Shiur #56: Mentioning the Exodus from Egypt

  • Harav Baruch Gigi
The passage that discusses the mitzva of tzitzit closes with a mention of the exodus from Egypt: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God; I am the Lord your God" (Bamidbar 15:41).
 
The Rambam writes:
 
The commandment of tzitzit is not obligatory at night. Nevertheless, we recite [the section describing] it at night because it contains mention of the exodus from Egypt. We are commanded to mention the exodus both during the day and at night, as it is stated, "In order that you shall remember the day of your leaving the land of Egypt all the days of your life" (Devarim 16:3). (Hilkhot Keri'at Shema 1:3)
 
This is the position of the Rambam, which follows the gemara's conclusion in Berakhot 14b. It should be noted that the gemara mentions several customs regarding the matter, since the mitzva of tzitzit does not apply at night:
 
R. Yosef said: How fine was the statement that was brought by R. Shemuel bar Yehuda when he reported that in the West [Eretz Yisrael] they say [in the evening]: "Speak to the children of Israel and you shall say to them: I am the Lord your God, True." Abbaye said to him: What is there so fine about it, seeing that R. Kahana has said in the name of Rav: [In the evening,] one need not begin [this third section of the Shema,] but if he does begin, he should go through with it? And should you say that the words, "And you shall say to them," do not constitute a beginning, has not Rav Shemuel bar Yitzchak said in the name of Rav: "Speak to the children of Israel" is no beginning, but "and you shall say to them" is a beginning? R. Pappa said: In the West, they hold that "and you shall say to them" also is no beginning, until one says, "and they shall make to themselves fringes." Abbaye said: Therefore, we [in Babylonia] begin [the section], because they begin it in the West; and since we begin, we go through with it, because R. Kahana has said in the name of Rav: One need not begin, but if he begins he should go through with it.
 
The custom in Eretz Yisrael was not to mention the matter of tzitzit at night; they said only the beginning of the verse, "Speak to the children of Israel and you shall say to them," and then skipped from there to "I am the Lord your God." Even though the gemara praises this custom of the people of Eretz Yisrael, it is quite difficult to understand, as they would begin the verse and fail to complete it, a practice that appears to contradict the rule: "Any verse which Moshe has not divided, we may not divide" (Megilla 22a). It seems that the custom of the people of Eretz Yisrael is based on the fact that there is a complete verse in the Torah that reads exactly like that: "Speak to the children of Israel and you shall say to them: I am the Lord your God" (Vayikra 18:2).
 
It stands to reason that according to this custom, they would recite from the third passage of Shema as follows:  "And the Lord spoke to Moshe, saying: Speak to the children of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God; I am the Lord your God."[1] The first instance of "I am the Lord your God" is read both with the words that precede it, as the conclusion of the previous verse from the book of Vayikra, and with the words that follow, it as the beginning of the verse in our passage, the passage relating to tzitzit.
 
In Babylonia, on the other hand, they did not deem it appropriate to rely on another verse. Since we are dealing with the passage of tzitzit and we have already opened with a verse from that passage, it is fitting to recite the entire passage, as is our custom today.
 
Both customs appear to have attributed importance to concluding the Shema with an acceptance of the yoke of the kingdom of heaven in connection with remembering the exodus from Egypt – "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out." They disagree on the question of whether the mitzva of tzitzit, which does not apply at night, contributes significantly to this acceptance of the yoke of the kingdom of heaven, such that an effort should be made to mention it, or whether we should content ourselves with remembering the exodus from Egypt and accepting the yoke of the kingdom of heaven, without mentioning the mitzva of tzitzit.
 
We will begin our discussion with the relationship between remembering the exodus from Egypt and Keri'at Shema, and then we will examine whether the mitzva of tzitzit connects to it.
 
The Rambam explains that the passage of Vayomer is recited at night because of the need to mention the exodus from Egypt at night. There is a mitzva to mention the exodus from Egypt both during the day and at night, as is stated at the end of the first chapter of Berakhot:
 
The exodus from Egypt is to be mentioned at night-time. R. Elazar ben Azarya said: Behold I am about seventy years old, and I have never been worthy to [find a reason] why the exodus from Egypt should be mentioned at nighttime, until Ben Zoma expounded it: For it is stated: “That you may remember the day when you came forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life: (Devarim 16:3). [Had the text said,] “The days of your life,” it would have meant [only] the days; but “all the days of your life” includes the nights as well.
 
