Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 7 August 2021 / 29 Av 5781

Reeh: Duty by Day, Trust by Night

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
Library Library Library

The mitzvahs of Pesach are briefly reviewed, and Moshe tells the Jewish People that the reason for abstaining from chametz and eating matzah is because our Exodus from Egypt was accomplished in great haste, “so that you may remember the day of your departure from the land of Egypt all the days of your life.”

The aspect of haste was not circumstantial. It was directed by G-d to reinforce the notion that even as we were being freed from the suppressing hand of Egypt, we were still their slaves, forced even to obey even their commands, denying us time to properly bake our bread. Even at the moment of redemption, we were still slaves. This was all to teach us that we did not achieve freedom by our own power, but rather by G-d, at the hand of our oppressors.

All this is so that we will remember the day of redemption as the starting point for all future thoughts and actions. We did not become our own masters, but rather we passed from the oppression of human violence into G-d’s possession. We left the servitude of man for the service of G-d.

The verse clearly spells out the daily nature of the obligation — “all the days of your life.” From the superfluous word “all,” our Sages learn that the mitzvah applies not only during the day but also at night. Even though the Torah explicitly tells us that the redemption was already accomplished at night, there is a need for a special proof that the remembrance is also to occur at night. This mitzvah, then, pertains primarily to the daytime — a feature that is of great importance to understanding it.

The redemption from Egypt supplied the foundation for two aspects that comprise the subtance of our lives: our historical life and our active life. Throughout our history we learned to trust in G-d. Through our actions we received our sense of duty toward Him. Trust is proven in the dark nights of life, whereas our sense of duty must be demonstrated during the daytime.

One might think that the main teaching of the redemption is trust in G-d during the dark periods of life and of history, and therefore the mitzvah applies primarily at night. Jewish thought, however, knows that it is easier to trust in G-d during the nights of dire misfortune than to remain faithful to duty in the daylight of creative activity. The night hardly needs the daily reminder. During the day, however, we are keenly aware of the need to renew our commitment to serve G-d with full vitality.

  • Sources: Commentary, Devarim 16:3

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