Sipur

There are three words for counting that factor prominently in the Torah.

Parashas Pequdei gets its name from Moshe Rabbeinu’s accounting of all the material collected for the mishkan. The root \פקד\ has three meanings altogether:

  1. To count out inventory
  2. To remember, “veHashem padas es Sarah ka’asher amar — and Hashem remembered Sarah [so that she could conceive Yitzchaq, as He said..” (It is worth comparing this usage of “paqad” with “zachar“.)
  3. To appoint, as in Yoseif’s method for running Egypt’s storehouses – “vayafqeid peqidim“.

I point this out in relationship to another root used to mean counting, \ספר\, which also has three meanings. This is mentioned in Seifer haYetzirah, discussed by the Kuzari (4:25), and is the reason why the 10 sefiros are called sefiros. It can mean:

  1. Counting, as in mispar (number)
  2. To cut — from which we get sapar (barber) and misparayim (scissors)
  3. To tell, lesapeir, or a book seifer

There is also a third word used for counting, but we only find it with respect to counting people. In parshios  Beamidbar and Naso, Hashem commands Moshe “nasa es rosh — count the heads”.

What is the difference between counting in the sense of /pqd/ or nasa, and counting as denoted by lispor?

Parashas Naso’s counting comes immediately before a discussion of the nesi’im a term from the same root meaning the head of a sheivet (tribe). The word reuse would seem to indicate that this, like pqd, is about appointments. In both cases, we’re looking at individuals as individuals, and pointing out their distinct role.  A paqid is given a special duty, just as a nasi is, and just as you can emphasize the worth of each individual, “raise their heads” when ou count them, you can show the destination of each item donated when you make an accounting. Which would also explain the meaning of “to remember” one particular person rather than letting her remain part of the whole.

Lesapeir, however, is to cut. The items being counted are counted as pieces of the whole. The story isn’t simply being said over (lehagid) one must spell out each element. The verbal step of the seider may be called “maggid“, but the mitzvah of the night, which goes beyond the verbal into the foods of matzah and maror, of re experiencing the tears of karpas and the joys of Hallel, is “sippur yetzi’as Mitzrayim.”

Lesapeir sipur isn’t to give a one sentence summary: “There was a car accident.” It’s to divide that one thesis into its parts, telling detail. “So and so got a call on his cell phone. He was distracted, and didn’t notice the car making a right turn ….” Thus the connection to cutting.

It is not coincidental that this is in pedagogic question-and-answer form, a teaching format. Because that’s lesapeir. When the last of the prophets needed to organize the Torah into a format usable even as prophecy ebbed away, our rabbinic leadership (the usage of the word “rabbi” in this way didn’t begin yet) we called the soferim. In part because they counted out the letters of the Torah, to insure accurate reproduction of the Torah even after the Babylonian exile. And thus they were also sofrim in the sense of writers of the seifer which contains the sipur.

But perhaps foremost, they were the ones who made halachic analysis as we know it today possible. During their era was the story of Purim, and the Jewish people’s response to it. “Qiymu veqiblu haYehudim — the Jews established and accepted.” Chazal, perhaps wondering about the redundancy of “qiymu veqiblu“, comment “qiymu mah sheqiblu qevar — they established that which they had already accepted” in Sinai (Megillah 7a). They gave it a spelled out analyzable basis that didn’t require prophetic grounding. The concept of having short memorizable paragraphs describing established law, the notion which became the Mishnah, began.

But also because they represented a shift from being able to speak from a prophetic identification of the big picture principles to a need to reason from individual facts. Lisapeir, to tell the idea detail by detail.

Rav Chaim Brisker asked what the difference was between the obligation of zekher yetzi’as Mitzrayim (remembering the departure from Egypt) which is a daily experience, morning and evening, as part of Shema, and the night’s obligation of sippur Yetzi’as Mitzrayim (see Haggadah miBeis Levi p 110). He answers that zekher requires only saying one sentence. As R’ Elazar ben Azaryah puts it, “Behold I am like 70 years old, and I didn’t merit understanding why yetzi’as Mitzrayim must be said — shetei’amer – at nights. Until Ben Zoma expounded it..”

Sippur, however, has 4 elements:

  1. Ideally, it should be told to another in question and answer form.
  2. One must start the telling with genus (discussing our disgrace), and end with shevach (praise).
  3. It must include a discussion and performance of the three mitzvos of the night: pesach, matzah, and maror.
  4. It must tie the events to the date, the night of the 15th of Nissan, on which they are being recalled.

(These can be mapped to different sections of Maggid. See “The Structure of the Seder“.)

In our language, the difference is between simple amirah and sipur.

And your thoughts...?