Nissan has arrived, and Jews around the world are exclaiming, “I can’t believe we’re already up to Pesach!” Why does Pesach takes everyone by surprise? But as Nissan is indeed here, we must ask ourselves, “What is our avodah for the duration of this month?” In which way does Hashem want us to grow while we are on this page of the calendar? The journey begins. And so we go.
The Sefer Yetzirah writes that every month is aligned with a human faculty which we must fix during its time period. In one month we work on Sight, while in another we work on Smell or Sleep, or on other such concepts. In Nissan we are enjoined to rectify sicha – Speech. In which way can this be understood? What must we do to speak properly? And why does Pesach fall out in the month of Speech? What is the connection? This is our first step; let’s move along.
Perhaps we can discover the answer to these questions by embarking on an analysis of the mitzvah of Pesach. You’re probably wondering – which one? After all, are there not many mitzvos of Pesach? The answer is that yes, there are many mitzvos on Pesach. We must eat matzah and maror, we drink four cups of wine, we sing Hallel, and many other mitzvos. But it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that all these mitzvos relate to the one central mitzvah of Pesach – sippur yetzias Mitzrayim – telling the story of how Hashem took us out of Egypt. Maror recalls the bitter slavery. Matzah recalls the speedy redemption. The four cups recall the four aspects of our redemption – how Hashem took us out, saved us, redeemed us, and took us to Him for a nation. Hallel praises Hashem for fulfilling His promise. All these mitzvos are important, but it’s important to recognize that they all revolve around the proper fulfillment of one mitzvahm – sippur yetzias Mitzrayim.
However, I believe there is a nuance in the phraseology of the mitzvah that bears noting. The mitzvah is called sippur yetzias Mitzrayim – telling the story of how Hashem took us out of Egypt. Why is there an emphasis on the telling? Isn’t the main idea to remember how Hashem took us out? The mitzvah should have been termed zechiras yetzias Mitzrayim – remembering how Hashem took us out. Why do we emphasize the telling-over aspect?
The answer lies in understanding that telling over the story is part and parcel of the mitzvah. It wouldn’t be sufficient to merely remember the story. Even if everyone at the table already knows the story, it still must be told over. One person tells it to his friend and then his friend tells it to him. Even if two adults are the only ones present at a Seder, they are halachically required to ask each other the Mah Nishtana – the Four Questions. One may not simply eat the matzah and maror and remember how the slavery was bitter and how Hashem redeemed us speedily. One must tell over how the slavery was bitter and how Hashem redeemed us speedily. That is why the mitzvah is not called zechiras yetzias Mitzrayim but rather sippur yetzias Mitzrayim.
However, this needs explanation. Why must the story be told over? Why is it insufficient to recall Hashem’s salvation? Perhaps we can find the answer if we take a detour to an event that took place on Pesach hundreds of years prior to yetzias Mitzrayim. Let’s transport ourselves back to the battle Yaakov and Esau fought over who would be the progenitor of G-d’s Chosen Nation. Of course, we know that Esau abdicated his rights when he sold his firstborn status for a bowl of soup. But on that fateful Pesach in the year 2171, Yaakov was forced to deceive his father in order to receive the blessings from which Esau was disqualified due to the sale and his wickedness (neither of which Yitzchak had any knowledge).
Yaakov dressed himself in goat skins so if his blind father would hug him, he would feel like his hairy brother. He did not worry that his voice would give him away, because he and his twin sounded alike (Rashbam). Yet, when he entered with the requested Pesach korbanos and spoke with his father, Yitzchak grew suspicious – was this visitor was really Esau whom he was expecting? After feeling Yaakov’s hairy arms, Yitzchak declares, “The voice is the voice of Yaakov, but the hands are the hands of Esau!” Now, as we mentioned earlier, Yaakov and Esau sounded very alike. So what was it that made Yitzchak say that this visitor sounded like Yaakov? Rashi answers that Yitzchak was suspicious because of two things that Yaakov said. First, when Yaakov entered, he spoke to Yitzchak in a gentle and soft tone. He said, “Please sit up and eat of my game.” Esau did not speak that way. When Esau subsequently came in with his game, he ordered, “Get up Father!” The second thing that tipped Yitzchak off was that when he asked, “How did you get here so quickly?” Yaakov answered, “Hashem arranged it for me.” Esau was not one who would regularly mention Hashem in his conversations. These two things made Yitzchak suspicious that this visitor was Yaakov and not Esau.
We see from here two lessons in the way a Jew speaks. First, a Jew speaks softly. He requests; he doesn’t demand. But the second thing we see, which I think is more relevant to our discussion, is that a Jew incorporates Hashem in his speech. Or more precisely, a Yid gives credit for everything he has to the One who gave it to him. Yaakov didn’t just answer that he got lucky and was able to trap two animals quickly; he rather said that Hashem arranged it for him. This is part of the essence of Yaakov – and that’s why Yitzchak immediately picked up on it. Esau didn’t speak like that. He took the credit for himself.
Perhaps now we can explain why Pesach is about sippur – telling over the story. Remembering the story is important, but on the birthday of the Jewish nation we work to inculcate this supremely Jewish middah of articultaing our recognition of Hashem’s hand and giving credit where credit is due – verbally.
By now we should be able to explain how to rectify sicha and why it’s the job of Nissan. In Nissan we focus on learning to talk like a Jew. There is such a big difference between “I found a parking spot” and “Hashem gave me a parking spot.” It may seem inconsequential, but it can change your life if you make it a habit. We say “baruch Hashem” and “im yirtzeh Hashem,” but we often forget to think about what these phrases mean. I would suggest we say them in English so we will start meaning what we say. Instead of “I’ll see you tomorrow,” say “With Hashem’s help I’ll see you tomorrow.” Instead of saying “That was a good supper,” say “Hashem gave me a good supper.” Let’s learn to speak like a Yid. Have an accomplishing Nissan.