By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
The Mishnah in the first perek of Maseches Brachos quotes the following statement of Rabi Elazar ben Azaryah: “Harei ani keven shivim shanah velo zochisi shetei’omeir Yetzias Mitzrayim baleilos ad shedrasha Ben Zoma, shene’emar lemaan tizkor es yom tzeischa mei’Eretz Mitzrayim kol yemei chayecha, yemei chayecha hayomim, kol yemei chayecha haleilos – I am like a seventy-year-old man, but I did not merit that Yetzias Mitzrayim should be mentioned at night, until Ben Zoma expounded it, as it says, ‘In order that you remember the day you left Mitzrayim all the days of your life.’ ‘The days of your life’ would have only indicated the days. [The extra word] ‘kol,’ all, includes the nights as well.”
There are several problematic issues with this statement, which we recite at the Seder. Firstly, of what consequence is it to know that the Tanna felt as though he is seventy years old? Secondly, the posuk from which Ben Zoma derived his lesson discusses the obligation of remembering Yetzias Mitzrayim. Rabi Elazar ben Azaryah was searching for an obligation to mention Yetzias Mitzrayim. How does Ben Zoma’s drasha of kol for zechirah, remembering, demonstrate that there is a chiyuv of amirah, reciting? He still was not zoche to mention the story of the exodus from Mitzrayim.
The underpinning of the mitzvah of zechiras Yetzias Mitzrayim is to reinforce emunah in Hakadosh Boruch Hu. The Ramban writes at the end of Parshas Bo that the makkos occurred so that it would be shown that Hashem created the world and did not leave it to natural occurrences. Thus, the posuk states, “Lemann teida ki ani Hashem bekerev haaretz,” and, “Lemaan teida ki laShem haaretz.“ Hashem created the world and rules over it.
Miracles such as these do not transpire on a regular basis, Hashem therefore commanded us to retell the tale of Yetzias Mitzrayim to our children and our children’s children, for all generations. Thus, there are many commandments which we perform as a zeicher, a remembrance, l’Yetzias Mitzrayim.
It is by recalling the great and more famous miracles which took place that man accepts that there are hidden miracles which take place in our everyday lives. The Ramban writes that this is the foundation of the entire Torah. One cannot claim to have a share in the Torah until he accepts that everything that transpires to us on a daily basis is miraculous. Nothing happens by itself, due to nature, or through the so-called “way of the world.”
Perhaps, allegorically, we can deduce an additional important lesson from the Mishnah of Rabi Elazar ben Azaryah. He stated that it is as if he is seventy years old, because, as the posuk states, “Yemei shenoseinu bahem shivim shanah,” the average age to which a person lives is seventy. He was saying that in his lifetime in which he had seen, experienced and learned much, he had not yet merited to see that people should look to Yetzias Mitzrayim as a source of chizuk in dealing with their trials and tribulations. This is why he used the conjugation of “shetei’omeir,” which is the grammatical nifal, meaning that it should be said, as opposed to stating that there is an obligation for people to say it.
“Velo zochisi shetei’omeir Yetzias Mitzrayim baleilos.” Allegorically, Laylah doesn’t only mean night. It refers to a dark period in a person’s life. Every Shabbos we say in davening “ve’emunascha baleilos,“ indicating the need to maintain belief in Hashem when all is dark and unclear.
Rabi Elazar ben Azaryah, in essence, was stating that he did not witness people who were experiencing difficulties turning to the recital of the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim for chizuk in their emunah and bitachon. He never heard people speak of how they looked back to Yetzias Mitzrayim to see how all that transpires is for the good and how Hashem ultimately saves the Jewish people from their dire straits and from the difficult situations they find themselves in.
People failed to realize the lessons evident in that tale of deliverance on their own, until Ben Zomah taught them to do so through his drasha of “kol yemei chayecha.” It was following his drasha that they took heed of his message that every day of their lives, and during the leilos of their lives, they can receive succor and support by repeating the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim.
With this in mind, perhaps we can offer a homiletical explanation of Hakadosh Boruch Hu‘s response to Avrohom Avinu when he questioned how he is to be assured of Hashem’s promises to him that he would inherit the land of Canaan.
Avrohom asked, “Bamoh eidah ki irashenah” (Bereishis 15:8). The response was that his offspring would be enslaved in a strange land for 400 years. They would be set free with much wealth, and the nation which enslaved them would be punished. How does this fact that his children would be enslaved in a strange land answer his question of how he could be sure that, in fact, they would inherit the land?
Rashi explains that Avrohom didn’t doubt the word of Hashem. Rather, he was asking how he could be guaranteed that his offspring would merit the land, for perhaps their sins would cause them to be unworthy of inheriting Eretz Canaan.
Hashem therefore responded to him that from the tale of Yetzias Mitzrayim, Avrohom could derive the emunah and bitachon necessary to know that he can be comforted in the knowledge that Hashem’s promise to him would be kept. For just as the Jews would be delivered from their enslavement even though they had fallen to the 49th degree of tumah, Jews for all time, from the period of Avrohom onward, could derive chizuk from that experience to enable them to withstand the nisyonos of life.
When Yaakov Avinu went down to Mitzrayim many years later, he brought with him the seedlings for the atzei shittim believing that they would be used to build the mishkon when his children would leave that foreign land. He was thereby realizing the lesson of emunah that had been passed from Avrohom to his children, that the Bnei Avrohom would be enslaved in a foreign land for many years and then leave “b’rechush gadol.”
