Berakhot, Chapter One, Mishnah Five

 

Introduction

In Eretz Yisrael during the time of the Mishnah people did not recite the third paragraph of Shema at night. This is the paragraph that talks about the tzitzit and about the Exodus from Egypt. The reason why it was not recited at night was that tzitzit, the central topic of the paragraph, are not worn at night. Our mishnah teaches that although the paragraph itself is not recited, the blessing after the Shema still makes mention of the Exodus.

 

Mishnah Five

1)     They mention the Exodus from Egypt at night.

2)      Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah said: “Behold, I am almost a seventy-year old man and I have not succeeded in [understanding why] the Exodus from Egypt should be mentioned at night, until Ben Zoma explained it from a verse (Deuteronomy 16:3): ‘In order that you may remember the day you left Egypt all the days of your life.’ ‘The days of your life’—refers to the days.  ‘All the days of your life’—refers to the nights.

3)      And the sages say: ‘the days of your life’—refers to this world.  ‘All the days of your life’ includes the days of the Messiah.

 

Explanation

Section one: The Exodus from Egypt is mentioned in the blessing that follows the Shema. In this prayer God is the redeemer of Israel—redeeming us from Egypt and continuing to redeem us (we pray) in our time.  Although the third paragraph of the Shema is not recited, the mention of the Exodus is still made.  We should note that it might have been confusing for people to recite completely different blessings in the morning and at night, especially if major themes were different. After all, there were no siddurim in this period; prayers were recited from memory.  Therefore, the sages preserved some of the similarities between the morning and evening blessings.

Section two: This section sounds, perhaps, familiar because it is contained in the Pesah Haggadah.  Ben Zoma, a colleague of Rabbi Akiva, offers a midrash, an exegesis on the word “all” from Deuteronomy 16:3.  It would have been sufficient for the Torah to state “the days of your life.”  The extra “all” comes to teach that the Shema should be mentioned at night.

As an aside, the process of midrash is revealed well in this story. Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah has been mentioning the Exodus all of his life in the evening blessings, but he doesn’t really know why he does so.  He would like a midrash, but in absence of one, his tradition is sufficient to maintain his practice.  Finally, when he is nearing the end of his life, he hears a midrash which supports that which he already does. 

Section three:  The other sages offer a competing interpretation for “all.”  It refers to the Messianic period.  In other words, even when the ultimate messianic redemption comes, the original story of the Exodus from Egypt will not be entirely surpassed.  The previous redemption from Egypt will continue to serve as a reminder of God’s favor, even when it has been manifested in a more ultimate fashion. I like to compare this to the difference between the first time one realizes that one is in love with someone versus the day of the wedding.  Although the wedding far surpasses that initial moment in intensity and significance, one doesn’t forget that first moment of love. So too with God and the people of Israel—Jews must continue to recall their first moment of love with God, the love with which God took us out of Egypt. 

image_print