative of Yetziat Mitzrayim is praiseworthy.’”

The Minchat Chinuch finds  this  difficult to  understand.  For, every night, we remember the Exodus from Egypt, in the tefillah  of Ma’ariv (Berachot 1:5). How is the mitzvah to retell the story of the Exodus on the night of Pesach different from stating it on every other night of the year, to the extent that the Rambam enumerates the narration  on the night of Pesach as a separate mitzvah?

On every night of the year, the mitzvah is to merely mention Yetziat Mitzrayim. A short  statement  in  the  evening prayer  suffices. Conversely, on the night of Pesach, there is a special commandment to recount the entire episode, from its beginning to its conclusion. Therefore, one who speaks at length about  Yetziat Mitzrayim on the night of Pesach is praiseworthy, for he embellishes this most important mitzvah.

There is an additional  difference between retelling  the story  of the Exodus at the Seder and remembering the Exodus on all other nights of the year. Throughout  the year, a person is instructed  to remember Yetziat Mitzrayim. On the night of Pesach, though, the mitzvah is to tell others what took place, as the pasuk states (Shemot 13:8), “You shall tell your son.” The intention  is to share the story with  those who do not know it. Rabbi Yishmael Hakohen writes this in his sefer Hegyonei Halachah. Rabbi Avraham ben HaGra also mentions this.

In light of this, it is understandable  why the Rambam considers the retelling  of the Pesach story  as a mitzvah  in its own right,  separate from the mitzvah of remembering Yetziat Mitzrayim every night of the year in the Evening Prayers. When Pesach, matzah, and maror are lying in front  of a person, the feeling of liberation  is much more tangible. Then, one will  tell over the events of Yetziat Mitzrayim in an entirely different manner.

The Admor  MiLelov,  zt”l,  and others,  would  carry  sacks on their shoulders on Seder Night, to demonstrate  how Bnei Yisrael left with (Shemot 12:34) “their  leftovers bound up in their  garments upon their shoulders.”

Rabban Gamliel states (Pesachim 10:5), “Whoever did not say these three  things  on  Pesach, has not  fulfilled   his  obligation.  They  are: Pesach, matzah, and maror.”  This  is difficult to  understand.  These items are mentioned  in the story  of Yetziat Mitzrayim. Why do they need to be mentioned separately, to the degree that one who does not do so, has not fulfilled  his obligation?

The Maharsha, the Tzalach, and the Aruch L’ner strengthen this question. We do not find that any mitzvah must be explained before one performs it. It is sufficient to make a berachah before doing so. Yet, before  eating  the  korban  Pesach, matzah,  and  maror,  apart  from making  the  berachah, we  must  explain  why  we  do  each mitzvah. (Nowadays, we are unable to eat the korban Pesach, since we do not yet have the Beit Hamikdash. Instead, we explain the reasoning behind the mitzvah and point  to the shank-bone, which is a remembrance of the korban Pesach.)

Rabban Gamliel’s perspective explains these difficulties.  He is of the opinion that even if someone describes the events of Yetziat Mitzrayim in detail, all night long (as we do when reciting  the Haggadah), he is still obligated to mention these three items at the Seder table. One who did not manage to discuss the entire story of the Exodus from Egypt can fulfill  his obligation  by mentioning these three items, and explain why we eat them. This is because these items contain both  elements of bondage and elements of freedom.

Furthermore,  when one lifts these items into the air, he reaches the level of a truly  free man, as though Yetziat Mitzrayim were happening at this moment, before his eyes. He is an active partner  in it, with  all his organs.

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 477:1) rules that  one should be careful to eat the afikoman before chatzot. The Mishnah Berurah (4) explains  that  this  is because it commemorates  the  korban Pesach, which was consumed before chatzot (Zevachim 5:8). One should ensure that at least the first kezayit of matzah, which we make a berachah on, should be eaten by chatzot.

The reasoning behind this is clear. In order to feel the imminence of the geulah, as if it were taking place here and now, one must perform the mitzvah at the same time that our ancestors did it in Egypt, as they were rushing to leave. This will help him feel as though he himself is going out of Egypt.

Based on this,  we can settle  the difficulties of the Maharsha, the Tzelach, and the  Aruch L’ner. The mitzvah  of retelling  the  story  of Yetziat Mitzrayim is fundamentally different  from other mitzvot. Regarding other  mitzvot,  the objective  is the  act of performing  the mitzvah, rendering  a berachah over the mitzvah and its performance adequate. However, when we recount the details of the Exodus, each part of it requires explanations and reasons in order  that  we should experience the redemption ourselves. The explanations are an intrinsic part  of fulfilling  the mitzvah.  Thus, before eating the korban Pesach (see note above), matzah, and maror, we must explain what each of them signifies. This is the way to physically  feel the geulah.



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