By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
January 11, 2003
The long-anticipated day of the Exodus has arrived. At night,
Hashem strikes down the Egyptian firstborn and spares the Israelites, while
the latter partake of the Pesach sacrifice.
And it was, at the end of thirty years and four hundred years, and it was on
that very day, that all the hosts of Hashem went out from the land of Egypt. A
night of watching (LEIL SHIMMURIM) it was for Hashem, to take them out from
the land of Egypt; it is this night for Hashem, watching for all the Children
of Israel for their generations (Shemot 12:41-42).
This night when we celebrate the Seder to this day is called “the night of
watching” (LEIL SHIMMURIM). This expression, which seems to describe the
essence of this night in a way that transcends history, raises several
Why is the word for watching (SHIMMURIM) in the plural form?
Saadiah Gaon (882-942), whose commentary translates difficult
terms into Arabic, renders this word in the singular form for "watching,"
suggesting that LEIL SHIMMURIM is a construction similar to YOM KIPPURIM (Day
of Atonement) the plural is really an abstract noun that describes the noun
The Midrash Yalkut Shimoni (210) adds that SHIMMURIM refers to
a double redemption, both for the nation of Israel and for Hashem! As Hashem
had told Yaakov: I will descend with you to Egypt and I will also surely bring
you up (Bereishit 46:4), meaning that, as long as they were in Exile, Hashem,
as it were, was in Exile as well.
What is the verb definition of the verb SHIN-MEM-RESH, which
is the basis of SHIMMURIM?
Rashi and Rashbam say it means: "to wait, anticipate, expect,"
similar to: but his father waited (SHAMAR) for the thing (Bereishit 37:11).
Hashem waited until this night to fulfill His promise, which was to take the
Children of Israel out from the land of Egypt. And, as soon as this day
arrived, Hashem did not delay, even for an instant.
Sforno (R. Ovadia ben Yaakov Sforno, c. 1470-c.1550) says: "to
await." Hashem awaited the moment when the people were ready to be redeemed.
Ramban takes this idea a daring step further: Hashem looked
forward to fulfilling His promise from the Covenant between the Parts, that
the exile would last 400 years. However, this period was extended because of
the people’s sins (see Yechezkel 20:8; Yehoshua 24:14; Sanhedrin 92b). Only
when they cried out to Hashem (Shemot 2:23-3:9) was the extension limited to
30 years. Finally, the night came when they deserved the realization of
In another comment, Rashi understands SH-M-R as "to reserve,"
as he quotes from the Mechilta: “On the of 15th Nisan the ministering angels
came to Avraham to inform him, and on the 15th of Nisan Yitzchak was born, and
on the 15th of Nisan the decree was made [at the Covenant] between the Parts.”
Ibn Ezra says: "to protect." Hashem protected the people from
the destroyer (moshchit) during the Plague of the Firstborn.
Rashi extends the idea of protection (from Pesachim 109b): On
this night, the people of Israel are always protected from harmful agents.
A number of laws and customs are connected to this concept of the Seder night
as LEIL SHIMMURIM:
The Sages decreed the drinking of four cups, even though even
numbers (zugot) are considered harmful (Ibid.).
We recite only Shma and Ha’mapil before sleep, but none of the
other protective prayers (Shulchan Aruch 482:2).
We do not drink wine after the fourth cup, so we can remain
awake (see Ibn Ezra below) (Ibid.).
We open the door for the prophet Eliyahu, who will proclaim
the coming of Mashiach; in reward for our faith and eagerness, he will come.
In some communities, people leave their doors unlocked (unless it is
particularly dangerous, because we do not rely on miracles) (Ibid., 481).
If it is Friday night, many do not recite the abridged
repetition of the Amidah (mei’ein sheva), which is meant to protect worshipers
who are returning from the synagogue after dark (Ibid., 487:1).
R. Yisrael Isserlein (1390-1460) did not put salt on the matzah at the Seder.
In a midrash cited by Tosafot on Berachot 40a, we learn that, while people
wait for each other to wash their hands, they sit without mitzvot, so Satan
accuses. During the year, the salt of the covenant (Vayikra 2:13) placed on
the bread protects them. At the Seder, this protection is not necessary.
There is a custom quoted in the name of Ramban (Orchot Chaim,
Laws of Pesach, 27) to eat fennel (SHUMAR in Hebrew) at the Seder, because its
name suggests SHIMMURIM.
Saadiah Gaon continues: Just as this was a night for Hashem,
so will it be a watching for all the Children of Israel for their generations.
Other commentaries give the latter part of this verse additional implications:
Rashbam and Ibn Ezra: Therefore, every year the Children of
Israel look forward to celebrating Pesach.
In another comment, Ibn Ezra notes that SH-M-R can mean "to
stay awake," as in Shir HaShirim 5:7. Thus, we continue speaking about the
Exodus "until we are overcome by sleep," as in the incident of Rabbi Eliezer
and his colleagues mentioned in the Haggadah.
Chizkuni (R. Chizkiya ben Manoach, mid 13th Century) says:
Therefore, be careful to observe the Pesach sacrifice.
Ramban: Therefore the night is dedicated to Hashem for Hallel
and the other mitzvot of the Seder, as follows in 13:10.
Sforno (based on Rosh Hashanah 11a): Therefore, this night is
reserved for the future redemption, the Mashiach.
Along the same lines, Shemot Rabbah (18) notes that many other
redemptions occurred on this night, including the Exodus, the defeat of
Sancheriv during the reign of Chizkiyah, Chananya, Daniel, and the turning
point in the Purim story.
As our Sages taught: “In Nisan were they redeemed, in Nisan are they destined
to be redeemed.”
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
The tone of Sefer Bereishit and Sefer Shemot are, in a sense, mirror
opposites of each other. The initial verses of Sefer Bereishit are among
the brightest in the Torah, with the very first recorded creative
statement of God, "Let there be light." Sefer Bereishit ends, however,
with one of the most dismal verses in the entire Torah: "And Yosef
died...and they embalmed him, and he was placed in a coffin in Egypt."
Sefer Shemot, on the other hand, begins most dismally with the death of
the tribes and the bitter enslavement in Egypt. Yet it ends with one of
the brightest verses in the Torah: "And the (protective) cloud of the Lord
was upon the Tabernacle by day, and a fire was upon it by
night...throughout all their journeys."
I heard from a famous darshan that a major factor to which we can
attribute the differing tones of these Seforim is the fact that Sefer
Bereishit ends with the tribes having made their way into Galut. Galut may
be bright for a while, especially with the guidance of the towering
personalities of Yaakov, and Yosef and his brothers, but in essence, Galut
has no future. Sefer Bereishit therefore ends in darkness. By the end of
Sefer Shemot, however, Klal Yisrael is making its way towards Eretz
Yisrael. The Sefer, which began so dismally, hence dramatically changes
its tone and manages to end so brightly. Bnai Yisrael's sojourn may have
had its intermediate difficulties, but it culminates in the return to
Eretz Yisrael, with guidance by the fiery light of God.
Rabbi Moshe Ch. Sosevsky
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Tel: 972-2-566-1181 ext. 320