Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky
The Inspiring Story
The retelling of the events of yetzias Mitzrayim is always referred to as telling a story. Chazal speak of the individual who elaborates on the story of yetzias Mitzrayim as praiseworthy. In Parshas Yisro, Moshe doesn't merely tell Yisro about the miracles that had occurred, but rather Moshe tells Yisro the complete story. Rashi comments that the reason that Moshe chose this method of communication is because storytelling has the ability to draw the listeners' heart to the deeper message that the story is relating. Similarly, when we fulfill our obligation of telling the story of yetzias Mitzraim to our children on the night of the seder, our goal is to connect our children's hearts to our message. Moshe was interested in something tangible that would result from drawing Yisro's heart closer. Yisro would hopefully choose to convert and dedicate his life to the service of Hashem Who had performed the miracles Moshe was relating to him. As we tell our children about those same miracles, we too hope to instill within them a sincere commitment to a lifetime of avodas Hashem.
Transforming the listening to a story into a practical commitment is the essence of the Hagaddah. The Rambam describes the mitzvah of telling the story to our children as having two components. One must elaborate upon the narrative of yetzias Mitzraim but this does not suffice to fulfill one's obligation. We are taught by Rabban Gamliel that one who does not mention the mitzvos of pesach, matzah, and marror has not fulfilled his obligation. The Rambam interprets this to mean that the mere telling of the story is not enough. We must connect the story to practice and emphasize that the halachic obligations of Pesach night are the conclusion of the story.
There is a dual relationship between the two aspects of sippur yetzias Mitzraim. Not only does the story influence one to take action, but performing actions also impacts on one's appreciation of the story itself. The Sefer Hachinuch, upon discussing reasons for mitzvos, mentions several times a fundamental principle that permeates the positive mitzvos we perform. One's heart is drawn after one's actions and therefore it is not sufficient to merely contemplate and discuss the truths of Torah. By eating matzah, we internalize the message of the matzah. This theme is true for all the mitzvos. The message of Hashem as the Creator becomes a reality for us when we engage in the act of reciting kiddush. Hashem as our Protector is not just theoretical but takes on true meaning as we sit in the sukkah. Telling the story behind mitzvos leads to a greater appreciation of them which enhances their observance. In turn, greater commitment to actual performance of mitzvos enhances our appreciation of the Divine truths that the mitzvos represent.
There are two words that are used both in Parshas Bo and in Parshas Yisro that relate to yetzias Mitzraim and to matan Torah. The words "lehagid" and "leimor" both mean to tell, yet Chazal observe that there is a distinction between them. "Lehagid" refers to speaking in a stronger manner, whereas "leimor" has the connotation of a softer tone. Concerning yetzias Mitzraim in Parshas Bo, we are commanded "lehagid" and "leimor." So too, in Parshas Yisro, Moshe is instructed to introduce kabbolas HaTorah to the Jewish People using both of these terms. Both terms are used because there are two messages that must be conveyed. The softer word "leimor" is used for the story. The events of yetzias Mitzrayim which are the prelude to kabbolas HaTorah are told in a soft tone that is used for a story to draw the hearts of the listeners. However, merely being inspired by a moving tale is not significant. A commitment to the rigorous life of mitzvah observance symbolized by the stronger form of speech "lehagid" must follow the "leimor." Eventually, a life dedicated to the "lehagid" of mitzvos in turn inspires us and we internalize the stories we once heard. As our appreciation of mitzvos matures, we continue on a life long journey of "leimor" and "lehagid," as our avodas Hashem merges the soft words of a story with the rigorous commitment to shemiras hamitzvos.