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Passover Essay: ‘Remembering the going out of Egypt every day’

Tuesday, 7 April, 2020 - 9:23 pm

MS. Pococke 307, fol. 179 (1301-1400).png

A main aspect of the Passover Seder is to remember the going out of Egypt. The centrality of the Exodus to Judaism is indicted by the fact it is mentioned no less than fifty times in the Torah,[1] and serves as the cornerstone to the Torah and Jewish belief.[2] I would like to present a brief overview of the tradition to remember the going out of Egypt and how it developed over the centuries in Jewish thought from a simplistic concept to a more complex idea. In particular, we will look at how the second two stages of the development of this idea becomes pronounced when looking at the manuscripts of Maimonides at the Bodleian Library and a mystical manuscript at the British Library, where a single word is added representing the final idea of this remembrance and how it is understood most widely today.

 

The origin of the idea to remember the going out of Egypt is in the Torah where it states in Exodus:[3] ‘Moses said to the people, Remember this day, when you went out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, for with a mighty hand, the Lord took you out of here, and [therefore] no leaven shall be eaten.’ In Deuteronomy, it states:[4] ‘And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord your G-d took you out from there with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm.’ In addition, it states:[5] ‘You shall remember the day when you went out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life.’

 

The Biblical obligation of this remembrance is defined in the 3rd century work of the Mishnah[6] that it is a commandment to remember the Exodus twice a day: once during the daytime and once during the night.[7] The remembrance may be fulfilled by contemplation, according to the Midrash, while the Babylonian Talmud maintains it must be articulated in words.[8] Some reconcile that Biblically contemplation is sufficient while the rabbis require words. The ideal way to fulfil the obligation is as part of the recitation of the blessings over the Sh’ma prayer in the morning and evening payers.[9] For this reason, in Babylon, the third part of the Sh’ma that contains the law about wearing Tzitzit was recited at night time as part of the Sh’ma, even though there is no obligation to wear Tzitzit at night time. The reason is, since it includes the ending about the Exodus:[10] ‘I the Lord am your G-d, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your G-d: I, the Lord your G-d.’[11] In Israel during the Talmudic period, they would not include this third section of the Sh’ma, however, and instead some would recite the following short prayer:[12] ‘We give thanks to You, Lord, our God, Who took us out from Egypt and redeemed us from the house of bondage, and performed miracles and mighty deeds on our behalf on the sea, and we sang unto You.’ A mere mention of the Exodus is also sufficient, as the Talmud relates regarding Rabbi Judah HaNasi:[13] Rabbi Judah HaNasi would specifically seek a topic that included the exodus from Egypt, as by so doing he fulfills the mitzva to remember the Exodus. In summary, in the ancient period, the tradition to remember the Exodus daily was to merely mention (or meditate) about the Exodus in prayer or study. 

 

Subjective

 

MS. Pococke 307, fol. 182 (1301-1400).pngA development of the idea of remembrance of the Exodus is that one should not only mention the Exodus but one is obligated to see it as if one has personally experienced the Exodus oneself. This statement is found in the Mishnah andis recited at the Seder on Passover:[14]

 

In every generation a man is obligated to regard himself as though he personally had gone forth from Egypt, because it is said, “And you shall tell your son on that day, saying: ‘It is because of that which the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt.”[15]

 

There are three verses that offer this personal perspective about remembering the Exodus. 1. Exodus 13:8: ‘And you shall tell your son on that day, saying: “It is because of that which the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt.”’ 2. Deuteronomy 6:23: ‘And He took us out from there, etc.’ 3. Deuteronomy 5:15, 15:15, 24:22: ‘Remember that you were a slave.’

 

Medieval period

 

Screen Shot 2020-04-12 at 06.00.41 pm.pngUp until the medieval period it appears the extent of the remembrance every day was one should merely remember and tell the story of the Exodus,[16] while on Passover, one must relive (iberleben)[17] the Exodus, imagining as if it happened to oneself. We are impacted as a people by our history. In this context we recite the passage at the beginning of Seder: ‘We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and if He had not taken us out, we, our children, and our children’s children would still be subjugated to Pharaoh in Egypt.’ Further in the Seder it states: ‘In every generation a man is obligated to regard himself as though he personally had gone forth from Egypt.’

 

Maimonides

 

MS. Huntington 378, fol. 215 (1376-1400).pngIn the medieval period, however, a second emphasis appeared. This can be seen in Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah compendium of Jewish law, where there are two versions of the Mishnah text: ‘In every generation a man is obligated to regard himself as though he personally had gone forth from Egypt’. In two 14th century manuscripts of the Mishneh Torah found at the Bodleian Library - MS. Huntington 378[18] (1376-1400) and MS. Pococke 307[19] (1301-1400) - instead of writing ‘to regard himself (lir’ot),’ it states: ‘to show himself (l’har’ot):’

 

In every generation, one must show himself (l’har’ot) as if he personally had come out from the subjugation of Egypt; as it is stated,[20] “And He took us out from there, etc.” And regarding this, the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded in the Torah,[21] “Remember that you were a slave” - meaning to say, as if you yourself had been a slave, came out to freedom, and were redeemed.

