Latest update: May 1st, 2014
The essence of each prophecy is that it is a truth entrusted to that specific prophet. He is the only one privileged to know this truth communicated to him by Hashem. It is also a burden that does not let him rest. To relieve it, he must unburden himself and share it with others The Rambam says that the prophet may not hold back his prophecy, even under threat of physical harm. When the Jew has a prophecy or Torah to transmit, he must view it as a burden to transmit it with great care and exactness as a sefer to the next generation and not as an igeres.
Jewish parents sacrifice for their child to the point of self-negation. How can they refrain from transmitting to their children the beauty of Shabbos, Yom Tov, Tanach, Torah she’be’al peh or the great Jewish personalities? Not transmitting it to his child must be because he himself feels unfettered by the responsibility. To be a successful scribe, one must feel the burden to transmit, the masa d’var Hashem. Like the prophet of old, he can’t control himself; he must impart the message to his child.
This is the mitzvah of sippur yetzias Mitzrayim, of “Vehigadta l’vincha.” To inscribe your child as a sefer, not an igeres, and attain a level of prophecy in your lifetime. Perhaps the greatest characteristic of knesses Yisrael is the ability to engage in sippur yetzias Mitzrayim not just on Pesach night. It is our ability for each generation to turn the successive generation into its carefully written sefer.
Pesach night is a symbol for this intergenerational transmission process. The great rabbis assembled in Bnei Brak and were involved in sippur yetzias Mitzrayim all night till dawn. Which night was it? That night extended beyond the night of Pesach. The “night” refers to the long and dark exile period that we have endured for two thousand years filled with pogroms, blood libels, crusades, inquisitions and holocaust. Not only were Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Yehoshua at that table, but gedolei Yisrael who lived through the storms drenched in Jewish blood and misery throughout the ages were there as well. Yet despite all these difficulties, gedolei Yisrael recognized their mission to be the scribes of their generation, not in terms of writing books but to engrave a love of Torah in the heart of each Jew to be an intergenerational sefer and not a fleeting igeres.
They made use of Hashem’s method, the sippur b’sefer, writing on the book of creation, to ensure the continuity of faith in Hashem and the eternity of the Jewish people. The Torah remains alive to us today because of them. If not for their efforts, we would not be able to sit at our Seder table and discuss the Exodus on the night of Pesach. Jews are called the am hasefer, the people of the book, not because they are avid readers, but because each and every Jew is a living book that has been authored by the previous generations.
How long must we function as sofrim, as scribes? Until we see that the next generation is ready to shoulder the load and assume its role in this never-ending chain. Until the students knock on their teachers’ door and say, “Our teachers, the time to recite the morning Shema has arrived,” that they are ready to assume the leadership role. The essence of sippur yetzias Mitzrayim is to create the living books, the sefarim, that will ensure the continuity of Torah and Judaism. It isn’t limited to the night of Pesach. It is an eternal mission.
About the Author: Rabbi Joshua Rapps attended the Rav's shiur at RIETS from 1977 through 1981 and is a musmach of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan. He and his wife Tzipporah live in Edison, N.J. Rabbi Rapps can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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