The Components of the Mitzvah of Haggadah  

First in Rabbi Schertz' series of Passover articles for Arutz Sheva.

Rabbi Dr. Chaim E. Schertz,

Rabbi Schertz
Rabbi Schertz
INN: J. Fogel

The commandment of Haggadah i.e. the recitation of the story of the Exodus from Egypt is based upon the following text in the Torah: “You are to tell your son on that day to say that it is because of this God did this for me in taking me out of Egypt.” Shemot 13:8.  Rashi explains that it is because of the fulfillment of the commandments which are associated with the Exodus, namely the paschal sacrifice, the matzah, and the maror, that the Exodus occurred. Ad locum.

The Rambam instructs us that it is a positive commandment of the Torah to speak about the miracles and wonders that were performed for our ancestors in Egypt on the night of the fifteenth of Nissan for it says, “Remember this day that you left Egypt . . .and how do we know that it is on the night of the fifteenth? Because the Torah says, “you are to tell your son on that day to say it is because of this” at the time when Matzah and Maror are placed before you. (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Chametz and Matzah, chap. 7 halakha 1).

The Haggadah presents this Halakha in a different manner.   

“I would think that the recitation describing the Exodus should take place at the start of the new month of Nissan, thus the Torah states, “on that day”, that is the day of the Exodus itself, (which is the fifteenth of Nissan).  If it is on that day, I would think that it should be when it is still daylight, (which is actually the 14th of Nissan).  Thus the text states, “because of this,”  I did not ordain this requirement except when the (paschal sacrifice) the matzah and the maror are placed before you.”

There are two questions which immediately come to mind upon reading this passage.  First, why should I think that the recitation of the Exodus should occur on the first day of the month, two weeks before the Exodus itself?  Second, why would I think that the Exodus be discussed one day before the event? Why not wait a day and tell it on the night of Pesach itself?

In his commentary on the Haggadah, Rav Chaim HaLevi of Brisk deals with the second question, but totally ignores the first.  He states that one could mistakenly believe that there is a connection between the 14th and 15th of Nissan through the principle of Tosfot Yom Tov, that is, that one should add sanctity to secular time by extending the sacred time of the holiday prior to its beginning.   This normally is applied to Kiddush, Tefillah, and the holiday meal. One should thus be able to apply it also to Haggadah for it is only a verbal addition which initially has nothing to do with the ritual foods eaten on Pesach.  It is for this reason that the Torah states, “Baavur Zeh,” “because of this” to specifically connect the recitation of the Haggadah to the observance of the seder rituals of pesach, matzah, and maror. (See Tosfot Pesachim 99b, Beit Levi on the Haggadah, p. 124.On passage Yachol Marosh Chodesh.)  One cannot fulfill the requirement of Matzah and Maror on the Tosefet of the Holiday for they are connected to the paschal sacrifice which could only be eaten on the night of the fifteenth.

In truth, one could assume an equally powerful argument to explain why one would assume that the Haggadah could be recited on the first day of the month.  An important part of the seder is to demonstrate the principle of cherut or freedom. This is done through the act of Haseiva or reclining during parts of the seder and it is best demonstrated through the drinking of the four cups of wine.  If the guiding principle is cherut, what then expresses greater freedom than performing the first commandment which the Torah gives to the people of Israel the calculation and establishment of the calendar.

A slave is not a master of his destiny and has no sense that he has any control over his time.  He has no sense of time, for his existence belongs totally to his master. He is merely a tool as Aristotle indicated which contains life. Only a free man has a sense of his own time and that becomes the ultimate expression of his freedom.

Thus, the Torah must tell us that our celebration of freedom and recitation of the Haggadah can only occur at the choosing of the Torah when the elements of the seder are expressed and demonstrated.

This gives rise to another question: why do we need the seder to express freedom?  Why is the mitzvah of “Hachodesh hazeh Lachem” not sufficient to express it? Let me suggest the following:

The expression of Cherut on Rosh Chodesh lacks an important component which describes the Jewish sense of freedom.  Freedom for Jews is not only the sense that they do not feel oppressed by an external force, but they must also possess the sense that they are different and separate as a people from the world around them and from all other nations in the world.  They must live in the world guided by the principles and ideas that are supplied for them by the Torah. Thus, they are truly a nation who dwells alone worshipping their own God and not reckoned among the nations of the world. The experience which established this principle is the Pesach seder.

The first seder which Israel experienced was seared into their consciousness.  As they remained in their homes engaged in the celebration of the seder, God passed over their homes and killed the first born of every home in Egypt.  There was no house where there was no dead. What greater distinction could be demonstrated? Jews experienced life, while the world around them experienced death.  There could be no real freedom without God and his Torah.

Thus, when we are commanded to discuss this history with our children, the words, “because of this” are crucial.  It is only because of this, God’s providence over the Jewish people as demonstrated by the seder, that we can survive in a meaningful way as a free people.


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