The Seder As a Covenant by Rabbi Zvi Grumet


        With a dramatic flair, the Torah describes the long-awaited exodus of the Jews from Egypt. "ויהי מקץ שלשים שנה וארבע מאות שנה, ויהי בעצם היום הזה יצאו כל צבאות ה' מארץ מצרים," "And it came to pass at the end of four hundred and thirty years, on that selfsame day it came to pass, that all the hosts of Hashem went out from the land of Mitzrayim" (שמות י"ב:מ"א).  Strangely enough, only ten Pesukim later, the Torah finds it necessary to repeat the sentence, almost verbatim. "ויהי בעצם היום הזה הוציא ה' את בני ישראל מארץ מצרים על צבאותם," "And it came to pass on that selfsame day, that Hashem brought Bnai Yisrael out of the land of Mitzrayim by their hosts" (שם פסוק נ"א).  Why would the Torah weaken the dramatic impact of the first reading by repeating it?

            Equally peculiar is the usage of the phrase בעצם היום הזה","  "on that selfsame day."  Twice it is featured within a span of ten Pesukim, but it does not appear again within the book of Shemos (and is only mentioned eight times in the entire Torah).  What is the significance of this unique phrase and its peculiar usage?

            Interestingly enough, there is one other time in the Torah that the phrase is used in two Pesukim close in proximity, and there too the second Posuk appears to be a verbatim repetition of the first.  When Avraham Avinu circumcised himself and the male members of his family, we are told that he did it בעצם היום הזה","  "on that selfsame day" (בראשית י"ז:כ"ג), and just three Pesukim later we are again told that the circumcision took place on that "selfsame day" (שם פסוק כ"ו).  What, then, is the significance of the phrase, why is the phrase used and then repeated, and why is this particular usage limited to these two events?

            There is, apparently, a fundamental connection between Avraham's circumcision and the exodus from Egypt. Avraham's circumcision was the physical sign of a covenant established with Hashem. The content of that covenant, Avraham is told, includes the fact that his children will be strangers and slaves in a foreign land for some four hundred years, after which Hashem will redeem them and return them to their promised land. As the Jews actually leave Egypt, the Torah wants us to know that they are not merely the beneficiaries of a national liberation movement, but are being redeemed in fulfillment of the covenant established more than four hundred years earlier.

            In fact, there is a Halachic connection between the exodus and circumcision. There are only two positive Mitzvos for which the punishment of כרת, death at the hands of Hashem, is incurred upon their non-observance:  eating of the Korban Pesach and circumcision.  Moreover, an uncircumcised male is not permitted to partake of the Korban Pesach.  These two Mitzvos represent the promise of the covenant and its fulfillment.  One who does not affirm the promise cannot be a part of its fulfillment.  Additionally, anyone voluntarily severing themselves from the covenant (by not participating in either of the two) is cut off from the Jewish people, as symbolized by the punishment of כרת.

            A careful analysis of the repeated phrase used in both events yields a fascinating insight. In the first half of each pair of "בעצם היום הזה"  statements, man is active; Avraham circumcises himself and his family, the Jews leave Egypt. In the second half of each pair, man is passive; Avraham is circumcised, the Jews are taken out of Egypt. This is, in fact, not only an essential component of the covenant, but perhaps its very definition. Man does an act binding himself and his destiny to Hashem, Hashem responds by accepting Man's gesture, and binds Himself to fulfilling Man's destiny. Avraham circumcises himself binding himself to the covenant, Hashem accepts Avraham's Bris Milah, binding himself to Avraham and his destiny. The Jews leave Egypt, and Hashem responds by taking them out of Egypt.

            Participating in the seder on Pesach is our annual affirmation of the eternal covenant binding ourselves to Hashem. As our Seder climaxes and we proclaim לשנה הבאה בירושלים, Next Year in Jerusalem, we call upon Hashem to fulfill that covenant and bring the ultimate redemption of the Jewish people.

Remembering At Night by Zvi Adler

Kashering Utensils for Pesach by Rabbi Yosef Adler