 

To illustrate the uniqueness of this change, in MS. Huntington Donat. 23 (1401-1500), MS. Canonici Or. 78 (1284), as  well as the Bomberg 1524 Mishneh Torah, it retains the version as found in the Mishnah: ‘In every generation a man is obligated to regard himself (lir’ot), as though he personally had gone forth from Egypt.’ In the widespread Warsaw-Vilnius printed edition, there are both versions: In chapter seven of the Laws of Chametz and Matza it states: ‘In every generation, one must show himself (l’har’ot),’ while in the Haggadah text of Maimonides, at the end of the Laws of Chametz and Matza, it states: ‘to regard himself (lir’ot).’

 

Rashbam

 

Mishneh Torah Bomberg 1524 Text.pngIn medieval France, this change of emphasis can also be found in the commentary of the Talmudic commentary of Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir, known as Rashbam (1085-1158): Where the Talmud comments:[22] ‘Rava said: When mentioning the exodus from Egypt one must say: And He took us out from there.’ Rashbam comments:  ‘For one needs to show of oneself as if he went from there that also we were redeemed by the Holy One blessed be He.’[23]

 

This change of the text in the medieval period, suggests there are two distinct concepts: a. The subjective approach: to regard oneself as having left Egypt, and b. the need to show to others that one has been redeemed from Egypt. The latter is relevant specifically to the Seder night, when there is a tradition to recline, drink four cups of wine and other traditions that allows the person to show the personalisation of the Exodus. This implies that the remembrance of the going out of Egypt every day is the personalisation of the Exodus, without the need to demonstrate it to others.[24]

 

Tanya – daily reliving the Exodus

 

Screen Shot 2020-04-05 at 02.10.11 pm.pngThe obligation to personalise the remembering of the Exodus every day is mentioned in the 19th century mystical work of the Tanya by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1813), where he writes in the opening of chapter forty-seven: ‘In every generation and every day a person is obliged to regard himself as if he had that day come out of Egypt.’[25] This daily obligation to personalise the Exodus is the second stage of this development.

 

Daily Exodus

 

A third stage in the development of remembering the Exodus every day is the idea that one must not only relive personally the Exodus from Egypt everyday as if (k’ilu) it happened to oneself, but that the person has to experience their own Exodus everyday. This may be understood in the writing of the commentators of the Haggadah. Rabbi Don Isaac Abrabanel (1437-1508), who was expelled from Spain in 1492, and poses the questions: how is the remembering of the Exodus relevant in the 15th century, in a time of exile? A few approaches are given. Rabbi Judah Loew (1520-1609) writes that the Exodus is relevant, as it instilled in the Jewish people for all time a kernel of freedom that regardless of circumstances cannot be removed.[26] Abrabanelargues that this passage is firstly, about belief in G-d, Creator of the universe, who is above nature and able to change nature, as what happened in the Exodus and the entry in to the Land of Israel. Since, not every generation is worthy of experiencing miracles, however, we are commanded to remember the miracle of the Exodus and to pass it on from parent to child. Both these ideas emphasise the past.

 

Abrabanel – daily salvations in exile

 

A further idea is that the Exodus may be relevant, removed from the literal context of the Exodus from Egypt. One aspect of this, argues Abrabanel, is that every Jew in exile is subservient to a kingdom, like the Jewish people were in Egypt. Some experience compassion from their captors, but all cannot escape the subjugation placed upon them. Some are subject to harsh labour, some are chained and imprisoned (by the inquisition), in great danger, some are unable to observe the Shabbat and festivals because of the wrath of the oppressors, but G-d establishes a saviour and leader in wondrous ways, by smiting the oppressors or in other ways. For this reason, the sages instituted that one should regard oneself as if one has left Egypt every day.[27]

 

Tanya – removal from evil

 

In the mystical work of the Tanya by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, one’s own personal Exodus refers to the ‘release of the divine soul from the confinement of the body, the “serpent's skin,” in order to be absorbed into the Unity of the light of the blessed En Sof, through occupation in the Torah and commandments in general, and in particular through accepting the Kingdom of Heaven during the recital of the Shema, wherein the person explicitly accepts and draws over himself His blessed Unity, when he says: “The Lord is our G‑d, the Lord is One.” Likewise, at the end of the paragraph referring to the Exodus from Egypt, it is concluded also, "I am the Lord your G‑d." This also accords with what has been explained earlier.’

 

This third idea of the Exodus – detached from the historic Egypt and deeply personal, relevant on a daily basis – may be indicated in a variation in the manuscript version of the Tanya and a proposed new reading of the Mishnah: ‘In every generation a man is obligated to regard himself as though he personally had gone forth from Egypt.’

