Recognition and Rejoicing on Pesach

Should we not continually praise Hashem for the miracles He has done for our ancestors, since that good continues to affect our lives? Looking back at the Seder.

Rabbanit Shira Smiles,

Young women study Torah
Young women study Torah
Flash 90

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

            An integral part of the Haggadah is the recitation of Hallel comprised of five paragraphs from Psalms. The Hallel begins with the introductory paragraph,”Therefore it is our duty to thank, praise… from slavery to freedom, from sadness to joy, from mourning to festivity, from darkness to great light. Let us/We will therefore recite a new song before Him, Hallelukah.” Immediately following, we recite the first two paragraphs of the Hallel/Praise. This section then concludes with the final words of the blessing, “Go’al Yisroel/Who has redeemed Israel.” We continue the Seder with the Matzah, the bitter herbs, and the festive meal, and conclude with the last three paragraphs of Hallel and Nirtzah/Accept [our observance].

            What are we praising Hashem for? According to the GR”A, all five paragraphs refer to the redemption from Egypt. But that would leave us with the question of the future-sounding “Let us/we will… sing a new song.” Rav Bernstein offers a related interpretation that explains the future tense. Rabbi Bernstein claims that although our redemption from each exile is based on our original redemption from Egypt, each paragraph of the Hallel refers to a different exile. Hence, we will sing a new song of praise after our final redemption from our current exile. In our introductory paragraph, each phrase echos terminology used in reference to our other exiles. Perhaps most easily recognizable of these references is mei’eivel leyom tov/from mourning to festivity as recorded in Megillat Esther of Purim just passed.

            Rabbi Mirsky raises additional relevant questions. How is this Hallel a new song? Is it not from previous generations? And if the miracle of Pesach is the source for all future redemptive miracles for our people, why not recite Al Hanisim on Pesach as we do on Chanukah and Purim? Further, the Seder is the major way we fulfill the positive command of vehigadita levincha/you shall tell [the story of Passover] to your children; why do we not recite the blessing asher kiddishanu bemitzvatov/He has sanctified us with His mitzvoth prior to the Seder as we do for other positive commandments, from washing hands to lighting Shabbat and yom tov candles?

            First, Rabbi Goldwicht explains, that indeed the song praising Hashem is as old as the closure of our Egyptian redemption a the Red Sea, and there is a variation to our liturgy that does grammatically change our singing to the past tense. However, we are now reliving that experience and we will now sing the song of praise to our Savior. 

            Perhaps we can connect our “new song” to a different “new” at the onset of our enslavement. Rabbi Eliyahu Roth zt”l  notes that our Torah records that “a new king arose in Egypt who did not know Yosef.” This “not knowing” is the source of Pharaoh’s evil. It is impossible that he did not know of Yosef who had saved Egypt and had made Egypt so powerful. However, Pharaoh was unwilling to concede any power to another. After all, he considered himself a god. The seed of evil is born of an ungrateful attitude, of believing that the “I” is all important and no one else matters. Contrast this attitude with that of Moshe, the humblest of all men, who would not damage inanimate objects from which he had benefited, like the Nile upon which his infant basket was set, or the sand in which he covered the Egyptian he had killed. Aaron, not Moses would initiate the plagues from these sources. Our relationship to Hashem is based on such profound gratitude that we want to fulfill all His mitzvoth with joy and praise.

            The very first Dibra/Utterance of the Ten Commandments solidifies the connection between gratitude and mitzvah observance, notes the Sefas Emes, Rabbi Friedlander. In that first Utterance, Hashem identifies Himself as the One Who has taken us out of Egypt. In the Haggadah, the story of our deliverance continues, after a brief introduction, with the passage the Jewish pilgrims/farmers recited as they offered their first fruit to the priest on Shavuot. That passage, although it mentions descending to Egypt, says nothing overtly of our redemption. Yet by offering these first fruit to the Temple, the Jew is acknowledging that just as the redemption from Egypt came directly from Hashem, so do these fruit and all our food come directly from Hashem, and therefore/lefichoch I must be grateful to Him for everything. In fact, notes Rabbi Baum in Lilah Kayom Yair, if by the end of the Seder we have not come to the conclusion that we need to thank Hashem for all the good He has done for us, we have not properly understood the Seder. It was through the exodus that we received the gift of nationhood, and as we received nationhood as a gift rather than as something we earned, so must we realize that all we have is also a gift, that we are not entitled to anything on our own, and therefore we must be grateful.

