> Weekly Torah Portion > Intermediate > What's Bothering Rashi?

Tell Your Son

Passover (seventh day) (Exodus 13:17-15:26 )

by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek

At the Seder table we read the Haggada Shel Pesach. A central verse in the Haggada is from Exodus 13:8. It is the Biblical source for our custom to recite the Haggada to our children on the first night of Pesach:

"And you shall tell (Hebrew: "V'Higaddita") your son on that day 'Because (Hebrew: Ba'avur") of this Hashem did for me when I went out of Egypt.' "

The verse is unclear. Because of what? To what does the word "this" refer?



Because (Ba'avur) of this - Rashi: So that I should fulfill the commandments such as this Pesach offering, this Matzah and these bitter herbs.



Rashi tells us that "this" refers to the Mitzvot of Pesach (i.e. the Passover offering), Matza and Morror (bitter herbs).

But this is certainly strange because it says in effect, "God did this (the Exodus and its attendant miracles) so that we should offer the Pesach sacrifice, eat Matzot and bitter herbs!" But this seems like circular reasoning. Logic would dictate that we eat these foods because we were taken out of Egypt – not that we were taken out of Egypt in order to eat them! The Matzot, bitter herbs and Pascal sacrifice symbolize events that occurred during the enslavement in Egypt. How can Rashi say that the enslavement and redemption happened so that we should eat unleavened bread and bitter herbs?

You see the difficulty, of course.

Your Answer:

Hint: Read the complete Rashi comment.



An Answer: Rashi is sensitive to the word "ba'avur," which literally means "for the sake of." It does not mean "because" in the sense of "a previous cause." So Rashi is forced to explain the verse not as telling us the reason (the cause) for the Pesach ceremony (which would be "because God took us out of Egypt"). Rather, it is telling us that the reason (purpose) we were taken out of Egypt was in order that we keep the Mmitzvot. "For the sake of this (keeping these Mitzvot) I was taken out of Egypt."



The Ramban argues with Rashi. He does take the word ba'avur to mean "because." He therefore has to make slight changes in the wording of the verse. He reads the verse this way: "This (the Pesach ceremony) is because of what God did for me when I went out of Egypt."



As we said, Rashi takes "ba'avur" in its more usual sense ("in order to"). The Ramban does not. Therefore Rashi does not have to amend the verse as the Ramban did, in order to have it make sense, although we still have not addressed the deeper meaning of Rashi's explanation:



The implication of Rashi's position is a profound one for our understanding of the purpose of Mitzvot in general. We ordinarily see the Pesach Mitzvot as a means of recalling the years of slavery and miraculous exodus from Egypt. But Rashi says something radically different from that. He says we were redeemed from Egypt in order to keep these commandments. In other words, the Mitzvot are important in their own right, and not just as a reminder of our history. Fulfilling them needs no rationalization, no justification, no explanation other than that God asked us to do them.

Rashi expands this idea to include all Mitzvot, by adding one word in his comment.

Which word did he add?

Your Answer:



An Answer: Rashi says "so that I should fulfill His commands SUCH AS Pesach, Matzah and bitter herbs." By adding "SUCH AS" he makes it clear that these Mitzvot mentioned here are just examples of the all the Mitzvot in the Torah. All of them should be done for their own sake. The ultimate meaning for the Mitzvot is that they were commanded to us by God. That is justification enough.


Shabbat Shalom & Chag Somayach,
Avigdor Bonchek

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