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Rabbi Yonason Sacks
Rabbi Yonason Sacks

Zechiras Yetziyas Mitzrayim

While the mitzvah of "zechiras Yetziyas Mitzrayim," remembering the Exodus, occupies an undeniably profound place in Jewish consciousness, the source of this obligation is subject to considerable debate.

In identifying the source for the daily obligation to commemorate Yetziyas Mitzrayim, Rashi (Shemos 13:3) quotes the Mechilta on the pasuk "Zachor es hayom hazeh asher yatzasem miMitzrayim mibeis avadim." In Berachos 21a (s.v. Emes), however, Rashi cites an entirely different source for this obligation: "l'maa'n tizkor es yom tzaischa me'eretz Mitzrayim kol yemei chayecha" (Devarim 16:3). Apparently, Rashi maintains that both verses are necessary to understand the scope of this mitzvah. Had the Torah merely commanded "zachor es hayom hazeh," one may have erroneously concluded that the mitzvah applies only during Pesach (see the continuation of Shemos 13:3). The pasuk in Devarim thus dispels such a notion, teaching that the obligation exists "kol yemei chayecha" - every day of one's life. Conversely, had the Torah merely presented the pasuk in Devarim, "l'ma'an tizkor…," one may have erroneously read the pasuk as teaching the reason for the Pesach obligation, but not necessarily enjoining, by force of a Biblical positive commandment, to actively remember the Exodus itself. Hence, according to Rashi, both verses in Shemos and Devarim are essential in conveying the Biblical requirement for daily remembrance.

Interestingly, however, the Rambam makes no mention of a requirement to remember yetziyas Mitzrayim. In light of this conspicuous omission, the Ohr Sameach (Hilhos Kriyas Shema 1:1) goes as far as to suggest that the Rambam understands the daily obligation as being only Rabbinic in nature. Rav Soloveitchik zt"l (Shiurim L'Zecher Abba Mori vol. I: Mitzvas Kriyas Shema u'Zechiras Yetzias Mitzrayim, page 1), however, explained the Rambam's omission of this mitzvah in a different manner[1]. Quoting his grandfather Reb Chayim zt"l, the Rav explained that in the Rambam's eyes, zechiras yetziyas Mitzrayim does indeed constitute a Biblical mitzvah. The Rambam merely refrained from counting it as one of the canonical 613 mitzvos for technical reasons. The Rambam himself writes (Shoresh 3 of Sefer Hamitzvos) that only mitzvos which are eternally binding, "mitzvos l'doros," are reckoned amongst the 613. In the Rambam's eyes, however, the mitzvah of zechiras yetziyas Mitzrayim is temporary in nature. Citing the Mishnaic dispute (Berachos 12b) between Ben Zoma and the chachamim as to whether the mitzvah of zechiras yetziyas Mitzrayim will exist in the Messianic era, Reb Chayim explained that the Rambam rules in accordance with Ben Zoma, that the mitzvah will cease to exist. As such, the obligation to remember yetziyas Mitzrayim does not constitute a "mitzvah l'doros." Thus, while the mitzvah is undeniably Biblical in nature, it is nonetheless technically omitted from the list of 613[2].

While Reb Chayim suggested that the Rambam omitted zechiras yetziyas Mitzrayim because he assumes like Ben Zoma, that the mitzvah is only temporary in nature, Reb Issur Zalman Meltzer (Even HaEzel, Hilchos Kriyas Shemah, 1:3) questions this very assumption. Reb Issur Zalman maintains that even Ben Zoma, who appears to reject the existence of this mitzvah in the Messianic era, does not reject its existence categorically. Rather, Ben Zoma sees zechiras yetziyas Mitzrayim as part of a broader, more general requirement to commemorate the miraculous redemptions which Hakadosh Baruch Hu performs throughout the generations. This mitzvah remains eternally binding, even in Messianic times. Ben Zoma merely argues regarding the specific details within this broader mitzvah, maintaining that the miracles of the Messianic era will take the place of the Egyptian exodus. In its core essence, however, the mitzvah to remember Hakadosh Baruch Hu's redemptive miracles remains unaltered.

Reb Issur Zalman's argument finds its roots in the words of the Rashba (Perushei HaHagados, Berachos 12b) and the Ramban (Shemos 12:2). Both Rishonim seem to decentralize the requirement to remember yetziyas Mitzrayim from the specific event of yetziyas Mitzrayim, perceiving it as a much broader obligation to constantly appreciate the wondrous miracles which Hakadosh Baruch Hu performs on behalf of Bnei Yisrael.  Thus, when HaKadosh Baruch Hu redeemed the Jewish nation from Bavel, the mitzvah of zechiras yetziyas Mitzrayim necessitated national thanksgiving and commemoration of the Babylonian redemption as well[3]. Similarly, the future redemption, which will bring new miracles and triumphs, will necessitate new expressions of praise.

While the Ramban and the Rashba focus on the overt and manifest miracles which have occurred at specific historical episodes, the Ramban (Shemos 13:16) concludes the parsha by affirming that our attention to these "great" miracles should never distract us from the "minor" miracles which occur constantly throughout our lives. To the contrary, a fundamental and inviolable tenet of Jewish belief is that "From the great miracles, a person comes to admit to the hidden miracles that are the foundation of the entire Torah. For no one has a portion in the Torah of Moshe until he believes that all of our words and events are miracles, and there is no such thing as nature." According to the Ramban, the daily requirement of zechiras yetziyas Mitzrayim teaches us the eternal mission of the Jew: to perceive and appreciate the undeniable presence of the Yad Hashem in each and every aspect of his life.

[1]See also "Chazon Yechezkel" (Berachos 1), who suggests a similar possibility.

[2]See there for an alternate possibility. Namely, that the Rambam does not count zechiras yetziyas Mitzrayim because he views the mitzvah as part of the larger mitzvah of Kriyas Shema (kabalas ol malchus Shamayim).

[3]See Ramban (ibid.), who maintains that the names of the calendrical months serves this very purpose.

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