01. “Tell Your Child”
There is a positive mitzva to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt on the night of the 15th of Nisan. The more one embellishes the telling, elucidates the great kindness God showed us by saving us from the Egyptians and avenging us upon them, interprets the signs and wonders that God performed at that time and place for our sake, delves into the laws of Pesaḥ, and gives expansive gratitude to God – the more commendable it is. The essence of the mitzva is to tell the children, as it is stated: “Tell your child on that day: ‘It is because of this that God did for me when I left Egypt’” (Shemot 13:8). Even one who is childless is commanded by the Torah to recall the Exodus on Pesaḥ night, as it states: “Remember this day on which you came out of Egypt, of the house of bondage; how, with a mighty hand, God took you out of there” (ibid. 3).
Two mitzvot in the Torah require us to educate our children: the first is to teach them the written and oral Torah, so they understand the world properly and may live their lives according to divine guidance. Part of this mitzva is to habituate and familiarize children with the observance of mitzvot, as it is impossible to teach about Shabbat, kashrut, and the like without training for their observance (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 24:1). The second mitzva is to tell our children about the Exodus from Egypt on the Seder night.
At first glance, this is puzzling. Is narrating the Exodus not part of the general mitzva of teaching Torah? In that case, what is different about the Seder night? The purpose of the stories told to the children on Seder night is to convey the fundamentals of faith that logically precede Torah study: they must know how the nation of Israel was formed, that God chose Israel to be His special nation, and that He gave them a special duty to receive the Torah and rectify the world. Parents, of course, do not live forever. The next generation will have to bear the torch of tradition, the great and awesome task that God intended for Israel, until the world has been fully repaired. This is the lesson of the Seder night. All of its mitzvot lead to that end.
Note that the obligation to study Torah is derived from the verse: “Teach them to your children, to speak of them” (Devarim 11:19). The Sages explain that one who must teach his son Torah must himself study Torah (Kiddushin 29b). It is only through the personal example of parents studying Torah with love and diligence that the value of Torah study is imbued within the children. The mitzva to instruct the children teaches us that the fundamental goal of the Torah is to positively influence others and add life to the world, not just to elevate the individual who studies Torah. Therefore, the Torah emphasizes in this commandment the obligation to teach the children, for the essential goal of the Torah is to influence the entire people of Israel in every generation. What is more, when one studies in order to teach others, his study is more thorough and profound. Likewise, the purpose of the mitzva to tell the story of the Exodus is that the memory of the Exodus and the great destiny of the Jewish people will be so deeply and palpably alive in the hearts of the parents that they will be able to pass it on to their children. To that end, parents must delve into the meaning of the Exodus and the mitzvot of the holiday and serve as personal examples for their children of how to say the Hagada and fulfill the mitzvot of Pesaḥ. Thus, they will be able to tell them the story of the Exodus and guide them toward fulfillment of the mitzvot of the Seder night.