4/23/2006

כל ימי חייך

There’s a Mishna from the first Chapter of Brachot which addresses the daily obligation to invoke the Exodus from Egypt. R’ Elazar b. Azarya, whose position became normative, requires that it be invoked each day and each night. Ben Zoma provides the prooftext: the verse in Devarim 16:3 which reads, “In order that you remember the day you left Egypt every day of your life”, and, in the original Hebrew, contains the seemingly superfluous word “every”. This Mishna is very well-known because it found its way into the standard Haggadah, a fact which is somewhat perplexing. On the eve of the Seder, when we retell the story, of what concern is the obligation, which remains all year, to merely invoke it?

I was once teaching a class on the Haggadah at a Conservative synagogue. We looked at this verse in the Chumash, and the most available one on the premises was the Etz Hayim. Interestingly, instead of translating it as “all the days of thy life”, at KJ and JPS do, it was translated, IIRC, as “for as long as you live”. Whereas the earlier translations emphasize, as does the Mishna, the sense of daily rhythm, the Etz Chaim captures the element of lifelong pursuit. The original, and the Halakha, I believe, really capture both senses. The ritual performance is a concretization of the constant presence of that story in the fabric of our lives. This dual sense is captured best in the operative verb – tizkor – which has connotations of both ‘memory’ and ‘mention’.

This obligation is not formulated as a mitzvah in Devarim. Rather, it is the expected outcome of proper observance of Chag Ha-Matzot (which could, BTW, answer the question of why the Rambam doesn’t count this mitzvah as one of the 613; it’s not an independent mitzvah, but an outgrowth of proper observance of the holiday). The way that the verses there are structured, there’s a central event – the Pesach sacrifice itself/ the re-enactment of Yetzi’at Mitzrayim– followed by a 7-day lingering celebration of that event, which together should generate a memory strong enough to last all year. If we introduce, as the Torah does here, that there are certain aspects of celebration which relate to the month in which it occurs, then there a full cycle – a day, a week, a month, a year. This structure is similar to weddings and funerals, where a central event is followed by a 7-day aftermath, a 30-day aftermath, and which then has ramifications that last all year. With Pesach, however, the cycle is repeated annually.

We can now understand the placement of this Mishna in the Haggadah. This section of the Haggadah, beginning with Avadim Hayinu and ending with Yachol Me-Rosh Chodesh, is really all about characterizing the mitzvah to tell the story of the Exodus. The Mishna is discussing that very issue – how what we do on the eve of the Seder translates into something that remains with us every day of our lives for as long as we live.

[I’d like to thank Michael Kopinsky, who, in a comment referred to an excellent piece on this topic by R’ Chaim Yaakov Goldwicht zt”l. I was happy to find that he takes the same general approach to this Mishna in particular and to the broader structure of the Haggadah. I’ve seen a similar approach attributed to the Malbim and also on Menachem Liebtag’s site. The Yehupitzer reminds me that he posted a very similar comment here].
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