“Shetei’omeir Yetzias Mitzrayim baleilos.” It is not sufficient to believe the miracles which transpired as we left Mitzrayim. There is a specific obligation to recount them and constantly repeat them.
Words are an integral part of the geulah. At the beginning of Parshas Shemos, when Hashem appeared to Moshe Rabbeinu and appointed him to lead the Bnei Yisroel out of Mitzrayim, Moshe responded that he isn’t the right person to lead the liberation. He said, “Lo ish devorim anochi – I am not a man of words.” To be a leader it is insufficient for one to be suffused with love of his people, be the paragon of virtue and the consummate believer; Moshe believed that the man who would lead the Jews out of bondage also had to be an “ish devorim.” In order to bring about the geulah, he had to be capable of expressing in spoken words the promise Hashem had made to him regarding the deliverance of the Bnei Yisroel from their servitude.
Thus, it is not sufficient to believe that Hashem is the Creator Who delivers us from bondage, from exile, and from personal travails. Rather, we must enunciate that belief verbally. Shetei’omeir. It must be said.
We must say that Hashem changed creation, maasei bereishis, to release us from slavery. We must say that the promise to Avrohom was fulfilled in its entirety. We must say that Yetzias Mitzrayim gave birth to a new people, an act which led to the presentation of the Torah to Am Yisroel on Har Sinai. We must say that although Hashem told Avrohom that his children would be enslaved for 400 years, due to His infinite kindness He started counting that period from the birth of Yitzchok (Rashi, Bereishis, 15:13).
It is interesting to note that Avrohom was foretold of the birth of his son Yitzchok on Pesach. Although it was preordained that his descendants would be required to dwell in a foreign land for 400 years, nevertheless, since Yitzchok was forced to go into exile, the gezeirah of golus is counted as beginning with his birth.
At the time, they may have questioned why the son of Avrohom, who had been promised the Holy Land, was forced to leave his home and move to Grar. It is only in hindsight that we appreciate that it was Divinely ordained that he be exiled so that the period of golus can be counted as commencing many years before the Jews actually went down to Egypt.
My dear friend, Rav Dovid Klugmann, brought to my attention a shmuess that Rav Simcha Zissel Brodie, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Chevron, delivered, quoting from his predecessor, Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein.
Imagine, he said, living at the time of the Spanish Inquisition. As the wicked Spaniards were brutally chasing the Jews from their country, the Jewish people were no doubt waiting to see Divine retribution exacted upon their former hosts. They were undoubtedly sure that the kingdom would dissolve in punishment for the way they treated the Am Hanivchar.
Instead, to their great amazement, not only was the kingdom not punished, but it was rewarded. In 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered America and opened up avenues of wealth and commerce for the very country which the Jews thought was deserving of being destroyed. No doubt, for generations after, they sat in puzzled wonderment, unable to comprehend why Hashem had rewarded the very people they thought would be decimated.
It was only centuries later that the questions were answered. America became a place of refuge for Jews and defeated the Third Reich, which sought our destruction. In fact, it was the Spaniards who themselves were laying the groundwork for the salvation of the Jews through their discovery and settlement of the American continent. It was all part of the Divine plan. Before fading off into oblivion, the very monarchy which so tortured the Jews established the land which would welcome and save them many years later.
Rav Brodie would repeat this idea and add that following the awful Holocaust that engulfed our people in the last century, claiming so many millions of lives and wiping out so many innocents, people will be prone to question the ways of Hashem.
In truth, Hashem is preparing the world for the ultimate redemption. Sometimes, within a few generations the Divine intention becomes apparent, while in other instances it can take centuries in order to comprehend the ways of Hashem. Yet other times we just have to wait until the coming of Moshiach in order to understand how all that transpired was part of a plan to bring the world to its ultimate purpose.
Perhaps that is the explanation for the shitah of the Chachomim who argue with Ben Zomah and say, “Yemei chayecha ha’olam hazeh, kol yemei chayecha lehovi limos haMoshiach.” The Chachomim say that the way for a Jew to derive chizuk in olam hazeh is by looking forward to the yemos haMoshiach. They maintain that not only can we become strengthened as we are tossed about in the storm of life by looking back at the miracles which took place during Yetzias Mitzrayim, but also by looking ahead to the period of Moshiach. If we recognize that the world is being prepared for the coming of Moshiach, then we can accept and understand the turbulence that surrounds us.
We have questions and many worries in our personal lives. The world appears to be at a breaking point. The news from Eretz Yisroel fills our hearts with worry that war will break out as bloodthirsty terrorists display an unquenchable appetite for Jewish blood. The economy teeters and no solution is apparent. Leadership is nonexistent. The good suffer, while the evil triumph. Why? When will it end? How can we hold out?
We must look back to Yetzias Mitzrayim and recount the miracles that took place there and the many acts of Divine mercy which enabled our deliverance. We must look through the pages of Jewish history and see the hidden Hand which guided and steered us through the ages. We must look forward to the period of Acharis Hayomim, recognizing that what we are living through is the chevlei Moshiach. If we do, we will be able to persevere and remain strong and determined until the time Moshiach ben Yosef arrives and declares, “Higi’ah zeman geulaschem.”
May we see it soon, in our day.
Chag kosher vesomei’ach.