“It is a positive command to tell of the miracles and wonders that were done for our fathers in Egypt on the night of the fifteenth of Nisan, as it says: “Remember this day that you went out from Egypt” just as it says: “Remember the day of the Shabbat.” (Mishne Torah, Hilchot Chametz U’Matzah 7:1)
One of the most fundamental commandments that we perform on Pesach is tzipur yetziat mitzrayim – the recounting of our redemption from Egypt. The mitzvah of tzipur seems rather easy to understand. Pesach is the first of the three annual festivals. It is followed by Shavuot which recalls the revelation at Sinai and by Succot that recalls our sojourn in the wilderness. It seems reasonable that on Pesach when we renew this annual cycle of festivals we should discuss the redemption from Egypt. This discussion provides us with an understanding and appreciation of Pesach and also provides us with the fundamental knowledge needed to understand and appreciate the festivals that will follow Pesach in this annual cycle.
The Torah also presents us with a rather clear description of the manner in which the mitzvah of tzipur is to be performed. The Torah tells us that we are to retell the events to our children. In other words, we are required to provide our children with an oral account of the events of our redemption.
However, Maimonides’ explanation of the mitzvah of tzipur does present some troubling difficulties. Maimonides begins his explanation of the mitzvah of tzipur by indicating the source in the Torah for the mitzvah. He explains that the mitzvah is derived from a passage in Sefer Shemot. The passage tells us to recall the day that we left the bondage of Egypt. Maimonides then compares this passage to the passage that commands us to recall the Shabbat. This passage is also in Sefer Shemot. It is part of the Decalogue. Maimonides understands this passage to be the source for the mitzvah to recite Kiddush at the advent of Shabbat. In other words, Maimonides is telling us that the mitzvah of tzipur is similar or comparable to the requirement to recite Kiddush at the beginning of Shabbat. However, Maimonides’ comments do not indicate the manner in which the mitzvah of tzipur is comparable to the mitzvah of Kiddush.
It is clear from Maimonides’ comments that he regards as ambiguous the statement in the Torah that we are to recall the day that we left Egypt. He refers us to the enigmatic comparison to Kiddush to provide an explanation for this statement. Given that the meaning of this statement – that we are to recall the day of our redemption – is unclear, it seems odd that Maimonides should select this passage as the source in Torah for the commandment of tzipur. After all, as noted above, there is a perfectly clear passage that also discusses the commandment of tzipur. We are commanded to retell the events to our children. Why did Maimonides not use this passage as the source for the commandment and instead insist that the source is the more ambiguous directive to remember the day of our redemption?
“And you should tell your son on that day saying, “Because of this Hashem did (this) for me when I went out from Egypt.” (Sefer Shemot 13:8)
“One might think that the mitzvah of tzipur can be fulfilled from the first of the month. But the Torah tells us “on that day.” If the Torah only said, “on that day”, one might conclude that the mitzvah can be fulfilled before nightfall. Therefore the Torah tells us, “because of this.” “Because of this” only refers to the time at which matzah and marror are before you.” (Haggadah of Pesach)
The passage above is the pasuk that tells us that the mitzvah of tzipur requires that we retell the events of our redemption to our children. The Haggadah quotes Mechilta’s explanation of this pasuk. Mechilta learns from this passage that the mitzvah of tzipur can only be fulfilled on the night of Pesach – at the time that matzah and marror are before us.
This discussion in Mechilta deserves careful analysis. Mechilta proposes that one might reasonably assume that the mitzvah of tzipur can be fulfilled from the beginning of the month of Nisan. This is a remarkable statement! Why would one make such an assumption? Either it is self-evident that the mitzvah of tzipur is related to Pesach or it is not self-evident! If we assume that it is self-evident that the mitzvah is one of the mitzvot of Pesach, then obviously it cannot be fulfilled from the beginning of the month. Alternatively, if it is not self-evident that the mitzvah is related to Pesach, why would one conclude that the mitzvah can be fulfilled only from the beginning of the month of Nisan? If one does not assume that the mitzvah of tzipur is related to Pesach, then why could it not be fulfilled any time during the year?
