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Zechira and Sippur

By: Rav Michael Susman

A few years after I made Aliya, I was drafted into the army for an abbreviated period of service.  Nervous regarding the unknown, I naturally consulted with friends and acquaintances in order to prepare myself for what lay ahead. Perhaps the most salient piece of advice I received was from a friend who advised me to brush up on the laws of an Eved Ivri, a Jew who is sold into bondage. What most clearly defines a slave is the fact that unlike a free man, a slave is not the master of his own time.  Rather, he is totally bound to his master, with no control over his time.  If you can see yourself as an Eved Ivri, my friend explained, you will do fine as a soldier.  Just accept that you are no longer master of your own time but will be totally subject to the orders of your commanders.

This Shabbat we read Parshat HaChodesh, the last of the four special Parshiot which are read between Rosh Chodesh Adar and Rosh Chodesh Nissan. This Parsha describes Kiddush HaChodesh, the first Mitzva that Hashem commanded Bnei Yisrael to fulfill as a nation.  It is not surprising that this Mitzva would be the first to be given to the soon to be free nation of slaves. With the Mitzva of Kiddush HaChodesh we declare ourselves masters of time, the exact antithesis of slaves. Thus Am Yisrael begins its journey into freedom and nationhood.  

While we are commanded to remember our redemption from Egypt on a daily basis, Zechirat Yitziat Mitzrayim (see, for example, Rambam Hilchot Kriyat Shma 1:3), we have a singular obligation to retell the story of that redemption on the night of Pessach. Rambam codifies this second obligation, Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim, in Hilchot Chametz U'Matzah (7:1) stating that it is "a positive command to tell of the miracles and wonders that were done for our forefathers in Egypt on the night of the 15th of Nissan.  The difference between these similar obligations, Zechira and Sippur, can probably be best summed up in the words of Rambam himself. Regarding the mitzva of Sippur Rambam writes "And it is praiseworthy of anyone who expounds at length upon the events that took place (on that night)", an observation which is missing from the mitzva of Zechira.  If nothing else, the difference between the two mitzvot can be measured quantitatively. To fulfill the obligation of Zechira, simply recalling the event is sufficient. On the other hand, the mitzvah of Sippur demands a level of elucidation and detail which can never be exhausted.

But perhaps we can also suggest that there is a difference in quality and not just quantity. In "Shirat Miriam- Haggada mi Mekora", Rav Yosef Dov Rimon expands on the qualitative differences between Zechira and Sippur. He quotes five different possibilities (see page 126 for a summary), but the approach that I found particularly compelling was the one he quotes in the name of the Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik.  Zechira, says the Rav, is fulfilled simply by remembering. It requires no response or action on our part. We remain passive bystanders, not truly invested in the event we are remembering. Sippur, on the other hand, is meant to elicit a reaction from us, in this case to prompt us to praise Hashem and thank him for our salvation. By telling the story we are not only drawn into the narrative and encouraged to see it as our own, but we are forced to respond to it. We are not detached witnesses and we are more than just the recipients of Hashem's largesse. We must internalize the miracle and respond to it, thus demonstrating our understanding of the gravity of the events and their impact on us as a nation.

Given the centrality of Mitzvat Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim, it is perhaps surprising that we do not have a dedicated Bracha that we make prior to fulfilling the mitzva. In fact, the Meiri (Beit HaBechira to Berachot 12b), though he personally rejects it, quotes a position that we do in fact make a blessing before performing this mitzva.  Rav Rimon (page 127) quotes a number of explanations as to why we do not.  One particularly interesting approach is that of Maharal, who suggests that the essential aspect of Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim is to internalize the story, with the verbal telling of the story merely a vehicle to get us to consider its message. If this is the case, then the mitzva would be categorized as "mitzva ba-lev", a commandment essentially fulfilled in one's heart. Such a mitzvah, explains Maharal, does not require a beracha.

In many ways the logic of this approach seems to be fundamentally at odds with the logic of Rav Soloveitchik's explanation of Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim. According to Rav Soloveitchik, the fulfillment of the mitzva is not in the heart, but rather in our response to the story. We must sing the praises of Hashem; we must thank Him for our salvation.  It would be highly surprising to suggest that the Rav agrees with Maharal as to why we make no designated bracha on the mitzva of Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim. But at the same time the logic behind the Rav's explanation seems to beg the question.  Why is there no beracha made on this mitzva?

In the Tishrei 5750 edition of Mesora, the Rav tackles the question as to when we apply the principle of "af hen hayu b'oto ha'nes (and they-women-were also part of the miracle)" in order to obligate women in a mitzvat asei she hazman gerama, a positive, time bound mitzva. Quoting his father, HaGaon Rav Moshe Soloveitchik, the Rav explains that there are two types of mitzvot that commemorate a miracle. One is a mitzva which simply helps us remember the mitzva. The second is a mitzva which actively publicizes the miracle. An example of the first category is the mitzva to don Tefillin, which, while it reminds us of Yetziat Mitzrayim, in no way publicizes the miracle. Examples of the second type of miracle would be one of the time bound mitzvot that women are obligated in, namely lighting Channuka lights, reading Megilla and drinking the four cups of wine at the seder.  

Rav Moshe goes on to explain that there is a simple litmus test to determine into which category the miracle falls. If we say a bracha of "sh'assa nissim" on the mitzva, then it falls into the second category, it is a mitzva which publicizes the miracle and women are therefore obligated. If not, it belongs in the first category, a mitzva which merely commemorates the miracle without necessarily publicizing it. While this categorization works well for the mitzvot of Channuka and Purim, where we say the bracha of "she'assa nissim", it seems to fail when we come to drinking the four cups of wine at the seder. After all, we have no beracha for that mitzva. Or do we?

Rav Moshe suggests an ingenious answer to this problem. Rav Moshe claims that we do in fact say a bracha publicizing the miracle of Yetziat Mitzrayim during the seder, but it is a special, more elaborate beracha than the standard "she'assa nissim" that we recite in other places. Instead it is the beracha that we say at the end of the magid portion of the haggada, the beracha of "asher gaalnu" (that you have redeemed us). So it turns out that the four cups also have a beracha publicizing the miracle.

Perhaps we can suggest that this beracha is not limited to the four cups but extends to the mitzva of Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim as well. In fact, Rav Rimon quotes the Shibolei HaLeket, a 13th century Italian Rishon, as suggesting just that.  If so, we have found the beracha which seems so critical to the Rav's understanding of  Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim.  And what could be a more appropriate beracha to recite on actualizing our joy of being redeemed!  May we all be zoche to the beracha of acknowledging Hashem with a new song on our redemption and salvation, "V'Nodeh lecha shir chadash al geulatenu v'al pedut nafshenu".

Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov



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