Midrash and Method
Midrash and Method
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Meir Levin

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Pesach 5765

Remembering the Exodus.

The first night of Passover is unique among Jewish festivals in that it is associated with a prescribed text, the Haggadah. This particular feature warrants a closer exploration.

We generally think of remembering Exodus as telling the story of what happened on that night. A number of sources, however, imply that Torah study is a primary component of this obligation or that it can substitute for the Haggadah.

Two scholars who know the laws of Pesach are still obligated to discuss the laws of Pesach on that night (Pesachim 116a). A person is required to be engaged in the study of the laws of Passover the entire night (Tosefta, Pesachim 10:5).

This focus on laws is not always fully appreciated.

If he is a wise son, what does he say: "What are these testimonies, statutes, and rules that G-d has commanded you? Also you reply to him according to the laws of Passover, "We do not eat after afikomen" (Haggada).

The Tur comments: " For a person is obligated to occupy himself the entire night with the laws of Passover and to recount the miracles and wonders...until sleep overtakes him (O'C 481).

What about the laws versus reciting a text? Is our model at Seder the commandment to remember Amalek, wherein we read a specified story text, or is it the commandment to remember what Hashem did to Miriam -"that you shall study it (Ra'avad - the laws of tsaraas) with your mouth" (Sifra Bechukosai 2)?

We have in the past discussed the fact that remembering something may be done through simple awareness (not forgetting), review (study of laws), recall (performance of an associated action), and commemoration (a recitation of a text). In fact, Sifra in Bechukosia appears to list examples of 3 of these kinds of remembering:

1. Awareness - not forgetting one's learning
2. Review - remembering Miriam by studying the laws of tsaraas.
3. Commemoration - Reading the portion of Amalek.

What about the Seder - what kind of remembering is it?

Well, it seems that several kinds of remembering come together at the Seder table. We have recall, by eating matza and korban pesach (see Rashi on Devarim 16:3). We have review - this is study of Passover laws. We finally have commemoration - the recitation of the Haggadah text during the Seder.

Is there also a component of awareness regarding in the mitzvah of remembering the Exodus?

The Yefeh To'ar to Brochos 12b appears to understand that the commandment to remember the Exodus from Egypt is merely to remember it in our hearts and not to say it out loud. All other observances are Rabbinic enactments so as to ensure the performance of the basic Biblical obligation. If so, it would seem that Biblically there is merely the obligation to be aware and nothing more.[1]

This approach allows us to answer the well known question of why the Rambam does not count the obligation to remember Exodus on Pesach night as one of 613 mitvos; he only counts the every day obligation to remember the Exodus. It would seem that the obligation to inwardly to remember the Exodus can be triggered by any means of remembrance - recall, review or commemoration; however, the essence and nature of the obligation is the same on Pesach night as it is the rest of the year. Consequently once it is counted once in Sefer Hamitzvos, it cannot be counted another time.

Chag Kosher V'Sameach

1 Thanks to R. Gil Student for this reference. For a recent discussion on a related theme see his hirhurim.blogspot.com.