“This month should be for you the first of the months. It should be for you the first of the months of the year.” (Sefer Shemot 12:2)
This passage instructs us to designate the month of Nisan as the first of the months of the year. Nachmanides, in his comments on this passage, explains that Nisan is selected as the first month of the year because it is the month of our redemption. All other months are identified in their relationship to Nisan. For example, Iyar is identified as the second month of the year and Tishrei is the seventh month of the year. Nachmanides further explains that this system is designed to assure that we constantly recall and make reference to the redemption. Each time we identify the date and mention the month, we will identify the month in relationship to Nisan – the month of our redemption.
It seems from Nachmanides’ comments that the month of Nisan has a unique identity. It is the month of our redemption. In other words, the events that took place in Nisan actually endow the month with an identity. It is the month associated with redemption.
Based on these comments, we can begin to understand the reasoning of Mechilta. Mechilta assumes that the mitzvah of tzipur can only be fulfilled at a time that is relevant to the redemption that tzipur recalls. However, Mechilta proposes that this requirement can be fulfilled from the beginning of Nisan. Nisan has a unique identity. It is the month of our redemption. Therefore, one would reasonably assume that the mitzvah of tzipur can be fulfilled from the beginning of the month.
However, Mechilta explains that we cannot fulfill the mitzvah of tzipur from the beginning of the month. The mitzvah can only be fulfilled at the time that we have matzah and marror before us. In other words, Mechilta posits that the mitzvah of tzipur is somehow tied to the other mitzvot performed on the night of Pesach. What is this connection between tzipur and the other mitzvot of Pesach?
Let us now return to our original question. What is the connection between tzipur and Kiddush? Maimoindes provides a succinct definition of the mitzvah of Kiddush. He tells us that the mitzvah of Kiddush is to describe the greatness of Shabbat, its exalted and distinctive nature that differentiates it from the other days of the week. In short, the mitzvah of Kiddush is to express in words the significance of Shabbat – the day we are prepared to observe.
Apparently, we cannot adequately observe the Shabbat by simply abstaining from the activities that are prohibited on the day. We must first express in words the significance of this observance. Mere abstention from creative labor is not an adequate observance of Shabbat. We must first explain the significance of this conduct.
Perhaps, this is the basis of Maimonides’ comparison between tzipur and Kiddush. Tzipur’s objective is similar to the objective of Kiddush. We are required to provide – through tzipur – an explanation of the mitzvot we are to perform on the night of Pesach. Just as Kiddush provides an explanation of the observance of Shabbat, tzipur provides an explanation and framework for the mitzvot performed the night of Pesach.
We can now appreciate the reasoning of Michilta. In order to relate Kiddush to Shabbat, we recite the Kiddush at the advent of Shabbat. However, the entire month of Nisan has the identity of the month of our redemption. The entire month is related to and is an extension of the observances performed the night of Pesach. Therefore, one might reasonably assume that the mitzvah of tzipur can be performed from the beginning of the month. However, the Torah tells us that the performance of tzipur must be more closely related to the mitzvot of the night of Pesach. It must be performed at the time at which these mitzvot of Pesach are performed.
Let us now consider our second question on Maimonides. Why did Maimonides not cite as the source for the mitzvah of tzipur the more explicit pasuk requiring us to retell the events of our redemption to our children? The passage that instructs us to retell these events to our children provides us with clear instructions for the manner in which the mitzvah of tzipur is to be performed. However, the passage tells us nothing about the nature of the mitzvah. In contrast, the passage telling us to recall the day of our redemption provides us with an insight into the meaning and significance of the mitzvah. The passage employs language similar and reminiscent of the language the Torah uses to describe the mitzvah of Kiddush. Through alluding to this comparison, the passage reveals to us that the mitzvah of tzipur is fundamentally similar to the mitzvah of Kiddush. Both are designed to provide a framework for the observances that will follow.
 Sefer Shemot 13:8.
 Sefer Shemot 13:3.
 Sefer Shemot 20:8.
 Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Shabbat 29:1.
 Rabbaynu Moshe ben Nachman (Ramban / Nachmanides), Commentary on Sefer Shemot 12:2.
 Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Sefer HaMitzvot, Mitzvat Aseh 155.