\the Rambam does not count this mitzva in his Sefer Ha-Mitzvot, and many Acharonim struggled with this omission.
 
Some of them questioned if there exists such a mitzva by Torah law. For example, the Or Same'ach (Hilkhot Keri'at Shema 1:3) maintains that the Torah mitzva is fulfilled through the offering of the Pesach offering and the prohibition of chametz, which are intended to remind us of the exodus, whereas verbally mentioning the exodus day and night is not included in the Torah obligation. In his opinion, it is merely a rabbinic enactment:
 
Therefore, I say that the essence of the mitzva of remembering the exodus from Egypt, which is derived from the verse: "That you may remember the day when you came forth out of the land of Egypt" (Devarim 16:1-3). The plain meaning of the verse refers to the month of Aviv: "And you shall sacrifice the Pesach offering… and you shall eat no leavened bread with it, for in haste did you come forth out of the land of Egypt; that you may remember the day when you came forth out of the land of Egypt…" Therefore it is not formulated as a command. As for the fact that the gemara (Berakhot 14a) refers to it as a Torah obligation, that is because there are rabbinic enactments that are merely safeguards, such as washing the hands and the like, and there are matters that come to fulfill the will of the Creator, even though He did not cast it upon us as an obligation. Nevertheless, when the heads of the Great Assembly saw that this fulfills the will of the Creator in the most desirable way, they obligated us in it… Our forefathers ordained that we verbally mention the exodus from Egypt every day, and that we thank Him for this. This fulfills the will of the Creator… and therefore it is called by Torah law.
 
Fundamentally the Tzelach (Berakhot 12b) agrees with the Or Same'ach, but it would appear that in his opinion we are not dealing with a rabbinic enactment, but rather with a Torah mitzva that is not fit to be counted among the 613 Torah commandments:
 
It was correct that they did not count this mitzva in the count of the [Torah] mitzvot, since this mitzva was not formulated as a command. For had it stated: "Remember the day when you came forth…," it would be considered a separate mitzva. But since it says: "That you may remember…" it refers to what was written above and explains the reason for what was written before – the mitzva of eating the Pesach offering and of eating matza. It gives the reason that by way of this "you may remember the day that you went forth." And so explains Rashi on the Torah (Devarim 16:3): "That you may remember through the eating of the Paschal offering and the matza the day when you went forth…." So says Rashi. And though we learn by the way that remembering the exodus from Egypt all the days of your life is a mitzva, and so says the Rambam (Hilkhot Keri'at Shema 1:3): "We are commanded to mention the exodus, etc.," nevertheless it is not included among the 248 positive mitzvot. This is similar to what the Rambam writes in his fifth principle, and though it may be argued that it is not really similar, nevertheless the matter in itself is correct.
 
Others argue that even though mentioning the exodus from Egypt every day is in fact a Torah obligation, it is not counted as a separate mitzva because it may be seen as part of another, more inclusive mitzva. On the one hand, it may be seen as an extension of the mitzva of telling the story of the exodus from Egypt on the night of the Seder, which the Rambam counts as a separate mitzva (mitzva 157):
 
He commanded us to tell the story of the exodus from Egypt on the night of the fifteenth of Nissan, at the beginning of the night, in accordance with the verbal abilities of the story-teller… The verse that commands this is: "And you shall tell your son in that day" (Shemot 13:8).
 
As has been argued in the name of R. Chayim of Brisk, the mitzva of telling the story of the exodus from Egypt can be understood as including three elements:
 
· In the case of a story, a person must tell others; it is not enough that he remember it himself. Even if there is nobody else with him, a person must ask himself questions and then answer himself, as is explained by the Rambam.
· A story must be structured in a gradual manner – beginning with condemnation and ending with praise.
· The story must explain the reasons for the mitzvot that are performed on the night of Pesach, as stated by Rabban Gamliel that one must explain the mitzvot of the Pesach offering, matza, and maror.
 
