May 1, 2017
One would expect that on Seder night there be some “seder” (order) to the evening, yet when you look at the Haggadah, our guidebook for the evening, you cannot help but marvel at the seeming lack of organization, at the apparent random order of this collection of verses, exposition, stories, halachic discussions and songs of praise.
There is a lack of chronological sequence. We start by discussing being slaves in Egypt, later jump back in time to when our fathers worshipped idols, and several paragraphs later return to the time of our slavery and subsequent redemption. What does this initial mention of slavery add to our later in depth exposition of the Exodus? Why do those who already know the story of the Exodus have to tell it over, even if there is no one there to listen?
The Haggadah then continues with the drasha of Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, who explains that the daily obligation of every Jew to mention the Exodus applies at night as well as day. Why is this included in the Haggadah? It applies every night of the year.
The questions of the four sons follow, and then the Haggadah turns hard to port to discuss the timing of the mitzvah of recounting the Exodus before returning to the timestream of the historical sequence of events, this time in full — from the idol worshipping times of yore through the times of slavery, the plagues, and the Exodus itself.
The narrative concludes with us extolling the praises of G-d and all that He has done for us, when again the Haggadah changes direction, now turning to Rabban Gamliel’s halachic ruling that whoever does not explain Pesach, matzah and maror has not fulfilled his obligation. From where does Rabban Gamliel learn this? And what is the connection between this and the following declaration that in every single generation one is obligated to look upon oneself as if he personally had gone out of Egypt (in itself problematic because this concept was already presented at the beginning of the Haggadah!)?
The first half of the Seder then concludes with the first part of Hallel – verses of praise and thanks to G-d.
How are we to make sense of this coagulation of concepts? Is there meaning or “method to the madness”? (These are only a few of the questions that we could ask).
With a beautiful and succinct explanation, the Malbim manages to draw together the threads and reveal a plan so clear, simple and logical that it is breathtaking. Understanding this can change your appreciation of Seder nights forever.
The Haggadah is the means through which we fulfill one of the Torah commandments of the night — to recount the story of the Exodus. The source for this is the verse: “And you shall relate to your child on that day, saying: It is because of this that G-d acted for me when I came forth out of Egypt.” (Exodus 13:8), and it is this verse which delineates the entire structure of the Haggadah. The verse has six sections, each corresponding to a different section of the Haggadah.
1. “And you shall relate to your child” - the Haggadah opens, not with a narrative account, but rather with a declaration why we are obligated to recount the story of the Exodus. Because we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt we are obligated to tell the story of the Exodus and to express our gratitude to G-d. This is not only for our benefit, but also for that of our children and future generations. In order that there is no risk of the events being forgotten, of the children being ignorant, everyone — even those who know what happened — is obligated to recount the tale, even if no one else is present. This is in contrast to all other nights of the year where we are required only to just mention the Exodus.
2. “on that day” – which describes the correct time to fulfill our obligation.
3. “saying” – and now we actually fulfill our obligation and tell over the story of the Exodus by analyzing, expanding on and expounding the verses in the Torah (Devarim 26: 5-8) which summarize the history of the Exodus. This section concludes with paragraphs listing the tremendous acts of kindness that G-d did for us as He took us out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and escorted us into the Land of Israel.
4. “because of this” – this verse is the source of Rabban Gamliel’s ruling that if one does not explain Pesach, matzah and maror he has not fulfilled his obligation. Rabban Gamliel explains the verse to mean that this (Pesach, matzah and maror) is because of what G-d acted for me when I came forth out of Egypt.
5. “G-d acted for me” – each of us has to consider ourselves as if we personally were redeemed from Egypt.
6. “when I came forth from Egypt” – we are obliged to thank and praise G-d for all that he did and does for us. We do this by reciting Hallel, which (in the section which we sing before the Yom Tov meal) specifically highlights Bnei Yisrael leaving Egypt.
This one verse is the blueprint for the seder of the evening. Nothing here is haphazard. It is a carefully structured “hitchhiker’s guide” to fulfilling the mitzvah of “sippur yetziat Mitzrayim” — recounting the tale of the Exodus.