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My four-year-old son asked me this right after Kiddush on Friday night (more or less verbatim):

Why do you say "Mitzrayim" in Kiddush every week? "Mitzrayim" is a Pesach word!

In other words, why do we refer to Shabbat as "commemorating the Exodus from Egypt" (Wikipedia translation)? Isn't it really all about God's completion of Creation?

Tack-on question: Once you've established that Shabbat is linked both to Creation and to the Exodus, why is the terminology in Kiddush for these links slightly different? Shabbat is called "זִכָּרוּן לְמַעֲשֵׂה בְרֵשִׁית" - "a memorial to the deed of Creation" and "זֵכֶר לִיצִיאַת מִצְרָיִם" - "commemorating the Exodus from Egypt" (translations from Wikipedia; emphases mine).

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On a more literal level, there's the idea (developed in Kuzari 1:11ff; also discussed by the commentaries to Exodus 20:2 and Rabbeinu Bechayei to Deut. 5:15; and in many other places) that the Exodus - which the entire Jewish people experienced, and in which G-d manipulated and subverted nature as He pleased - serves as proof that G-d originally created that same natural order out of nothing.

Perhaps, then, that also explains the different terminology of זכר vs. זכרון. Shabbos is a זכר, a remembrance, of the Exodus, because it is something that the people who first received this mitzvah remembered personally (and could transmit this to us, their descendants); whereas it is only a זכרון, a memorial, of Creation, since that is something that we know of only by tradition.

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Talmud in Pesachim (117b) states:

צריך שיזכיר יציאת מצרים בקידוש היום

One must mention the exodus from Egypt during Kiddush. This is derived from Scripture.

I once saw a pilpul explanation from Rabbi Jonathon Eibuschutz. It is written that Jews were to be exiled for 400 years (counted from Isaac's birth), and a second verse states 430 years. What happened to the extra 30 years?

The decree was intended for the six days of the week only. Pharoah had them work on the Sabbath as well, which was 1/7th more than originally decreed. 1/7th of the 210 years of enslavement equals exactly 30 years. Thus the Sabbath was instrumental in allowing the Jews to leave Egyptian bondage earlier. Therefore it is mentioned in the Kiddush.


I think he means: Shabbat is an eternal day of rest. G-d's decree that Jews be subject to bondage therefore exempted Shabbat. It was due to this exemption that we go out early, since it was ignored by Pharoah. So it's another reason to thank G-d for the Shabbat.

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A variety of explanations are provided in Rishonim. Some, e.g. Adubraham (Ma'ariv Shel Shabbat) write that kiddush never asserts that Shabbat is a remembrance of the exodus, but rather that it is the foremost of the holy occurrences (festivals) which are (themselves) a remembrance of the exodus.

Ramban (Deut. 5:15) suggests that we don't mean that Shabbat is a commemoration of the exodus, but rather that they share core themes; God's control and mastery over the world. He cites Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim (2:31) that when we worked in Egypt we were unable to rest as we wanted. When we left and received Shabbat which established a set rest period we reminded by contrast of Egypt when we unable to rest.

This is similar to Tosafot (Pesahim 117b s.v. l'maan tizkor) who cite a Midrash that in Egypt we were subjected to all 39 labors forbidden on Shabbat. Thus, Shabbat reminds us of Egypt (and the exodus).

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Answer to the tack-on question: This answer may seem controversial to some, but I'll post it anyway:

Rambam in the Moreh, Part 2, Chapter 30 possibly implies that the days of Creation are not meant to be taken as literal units of time, rather they are really philosophical dimensions of Creation.

If that is the case, we can extrapolate that our six days of action and the seventh day being Shabbat, are only a small memorial of what actual Creation was (and is) since the actual Six "days" of Creation cannot be literally referenced using a time-frame.

However, leaving Egypt can be explained as "zecher", an actual memory, because it occurred to us as an historical event within a time-frame that can be literally referenced.

  • Fascinating! Please clarify: Is this explanation of the zikaron/zecher distinction in the Moreh, or is that your own extrapolation? (Yeyasher kochacha either on knowing it or on coming up with this connection.) – Isaac Moses Mar 22 '10 at 20:18
  • See my edit. It's my extrapolation. – Yahu Mar 22 '10 at 20:33
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    Yahu, please follow up on your sourcing! This is fascinating. – Seth J Mar 4 '11 at 17:16
  • Sorry I did not follow up yet Seth! I am in transit but let's see what I can do. – Yahu Mar 6 '11 at 23:51
  • Seth, here it is mi.yodeya.com/questions/485/… – Yahu Apr 7 '11 at 6:04
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Like Alex said, God's taking the Jews out of Egypt was the first time God intervened with the natural order since creation. Acknowleding that God took us out from Egypt and changed the natural order is testimony that God created it, too. Alternatively, referencing that God took us out of Egypt, changing the natural order, is testimony that God created, and continues to actively play a role in the world.

Not only that, but He did it for us. The leaving of Mitzrayim is also symbolic of nationhood, which lead to religion together as a nation, without which there would be no commandment of keeping the Sabbath.

I think Aryeh Kaplan has a nice essay on Shabbat which includes some of these points. I'll try and double check when I get a chance.

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    The flood doesn't count as Hashem intervening in the natural order? – Chanoch Mar 23 '10 at 13:56
  • That's a good point, I'll have to recheck my sources and edit accordingly. – JewishJon Mar 23 '10 at 23:24
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I heard a nice vort why we always remember Yetzias Mitzraim. Many times people get depressed and say why would Hashem take us out of Galus, are we any better than the previous generations, are we better than Rashi, are we better than the Chasam Sofer, are we better than the Rishonim? Yetzias Mitzraim was when we were at the lowest level - 50th level of Tumah and we were redeemed, that is why Zecher L'Ytzias Mitzraim us too we will get redeemed no matter how low we sink.

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    Gershon, don't you mean the 49th level of tumah? Without Torah we could not have been pulled out from the 50th level of tumah! – Yahu Apr 7 '11 at 6:07
  • according to the Sefarim we left Mitzrayim just in time to avoid the 50th level. – Gershon Gold Apr 7 '11 at 17:10
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Devarim 5:14-15 (in the recounting of the Ten Commandments):

וְיוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי שַׁבָּת לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה כָל מְלָאכָה אַתָּה וּבִנְךָ וּבִתֶּךָ וְעַבְדְּךָ וַאֲמָתֶךָ וְשׁוֹרְךָ וַחֲמֹרְךָ וְכָל בְּהֶמְתֶּךָ וְגֵרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ לְמַעַן יָנוּחַ עַבְדְּךָ וַאֲמָתְךָ כָּמוֹךָ. וְזָכַרְתָּ כִּי עֶבֶד הָיִיתָ בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם וַיֹּצִאֲךָ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ מִשָּׁם בְּיָד חֲזָקָה וּבִזְרֹעַ נְטוּיָה עַל כֵּן צִוְּךָ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת.‏

But the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; you shall not do any work — you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your ox or your ass, or any of your cattle, or the stranger in your settlements, so that your male and female slave may rest as you do. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and the LORD your God freed you from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the sabbath day.

I've always understood this simply as saying that granting one's slaves a day off from work once a week reminds us of our own slavery in Egypt where we were never free from work, until Hashem rescued us. In this way, shabbat functions as a weekly reminder of the Exodus.

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