But the mitzva of telling the story is not intended solely for the sake of historical memory; it is based on building permanent consciousness of a life that is influenced by it. From the story told on the night of the seder, we must build a memory that will guide our daily lives in light of the exodus from Egypt, in light of the connection between the people of Israel and God that was created by and founded upon our liberation from Egypt by the King of kings. The story that is told on this night is the main engine that activates the permanent memory that constitutes the foundation of our worship of God throughout the year, during the day and at night.
 
On the night of Pesach, we tell our children a detailed story in order to impart to them and to us the foundations of our connection to God. Through that, we every day remember and remind ourselves of these elements, without specifying them, in order to establish our lives in accordance with them. In the words of the Rambam in the second commandment, the commandment to believe in God's unity: "That He in fact took us out of bondage and did with us what He did out of kindness and goodness, so that we may believe in His unity, as we are obligated to do so." This is the foundation of our service of God.
 
By the same token, it may be said that the mitzva of remembering the exodus from Egypt every day is part of accepting the yoke of the kingdom of heaven through the recitation of Shema, as we have already explained at the beginning of our study.
 
As we wrote there, we were commanded to fulfill two mitzvot: the mitzva of accepting the yoke of God’s kingship and the mitzva of reciting the Shema. The mitzva of accepting the yoke of God’s kingship is a duty of the heart that is not limited to any particular action or to any specific moment in time. It is a mitzva that urges us to live with the constant awareness of God’s kingship hovering, as it were, over all of our actions. In contrast, the mitzva of reciting the Shema is a set ritual of accepting the yoke of God’s kingship that we conduct day in and day out, at both ends of the day – when you lie down and when you get up. The purpose of this is to envelop our lives in the framework of God's kingship. Even though we are theoretically dealing with only one mitzva, the Rambam counted them as two mitzvot. He did this because each mitzva has a novel, unique element that is worth relating to independently. There is the constant duty of the heart that cannot be ignored even for a moment, and there is the ceremonial, ritual obligation that is part of the framework of serving God that every person must maintain.
 
According to our approach, the mitzva of remembering the Exodus from Egypt is intimately connected to the mitzva of Keri'at Shema, the former completing the latter with respect to a person’s acceptance of the yoke of God’s kingship. As Ben Zoma interpreted: "'That you may remember the day when you came forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life' (Devarim 16:3). [Had the text said,] 'The days of your life,' it would have meant [only] the days; but 'all the days of your life' includes the nights as well" (Berakhot 12b). The exodus from Egypt obligates us in the acceptance of the yoke of God's kingship, and we must insert ourselves into the framework of this yoke. Thus, the Rambam views the mitzva of remembering the exodus as a part of the mitzva of Keri'at Shema: Both are mitzvot that pertain to the ceremonial ritual of accepting the complete yoke, and each mitzva is subsumed within the other.
 
However, regarding the connection between the mitzva of tzitzit and accepting the yoke of the kingdom of heaven, we noted that the two customs disagree as to whether tzitzit should be mentioned at night incidentally to the obligation to mention the exodus from Egypt.
 
It seems that we can explain the custom mentioned in the Bavli, which is our custom today, to read the entire third passage of Shema even at night, with the mitzva of tzitzit that is mentioned there, because of the element that unites and connects the exodus from Egypt and the mitzva of tzitzit – memory.
 
This is what the Rambam says:
 
We begin with the section of "Hear O Israel" since it contains [the concept of] the unity of God, [the commandment of] loving Him and the study of Torah, it being a fundamental principle upon which everything is based.
After it, [we read] "And if you will listen...," since it contains the imperative to fulfill the rest of the commandments, and finally the portion of tzitzit, since it also contains the imperative of remembering all the commandments. (Hilkhot Keri'at Shema 1:2)
 
In both of these mitzvot, human consciousness plays a crucial role, building the world of man's worship of God. One who wishes to serve God cannot make do with the performance of many good deeds, and even with all six hundred and thirteen commandments, if his heart and soul do not accompany his actions. Surely the prophet cries out about this (Yeshayahu 29:13): "And the Lord said: Forasmuch as this people draw near, and with their mouth and with their lips do honor Me, but have removed their heart far from Me, and their fear of Me is a commandment of men learned by rote." Memory shapes the consciousness and also enlists the spirit of the person that must accompany his actions and elevate them.
 
