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When tomorrow your son asks you: 'What are the… laws and ordinances that … G-d has commanded?'
You shall answer: 'We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and G-d took us out of Egypt with a strong hand… G-d commanded us to perform all these laws… to fear G-d, for our own good, so that we may live… and He will treat us kindly, if we are careful to perform the commandments as He has instructed us' (6:20-25).
There are four places in the Torah where fathers are instructed to tell their sons that their own people were redeemed from slavery in Egypt. Three of them occur within the narrative of the Exodus, or directly after: When your children shall ask you… you shall say "It is a Passover offering to G-d…" (Ex. 12:26-27); When your son ask you… "What is this?"… you shall say "G-d brought us out from slavery in Egypt with a strong hand" (Ex. 13:14); and "You shall tell your son that G-d did all this for me when I came out of Egypt" (Ex. 13:8).
And forty years later, Moses reminded them of the same thing when they were about to enter the Promised Land: When tomorrow your son asks you: "What are the… laws and ordinances that… G-d has commanded?" You shall answer: 'We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and G-d took us out of Egypt with a strong hand… G-d commanded us to perform all these laws… to fear G-d, for our good, so that we may live… and He will treat us kindly, if we are careful to perform the commandments as He has instructed us" (6:20-25).
The question "What are the… laws and ordinances… that G-d has commanded?" is posed in a very different context. Unlike at the time of the Exodus, only those who experienced the Exodus as young children had first-hand knowledge of it - and by now they would have been the older generation. Thus the question does not address the here-and-now of the Exodus, or the Seder service. It relates to the Israelites living in a settled land, in a lifestyle that was distinctly different in character from surrounding cultures:
But the Torah detects an agenda in that question. The child does not only want to know the nature of the laws and ordinances, but will also want to know why it is necessary to take on what is a very demanding set of religious practices - some of which will set them apart from neighboring civilizations.
Thus the Torah gets down to the bottom of the child's question - not just the text, but the subtext. It responds to the child through the subtext of the question: "You shall tell your son that we were slaves in Egypt" and as G-d intervened for us, He expects more form us. That 'more' is 'to perform all these laws for our own good, so that we may live… and He will treat us kindly, if we are careful to perform the commandments as He has instructed us'. It emphasizes 'for our own good' as an educated act of trust. G-d helped us in the past when the Israelites were in dire straits as slaves in Egypt, and similar help will come in crises in the future as long as the Israelites follow His directives.
As the Ramban explains, a main thrust of the Book of Deuteronomy is to prepare the Israelites to become a settled people in the Promised Land. The context of the Exodus was brought in as part of that preparation.
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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