On that day, you must tell your child, ‘It is because of this that G-d acted for me when I left Egypt’.” (Shemot 13:8).
This is one of the best known pasukim of both our parasha and the Passover Haggadah, and is used by Talmud Bavli, Pesachim 116b as the source text for the well-known concept: “In each and every generation an individual is obligated to view himself as if he went out of Egypt.”
This interpretation underscores the concept that Yetziat Mitzrayim is not some long-ago historical event; rather, it is a constitutive element of our people’s identity that we are obligated to re-experience during the Passover Seder each and every year.
So much emphasis has been placed upon our verse’s interpretation in the Talmud that its direct meaning has been nearly lost. Yet, we must ever remember our Sages’ statement: Ein hamikra yotzai m’yidei peshuto — the simple and direct understanding of the Torah text must never be ignored.
This mode of analysis was championed by the Rashbam, who analyzes our pasuk in the following manner: “It is because of this that Hashem performed miracles for me in Egypt. Therefore, I am performing this sacrificial service. So, too, do we find in the case of the verse: ‘This is the day that Hashem created for me for I was on the highest of heights; let us rejoice and let us celebrate” (Tehillim 118:24).
The Rashbam strongly emphasizes the terms “for me” and “I,” and urges us to focus upon the personal salvation experienced during Yetziat Mitzrayim that helped forge a powerful relationship between the Almighty and every member of the Jewish people.
As the celebrated verse in the Song at the Sea proclaims, “This is my G-d and I will extol Him, the G-d of my fathers and I will raise Him up” (Shemot 15:2).
The closeness of our relationship with the Master of the Universe is underscored by King David in Sefer Tehillim. These verses reflect his passionate belief in Hashem’s nearness to us:
“You are near, O L-rd, and all Your commandments are true.” (119:151)
“The L-rd is near to the broken-hearted, and He saves those of crushed spirit.” (34:19)
“Truly, His salvation is near those who fear Him, so that His glory dwells in our land.” (85:10)
“The L-rd is near to all who call Him, to all who call Him with sincerity.” (145:18)
A careful reading of these pasukim reveals a fascinating pattern. 119:151 teaches us about G-d’s status; He is, by definition, “near.” This is parallel to 34:19, where Hashem is close to a Jew simply because he or she is broken-hearted. This, too, is a matter of status.
In contrast, 85:10 and 145:18 clearly indicate that Hashem’s nearness is partially contingent upon our behaviors toward Him. This raises a simple and direct question: If it is Hashem’s nature, so to speak, to be close to mankind, why are our actions important?
My rebbi and mentor, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt”l, poses a similar type of question in his analysis of Friday night Kiddush. He asks: “If Shabbat is sanctified since the very moment of Creation, why is it necessary for us to say the words of the Kiddush? What can we possibly add to that which G-d has already sanctified?”
He explains that although the essential kedushah of Shabbat is a constant and endures eternally, when we recite Kiddush, we bear testimony to Hashem as the Creator of the Universe, and thereby join Him as partners in the act of Creation. As such, our words of Kiddush add to the holiness of Shabbat, and raise it to an entirely new level.
I believe that the reasoning inherent in Rav Soloveitchik’s analysis of Kiddush provides us with an answer to our earlier question: “If it is Hashem’s nature, so to speak, to be close to mankind, why are our actions important?”
It is true that, by definition, Hashem is close to us. Yet when we call upon Him in heartfelt sincerity, we reinforce our relationship with Him, just as Yaakov Avinu did when he declared, “Ma norah hamakom hazeh” (“How awe-inspiring is this place,” Bereishit 28:17). Moreover, when we recognize Hashem’s awesome nature, our personal relationship with Him achieves new and more profound levels of meaning.
With Hashem’s help, may we ever strive to call upon Him in sincerity and awe. Then may we merit to grow in our closeness to Him, so that we may each proclaim, “This is my G-d and I will extol Him, the G-d of my fathers and I will raise Him up.”