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Remembering the Exodus and the Shabbat

Remembering the Exodus and the Shabbat

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Twelfth-Century master, Maimonides, writes that "On the night of the fifteenth of Nissan it is a positive command of the Torah to relate the miracles and wonders that transpired with our forefathers in Egypt, for it is written: 'Remember this day on which you went out of Egypt,' [and the meaning of 'remember' here is] similar to that which is written 'Remember the day of Shabbat.'"

 

Why does the Rambam find it necessary to liken the manner in which we remember the Exodus to the way in which we remember the Shabbat? Why doesn't the verse "Remember this day on which you went out of Egypt" stand alone?

At the beginning of the laws of Shabbat the Rambam states: "Resting from labor on the seventh day is a positive command, for it is written, 'On the seventh day you shall rest.' Whoever performs labor at that time negates a positive command and transgresses a prohibitive commandment."

Thus Shabbat involves both the positive aspect of rest and the negative aspect of not performing labor.

The fact that the Rambam begins the laws of Shabbat with the positive command, notwithstanding the fact that most of the laws of Shabbat deal with prohibitions of various forms of labor, indicates that the main aspect of Shabbat observance lies in this positive aspect.

Both the negative and positive aspects of Shabbat derive from two sections in the Torah:

In the section describing Creation the verse states: "He rested on the seventh day from all His labor which He had done. And G-d blessed the seventh day and made it holy, for on it He rested from all His labor..." - emphasizing that on this day there was both rest and cessation from labor.

In the section describing G-d's giving of the Torah, where the Jews are told: "Remember the day of Shabbat," the verse goes on to state: "For [in] six days the L-rd made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day."

In other words, here we are told that Shabbat is unique not only in that G-d ceased on it from the labor of the Six Days of Creation, but more importantly, that Shabbat is G-d's day of rest.

Thus, the more important part of "Remembering the day of Shabbat" is the positive sense of rest rather than the mere negation of labor, as our Sages state that after the completion of the Six Days of Creation the world was lacking rest and tranquillity.

Only when Shabbat began did rest and tranquillity arrive. Or as the Rambam expresses it: " 'Remember it' - a remembrance of praise and sanctification."

With regard to the exodus from Egypt as well, we find two aspects: the release of the Jewish people from servitude, and the fact that we became a free, independent people.

This is similar to the condition achieved by every freed slave: His master's dominion over him ceases; as a free man he becomes wholly his own person.

By connecting the tale of the Exodus on the fifteenth of Nissan to remembrance of the Shabbat, the Rambam is indicating that with regard to relating the events of the Exodus too, the main aspect is the positive step of becoming free.

For just as remembering the Shabbat involves not so much the negation of labor as the positive theme of rest, so too the obligation to relate the tale of the Exodus involves not so much the recalling of our release from slavery as the recounting of how we became free men.

Thus the Rambam goes on to say in the following law that even when one relates the tale of the Exodus to a son who is a minor or simpleton he should say: "On this night G-d redeemed us and took us out to freedom," thereby emphasizing that G-d enabled us to become free.

Consequently, the Rambam goes on to say that "An individual is obligated to conduct himself as if he himself had just gone out of Egypt" - "as if you yourself were enslaved, and you went out to freedom and were redeemed."

One should conduct himself on this night as a free man.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. (Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXI, pp. 68-73.)

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