Sippur Yetzi’at Mitzrayim

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Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik

by R. Aharon Ziegler

Reciting the Haggadah at the Pesach seder is a fulfillment of the mitzvah of Sippur Yetzi’at Mitzrayim, telling the story of the Exodus. The Haggadah cites a Mishnah in Pesachim (116a) which states that:

Rabban Gamliel used to say: Whoever does not mention these three things (on Pesach) does not fulfill his obligation, and these are they: Pesach [the korban pesach], matzah [unleavened bread], and maror.

What does Rabbi Gamliel mean by “not having fulfilled his obligation”? Does he mean that one must eat these three components or is he referring to the requirement of explaining the meaning of these three items? Also, shouldn’t the order be maror, korban and then matzah? Historically, it would it would be more accurate, as the bitter torment preceded the korban pesach, and both preceded the baking of the matzot, which symbolizes our freedom on the 15th of Nissan.

Rav Soloveitchik explained that the mitzvah of Sippur Yetzi’at Mitzrayim is the story of Jewish destiny for all time – the eternal story of an eternal people. We look at Pesach, matzah and maror not merely as objects that must be consumed at the seder but as active ingredients and participants in the mitzvah of Sippur Yetzi’at Mitzrayim. And the order that Rabbi Gamliel stipulates is not meant as a chronologic occurrence of history, but rather as a hierarchy of mitzvah importance. Pesach is the primary halacha – whereas the mitzvot of matzah and maror are dependent upon the korban pesach, as stated in Bamidbar (9:11) “Al Matzot Um’rorim Yoch’luhu” – they shall eat the korban pesach together with matzah and maror. Matzah by itself is commanded in another verse (Shemot 12:18), “Ba’erev Toch’lu Matzot” – on that night shall you eat matzot, but maror remains totally dependent upon korban pesach – there is no mitzvah to eat it by itself. When there is no korban pesach, as in our days, the mitzvah of maror is only rabbinic and therefore listed as last of the three.

Sippur Yetzi’at Mitzrayim, the Rav added, is a blend of storytelling, Torah teaching, and eating symbolic food items. It is a fusion of the spoken word and the physical function of eating and drinking, the intermingling of physical pleasure with Torah debate. Eating the korban pesach, matzah and maror constitutes a double mitzvah. The mitzvah of achilah, physically consuming these items is a religious performance, a ma’aseh kiyyum mitzvah. But eating the Pesach, matzah and maror is also the instrument of Sippur Yetzi’at Mitzrayim, telling the story of the Exodus. We narrate the story not only through speech but through eating as well. Therefore, in order to fulfill the mitzvah of Sippur in the most perfect manner, one must interpret and explain the symbolic meaning of Pesach, matzah and maror.

About Aharon Ziegler

Rabbi Aharon Ziegler is the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Agudath Achim of Boro Park and the Dean and Rosh Kollel of Kollel Agudath Achim. He is the author of six volumes of Halakhic Positions of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.

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