This is the case with regard to the memory of the exodus from Egypt, as we have emphasized. The connection of the people of Israel to their Creator and leader, to the special bond created by His having chosen us out of love, and the return of our love to Him, are what accompany our actions and guide them along the path that leads to our cleaving to Him.
 
This is also the case with regard to the mitzva of tzitzit; when we wear it at God's command, we see ourselves as servants of God. Through this garment that surrounds us on all four sides, that makes us a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, we remember our destiny, our mission and our true essence – servants of God, who aspire to serve Him with love and to thus to ascend to the level of children – "You are the children of the Lord your God." The ultimate goal is to take refuge in His shadow, in the blue thread of the tzitzit that leads a person through the process of remembering to the Throne of Glory.
 
The aspiration of the people of Israel as a people and of every man of Israel as an individual is to dwell alongside God – "But you that did cleave to the Lord your God are alive every one of you this day" (Devarim 4:4). This is also the aspiration of God, who yearns to dwell in the lower world, together with His only child.
 
This is what Chazal have expounded:
 
Likewise it is stated: "Go forth, O you daughters of Zion, and gaze upon King Shelomo, even upon the crown wherewith his mother has crowned him on the day of his wedding and on the day of the gladness of his heart" (Shir Ha-Shirim 3:11). "On the day of his wedding" – this refers to the day of the giving of the Torah. "And on the day of the gladness of his heart" – this refers to the building of the Temple; may it be rebuilt speedily in our days. (Ta'anit 26b)
 
Chazal had difficulty identifying the crown fashioned by the king's mother.[2] Therefore, they expounded in Pesikta De-Rav Kahana (Va-Yehi be-yom kalot 3):
 
R. Chonya said: R. Shimon ben Yochai asked R. Elazar the son of R. Yose: Perhaps you heard from your father what is the crown wherewith his mother crowned him? He said to him: This may be likened to a king who had a daughter, whom he loved excessively. He cherished her so much that he called her "my sister." He cherished her so much that he called her "my mother." So too at the beginning the Holy One, blessed be He, cherished Israel and called them "My daughter":  "Listen, O daughter, and consider" (Tehilim 45:11). He cherished them so much that he called them "My sister," as it is stated: "My sister, my beloved" (Shir Ha-Shirim 5:2). He loved them so much that he called them "My mother," as it is stated: "Attend to Me, O My people, and give ear to Me, O My nation (u-le'umi)" (Yeshayahu 51:4). It is written "and to my mother (u-le-imi). R. Shimon ben Yochai stood up and kissed him on his head. He said to him: Had I come only to hear this matter, it would have been enough.
 
Because of God's love for the people of Israel, they reach the level of mother, and He, as it were, wants us to crown Him, like a mother crowns her son, in order to prepare the ground for God's full dwelling in the lower world: "And they shall make Me a sanctuary, and I shall dwell among them" (Shemot 25:8).
 
(Translated by David Strauss)
 

[1] Our assumption that they recited the entire verse that mentions the exodus from Egypt is based on the gemara in Berakhot 14b, which implies that the simple situation is that whenever one says, "I am the Lord your God," one also mentions the exodus from Egypt: "Chiyya bar Rav said: If one has said [in the evening], 'I am the Lord your God,' he must say also, 'True [etc.]'; if he has not said, 'I am the Lord your God,' he need not say, 'True.' But mustn’t one mention the going forth from Egypt? He can say thus: We give thanks to You O Lord our God, that You have brought us forth from the land of Egypt and redeemed us from the house of servitude and wrought for us miracles and mighty deeds, by the Sea [of Suf], and we did sing to You." We see from here that the "We give thanks" formula is necessary only for one who did not say, "I am the Lord your God."
[2] The midrash there emphasizes that we do not find that Bat-Sheva made a crown for her son Shelomo, and therefore they explain there, as is common in many places, that King Shelomo in Shir Ha-Shirim is the King of kings, and it was Israel who made a crown for God in the Mishkan and in the Mikdash, which they built for His name.