Shabbat Parashat Beha'alotcha| 5765
Ask the Rabbi
Question: Why is the mitzva of zechirat yetziat Mitzrayim (=zym) (to mention (twice) daily the exodus from Egypt) not counted in the 613 mitzvot? Also, even if it is a time-based mitzva, why aren’t women obligated to fulfill it, as women are obligated in mitzvot that commemorate miracles they were involved in (af hein hayu b’oto hanes (=ahhbh))?
Answer: One of your questions is at the center of much rabbinic discussion, whereas the other is apparently not. But both are good questions and may even help answer each other. We will start, though, with a look to see if all of your assumptions are correct.
The gemara (Berachot 21a) treats zym as a mitzva from the Torah, and the mishna (ibid. 12b) brings a pasuk for it: “in order that you should remember the day that you left Egypt all of the days of your life” (Devarim 16:3). We also seem to accept Ben Zoma’s opinion (ibid.) that we must fulfill this mitzva both day and night (Rambam, Kriat Shema 1:3). Therefore, the Magen Avraham (70:1) says that since zym is a Torah law that applies every day, at any time of day, it is not time-based, and women are obligated in it. The Shaagat Aryeh (12) responds that there are two different obligations, of the day and of the night, and each one is time-based. Therefore, women are exempt from each. The Mishna Berura (70:2) brings both opinions, but the minhag seems to be that women are exempt (see Ishei Yisrael 7:13).
So, if zym is from the Torah, why is it not listed in the 613 mitzvot? (The Semak does count it (#110), but most do not). Several explanations are given. The Ohr Sameiach (on Rambam, ibid.) suggests that zym, as an independent mitzva (as opposed to a desired result of the performance of other mitzvot), may be only rabbinic. The indications that it is from the Torah can be explained by the fact that it is evident from the Torah that Hashem is interested that we remember the Exodus. Therefore, Chazal treated the daily practice to do so explicitly as if it were Torah law. Similarly, the Tzelach (Berachot 12b) says that the Torah source brought is authentic, but since it is not written in the form of a command, it is not counted. We will suffice with one more explanation which will help deal with your other points, as well. The Beit Yitzchak (OC 12) says that the Rambam viewed zym, not as an independent mitzva, but as something we are to do along with the mitzva of Kriat Shema. Therefore, he adds, since women are exempt from Kriat Shema, they are exempt from the addendum of zym.
Now to the question that women should be obligated because of their involvement in the miracles of the Exodus. The gemara does bring this logic in a few places, including the four cups of wine on seder night, because women were involved in the Exodus (Pesachim 108). However, we did not find that those who discuss the obligation or exemption of women in zym deal with this factor. One can give some technical answers. One is that Tosafot (Pesachim 108) brings an opinion that ahhbh is said only by rabbinic commandments, not by Torah ones (see Maharil 94, regarding women’s exemption from the mitzva of sukka). However, the following fundamental approach seems to work better. The Minchat Chinuch (#21) deals with the technical element of why we need a mitzva of discussing yetziat Mitzrayim on seder night if we anyway mention it every night. However, conceptually there is a major difference. On seder night, the focus of the mitzva is to praise Hashem for the miracles that saved us years ago at that time of year. During the rest of the year, it is primarily a matter of stating fundamental beliefs, that the Lord who did miracles and redeemed us is One whom we should believe in and obey (see Shiurim L’zecher Abba Mari, I:1). For that reason, we perform the mitzva by mentioning the Exodus along with other principles of faith contained in Kriat Shema. In that context, one’s involvement in the miracles, which mandates praise, is not the critical point.
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