Hagadah: Random Thought

וַיְהִי בַיָּמִים הָרַבִּים הָהֵם וַיָּמָת מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם, וַיֵּאָנְחוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל מִן הָעֲבֹדָה, וַיִּזְעָקוּ; וַתַּעַל שַׁוְעָתָם אֶל הָאֱ-לֹהִים, מִן הָעֲבֹדָה.

It was in those many days and the king of Egypt died, and the Benei Yisrael sighed from the work and they wailed, and their crying reached to G-d from the work.

- Shemos 2:23

The cry of the Jewish People when cornered at Yam Suf was called a “tze’aqah” (14:10), with a tzadi, and Rashi their writes that the term refers to prayer. Here, the word is “ze’aqah”, a related root but with a zayin. The Jews at the Red Sea were articulate, they were able to turn their wailing into prayer. Here, still in Egypt, they were so oppressed that their cry was a ze’aqah, wordless wail. More like the cry of the shofar than the poetry of prayer. As the Rambam writes:

מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה מִן הַתּוֹרָה, לִזְעֹק וּלְהָרִיעַ בַּחֲצוֹצְרוֹת עַל כָּל צָרָה שֶׁתָּבוֹא עַל הַצִּבּוּר, שֶׁנֶּאֱמָר “עַל הַצַּר הַצֹּרֵר אֶתְכֶם וַהֲרֵעֹתֶם בַּחֲצֹצְרֹת” (במדבר י,ט). כְּלוֹמַר כָּל דָּבָר שֶׁיֵּצַר לָכֶם כְּגוֹן בַּצֹּרֶת וְדֶבֶר וְאַרְבֶּה וְכַיּוֹצֶא בָּהֶן, זַעֲקוּ עֲלֵיהֶן וְהָרִיעוּ.

There is a commandment of obligation in the Torah to ze’oq (wail) and to blare on the trumpets over every difficulty which comes upon the community. As it says (Bamidbar 10:9) “On the trouble which troubles you, and you shall blare on the trumpets”. As if to say, every thing that troubles you, such as drought, wild animals, locust and the like za’aqu (you shall wail) about them and trumpet.

- Taaniyos 1:1

Ze’oq, za’aqu, za’aqah – terms for wordless crying.

Perhaps then there was a particular point in associating this particular even with the mitzvah of sippur yetzi’as Mitzrayim, telling over the details of the story of being taken out from Mitzrayim. Where our ancestors before the Exodus were reduced to the wordless wailing of vayiz’aqu, we open up our Hagados, our books of “Retelling”, and articulate a complexly structured Symposium on the concept of redemption.

4 thoughts on “Hagadah: Random Thought

  1. Micha,

    I very much like your comparison of the two forms of ze’aqah and tze’akah, however, the quote from Rambam seems difficult in light of this. Surely Rambam does not mean that in times of calamity, one should engage in wordless wail? Rather, one is to engage in tze’akah – expressive prayer – as defined by Rambam elsewhere (mitzvah d’orayso to pray when one is in need).

  2. TLOTZ: I am suggesting that shofar blowing is a kind of ze’aqah, which is why the Rambam lumps them together. Unlike musical instruments, which were played with singing accompaniment. And thus using shofar to show that ze’aqah is distinguished by being wordless.

    -micha

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