Friday, April 11, 2014

Recognizing the Eternal Relevance of Yetziat Mitzraim

In Hilchot Chametz U’matza, Rambam classifies “Sippur Yetziat Mitzraim” as a  “z’chira” activity, fundamentally similar to the Kiddush of Shabbat.                                 
 הלכות חמץ ומצה פרק ז
א  מצות עשה של תורה לספר בניסים ונפלאות שנעשו לאבותינו במצריים, בליל חמישה עשר בניסן--שנאמר "זכור את היום הזה אשר יצאתם" (שמות יג,ג), כמה שנאמר "זכור את יום השבת" (שמות כ,ז  

Question: Rather than sharing features, Kiddush and sippur seem to be fundamentally dissimilar activities. Sippur is a form of storytelling, giving a highly descriptive account of yetziat mitzraim events, kiddush is a rigorous conceptual statement containing no storytelling of the events of Creation at all.  

Why does Rambam classify Sippur as a “z’chira”  activity fundamentally akin to the Kiddush of Shabbat?

Answer: In Hilchot Shabbat, Rambam defines the nature of “zechira” common to Kiddush and Sippur. “Zechira” means to properly recognize the nature of something in carefully formulated speech.

מצות עשה מן התורה לקדש את יום השבת בדברים שנאמר זכור את יום השבת לקדשו. כלומר זכרהו זכירת שבח וקידוש.

To properly recognize something in speech, we must identify its functionality within His system of Creation. Our question confuses the underlying substance of zechira (that is, the recognition of functionality within His system) with the form of rigorous speech used to accomplish this recognition (formula or description). The underlying substance of Zechira remains the same in Kiddush and Sippur-- it is only the rigorous form of speech used to express this recognition which changes.

The reason for this shift in speech, from the conceptual formula of Kiddush to the descriptive sippur of yetziat mitzraim, lies in the differing human experience of Hashem's action each recognition demands. 

The Kiddush of Shabbat recognizes and celebrates the universal Chasdei Hashem, expressed in the Creators Sovereignty over the Cosmic Order of the system of the Universe. We recognize the Cosmic order in the somewhat detached abstract manner of theoretical man. To overemphasize the human Order is to become distracted, to fail in properly acknowledging the Universal order of the Cosmos. Kiddush therefore employs conceptual statements, including no description illustrating the impact on man at all. Kiddush refers to the good of man--zecher liytiziat mitzraim-- but does not overemphasize our individual good. 
The Sippur of Pesach on the other hand, recognizes the particularistic aspect of Chasdei Hashem, His Sovereignty over the Political Order. His Sovereignty  became manifest through yetziat mitzraim, in which Divine Justice was imposed upon our oppressors. We recognize the imposition of Justice in the Political order as citizens of Israel, the current generation of children of the first generation to be made free through His Justice.

Recognizing His Sovereignty over the Political Order is done in the manner of storytelling, as every parent transmits identity forging personal reflections to their children and family. A parent who remains purely clinical, who is not personally transformed by his storytelling of yetziat mitzraim, has not understood the nature of yetziat mitzraim at all.  "זכור את היום הזה אשר יצאתם" therefore, includes a careful sippur / account capable of transmitting the personal relevance of the events of the night of 15th of Nissan from father to son.

We must therefore view ourselves personally as victims of Egyptian oppression and we must view ourselves personally as beneficiaries of Hashem’s justice upon our oppressors.

בכל דור ודור חייב אדם להראות את עצמו כאילו הוא בעצמו יצא עתה משעבוד מצרים

וכל מה שיוסיף לספר ולהאריך בדברים בהגדלת מה שעשו בנו ומה שענו אותנו המצרים ואיך נפרע לנו ה' מהם, ולהודות לו יתעלה, על כל החסד אשר גמלנו הרי זה משבח

The proper sippur account of yetziat mitzraim produces overwhelming gratitude for the Divine Chessed granted each of us individually. Arousing gratitude for our individual freedom is best facilitated by a personal formulation of yetziat mitzraim,
כפי צחות לשון המספר, in expansive sippur.  
כל המאריך לספר יציאת מצרים, הרי זה משבח
  מצווה קנז 
הציווי שנצטווינו לספר ביציאת מצרים בליל ט"ו בניסן בתחילת הלילה כפי צחות לשון המספר, וכל מה שיוסיף לספר ולהאריך בדברים בהגדלת מה שעשו בנו ומה שענו אותנו המצרים ואיך נפרע לנו ה' מהם, ולהודות לו יתעלה, על כל החסד אשר גמלנו הרי זה משבח, כמו שאמרו: כל המאריך לספר יציאת מצרים, הרי זה משבח
The zechira of kiddush and sippur, is in fact, the exact same activity-- recognition of His beneficent acts. Each zechira identifies one of the two possible ways we recognize Hashem as a Benefactor: a. Universal Benefactor--Hashem Creator of the Cosmos  b. Particular Benefactor-- Hashem the redeemer of His People Israel. The specific human experience we undergo in recognizing Him through these two core acts, determines the form of rigorous speech we use, the conceptual form of kiddush or the descriptive form of storytelling appropriate to communicating His Sovereignty over the Political Order composed of the father's and sons of Israel.

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