 

Tanya in manuscript

 

The manuscript of the Tanya that appears to adapt the Mishnah text: ‘In every generation a man is obligated to regard himself as though he personally had gone forth from Egypt’ to this third deeply personal perspective, was entitled ‘Kitzur Likkutei Amarim’ and was written between 1775-1799 in Ashkenazi semi-cursive, cursive and square script. The text of the manuscript was composed by three hands: Chapter 1-39[28] by one hand, in semi cursive script, called Rashi; chapter 40[29] by a second hand in cursive Ashkenazi script, and chapters 42-48[30] by a third hand also in cursive Ashkenazi script.[31]

 

Ownership

 

The original owner of the manuscript is documented on the first page as being Rabbi Yosef of Slutsk[32] - a mitnagdic town - that was opposed to Chassidism, as recorded by Rabbi Schneur Zalman himself in 1801.[33] The manuscript, somehow, made its way to Israel, where German born Jewish missionary Joseph Wolf (b. 1795, Wielersback, Bavaria), son of a German rabbi, bought it and sent it to England for his patron Henry Drummond (1786-1860). It was subsequently deposited with the ‘London Society for promoting Christianity amongst the Jews.’ On 25 September 1912, it was bought[34] by the leader of the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish congregation in London, Moses Gaster (1856 - 1939), who held a lectureship, in 1886 and 1891, in Slavonic literature at the University of Oxford and was finally acquired by the British Museum in 1925.

 

Amongst nine other manuscripts of the Tanya, the British Library manuscript has a variation in the above chapter forty seven that is not found in any of other manuscripts, though it appears in the printed edition, indicating its significance. In the manuscript at the British Library it adds ‘hayom’ (that day) in the wording of the Mishnah: ‘In every generation and every day a person is obliged to regard himself as if he had that day (hayom) come out of Egypt.’ We would like to argue that this additional word ‘hayom’ (that day) that was not originally in the text but then added is meant to suggest that the text of the Mishnah: ‘In every generation a person is obliged to regard himself as if he had come out of Egypt,’ reflects the third concept of remembering the Exodus everyday that not only must one relive the Exodus everyday (the second stage) but must relive the Exodus everyday in a way that one leaves a metaphoric idea of Egypt literally everyday. This may be by finding small liberations in one’s own daily life, as argued by Arabanel, or, as Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi writes, by discovering one’s own daily spiritual journey from the self to the all-encompassing presence of the Divine.   

  


 

 

Footnotes

 

[1] Pardes 13:1. Sefer Hama’amarim Melukatim 2:38.

[2] Sefer Hachinuch 21.

[3] Exodus 13:3.

[4] Deuteronomy 5:15.

[5] Deuteronomy 16:3.

[6] Mishnah Berachot 1:5.

[7] There is no time limit to this Mitzvah; it may be recited anytime during the day and night (Sha’agat Aryeh 10). As a time bound commandment – the commandment is to recite the Exodus once during the day and once during the night - women are not obligated (Sha’agat Aryeh 12).

[8] Sha’agat Aryeh 13. Some argue that Biblically it can be fulfilled by meditation, while rabbinically it must be articulated (Haggadah shel Pesach im Likkutei ta’amim, minhagim u’bi’urim, p. 15).

[9] Talmud Berachot 13b.

[10] Numbers 15:41.

[11] Talmud Berachot 12b.

[12] Talmud Berachot 14b.

[13] Talmud Berachot 13b.

[14] Mishnah Pesachim 10:5.

[15] Exodus 13:8.

[16] Haggadah shel Pesach im Likkutei ta’amim, minhagim u’bi’urim, p. 15.

[17] Haggadah shel Pesach im Likkutei ta’amim, minhagim u’bi’urim, vol. 2, p. 618.

[18] Fol. 215.

[19] Fol. 179.

[20] Deuteronomy 6:23.

[21] Deuteronomy 5:15, 15:15, 24:22.

[22] Talmud Pesachim 116b.

[23] Rashbam on Talmud Pesachim 116b.

[24] Likkutei Sichot 12:44.

[25] Likkutei Sichot 12:42, footnote 24 and 31. See also Haggadah shel Pesach im Likkutei ta’amim, minhagim u’bi’urim, vol. 2, p. 618, in the footnote. In the footnote of this Passover letter, written in 1968, it states that the source of the obligation to regard onself as if one has left Egypt in the Tanya, ch. 47 is from the reading of the Mishna: ‘In every generation..’ The essay in Likkutei Sichot 12, from 1975, may be a further insight into the search for a source for this view, identifying this view with the variation in the text of the Mishnah Torah that states: L’har’ot (to show) oneself as if one has left Egypt on the night of Passover.

[26] Gevurot Hashem, Haggadah Shel Pesach, on B’chol dor v’dor.

[27] Zevach Pesach on b’chol dor v’dor.

[28] Folios 3a-32a.

[29] Folios 32b-35a.

[30] The heading of chapter 41 is not indicated.

[31] Folios 35a-42b. A further hand wrote (F. 43v) a recipe for a lemon flavoured liquor, made by mixing ethyl alcohol, water and sugar.

[32] http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=or_10456_f001r#.

[33] Igrot Kodesh Admur Hazaken, p. 105.

[34] See Dr. Naftali Loewenthal, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi’s Kitzur Likkutei Amarim British Library Or 10456, Studies in Jewish Manuscripts, p. 105.

 

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