Remembering Yetziyat Mitzrayim at Night

Berachot (1:5) | Yisrael Bankier | 5 years ago

This week we finished one cycle of Mishnah Yomit and began the next. Mazal Tov!

The fifth Mishnah in the first perek is familiar, as it is also read as part of the hagada on seder night. The Mishnah (1:5) teaches that we remember, or more accurately “mention”1, yetziyat mitzrayim (the Exodus) at night. The Mishnah begins with R’ Elazar ben Azarya2 saying that he did not merit (lo zachiti) to say yetziyat mitzrayim at night until ben zoma expounded the following to verse: “… in order that you remember yetziyat mitzrayim all the days of your life”. He understands that the pasuk would have made sufficient sense had it simply read “the days of your life” and one would have understood that the mitzvah applies during the day. The additional word “kol”, all, includes the nights as well. The Chachamim however reasoned that that addition was intended to teach that the mitzvah applies even in messianic times.

What does it mean when R’ Elazar ben Azarya said “lo zachiti”? The Bartenura explains that he could not defeat the Chachamim in his dispute with them. Rashi (on the hagada) adds that since he was a lone opinion, he was outnumbered by the Chachamim.

The Rashbatz agrees that R’ Elazar ben Azarya argued with the Chachamim, yet he understands the term “zachiti” differently. The lack of merit was that he was not able to find the hint to his position in the Torah. He continues that anyone that hears or learns a new idea in Torah is referred to as being zoche.

The Rid (hagada) however explains that until Ben Zoma presented his exposition, he also thought there was no mitzvah to remember yitziyat mitzrayim at night. He continues, that until that point, he would not recite the third paragraph of Shema since its main focus is the mitzvah of tzitzit which is only performed during the day. From that point onward, he “merited” to say the third paragraph which “mentions” yitzyat mitzrayim.

According to the earlier opinions however, that R’ Elazar ben Azarya had argued with the Chachamim prior to Ben Zoma, what was the basis of his opinion? What was the grounds for the debate?

The Pnei Yehoshua explains that even without the exposition of the word kol, R’ Elazar ben Azarya understood that the pasuk must be referring to night time as well. He directs us to the Gemara (9a) were R’ Elazar ben Azarya rules that the korban Pesach can only be eaten until chatzot (midnight). He understood that that time is the main point of redemption, for it was then that makat bechorot occurred and Paro told them to leave. The Chachamim understood that the main point was the day, which is when they actually left Egypt.

The Pnei Yehoshua directs us to another Gemara that contains a debate that hinges on the same point. In shacharit we endeavor to say tefilla (shmona esrei) immediately after the beracha of ge’ula (ga’al yisrael). The Gemara (4b) records a debate regarding if that requirement applies at night as well, with R’ Yochanan arguing it does and R’ Yehoshua be Levi disagreeing. One explanation of the debate is this point: when was the ikar ge’ula, the main point of redemption? During the night or day?

The Beit HaLevi suggests that perhaps this debate is based on a debate between two Midrashim regarding the significance of Bnei Yisrael being in Egypt for only 210 years. According to one Midrash the promised time of being in a foreign land began from the time Yitzchak was born. That being the case, they did not leave early. According to that Midrash the ikar ge’ulah was in the day, with the daytime signifying that the redemption was complete. According to the other Midrash however, they did leave early and it was on condition that the time remaining would need to be competed. In that case, the ikar ge’ulah was at night signifying that we are still the middle of exile with that ge’ulah being momentary, while we now wait for the final and complete redemption.


1 See the Tosfot Yom Tov.

2 See Volume 4 Issue 32, on masechet Eduyot, where we discuss the reference to R’ Elazar ben Azarya stating that he was “like as seventy-year-old” and the necessity of the corresponding miracle.

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