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Translated as “night of vigil”, leil shimurim is the Torah’s description of the night God brought out the children of Israel from Egypt. After the original leil shimurim, we are told, “That same night is the Lord’s, one of vigil [shimurim] for all the children of Israel throughout the ages” (Exodus 12.42). Just as God protected us on that night long ago in Egypt, we are obligated to observe a leil shimurim through taking part in a seder.
D Goldschmidt, in his haggadah, links leil shimurim with the Arabic word samaroun, which refers to a night of wakefulness and endeavour. The four sages in the haggadah who stayed up all night discussing the Exodus were fulfilling their requirement for a leil shimurim.
The root of the word shimurim, shamar, has several related meanings: to guard, to observe, to save. Another meaning is to look forward to something with anticipation. Thus Jacob shamar the matter of Joseph’s dreams: as Rashi puts it, “waited for and anticipated when it would come to be”.
Isaish refers to the Jews as shomer emunim (26:2), a nation that keeps faith, ie looks forward to redemption.
The seder night, our leil shimurim, has the potential to incorporate all of these meanings — a tribute to the redemptions of the past, a night of wakefulness and a time to envision a future of freedom and peace.