            Matzah is the food of humility, continues Rabbi Baum. It is the response to the serpent who enticed Eve with the thought of being a god like God. By eating the matzah we show that we are not filled with the hot air of ego. Therefore we begin with the negative, that we ourselves are nothing, and we conclude with the positive, with Hashem and all the gifts He bestows upon us. For each of these gifts, Dayenu/it would be sufficient cause for us to thank You. How much more so must we thank Hashem for each good thing He has done for us from taking us out of Egypt, for saving us at the Red Sea, for bringing us to Har Sinai, for the Torah, Shabbat, and the Beit Hamikdosh. Gratitude brings with it joy. Recognize the emotional aspect of this night.

            As we begin this part of the Seder and give thanks to Hashem and express our joy, we lift up our cup of salvation. The salvation is not just that of our ancestors, but our own personal salvation as well. With our gratitude, we transform ourselves as well, writes Rav Biederman, and must thank Hashem for our salvation as well.

            Rav Schwadron asks an interesting question. If the entire Seder is about giving thanks, why do we need to include specific passages of Hallel? Shouldn’t the Seder itself fulfill the obligation of Hallel as the reading of the Megillah does on Purim? However, there exists a major difference between the two ceremonies. On Purim, we remember the miracle of our salvation, but on Pesach we re-enter the narrow circumstances of Mitzrayim, we re-experience the enslavement anew, and as such, we must sing a new song of praise for our current redemption. Because this is a new, personal experience, on the night of Pesach, women too are obligated to recite Hallel, writes Rabbi Goldwicht in Asufat Maarachot. We recite half the Hallel in recognition of our salvation from the historical Mitzrayim, but we divide the Hallel to give ourselves a chance to reach the emotional state of gratitude required for our personal experience of redemption. Therefore, adds Rav Biederman in Be’er Chaim, the brachah for the Seder is at the completion of the Seder instead of preceding the mitzvah of the Seder because until we have experienced and acknowledged our own salvation, we have not completed the process of becoming fully Jewish.

            Rav Kosbeh in Vayomer Yehudah relates story about Rav Chaim of Volozhin. Whenever Reb Chaim would pass a certain river in his town, he would stop and recite the blessing of He Who had performed a miracle for him at this place. Eventually, his disciples asked about the miracle. The miracle was neither recent nor for him personally. It involved the mother of the Vilna Gaon, his Rebbe, whose mother was saved from drowning as an infant when a bridge collapsed on this spot. Reb Chaim felt that if she had died, the GR”A would not have been born, and who would he himself have become without his Rebbe’s guidance. Similarly, we need to recognize that if our forefathers had not been taken out of the culture of Egypt, even if they had physically survived, where and what would we be now? Reb Chaim would have been born. It was not his mother who was saved, but his life would have undoubtedly taken a different path. It is our obligation as human being to recognize this chessed that Hashem did for us and recite a blessing even without being commanded to do so.

             Great people recognize how the good of previous generations still affects them. Should we not continually praise Hashem for the miracles He has done for our ancestors, since that good continues to affect our lives?

            Rabbi Pruzansky discusses the power of giving thanks to Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Using the ideas of Rabbi Pincus zt”l, Rabbi Pruzansky notes that giving thanks to Hakodosh Boruch Hu opens the gates for more blessings to flow down from heaven, and as such, writes the Yalkut Lekach Tov, it should be an inspiring, joyous song, not rote recitation. When we sing with our children around the Seder Table, we are reminded of the Leviim singing with their children in the Beis Hamikdosh, notes the Belzer Haggadah.

            We remember that our song at the Seder is divided. The first half deals with our redemption from Egypt and therefore appropriately follows and become an integral part of Maggid. Our song at that part of the Seder is a song of the past.  By putting ourselves in a joyous mood, we are ready to perform the other mitzvoth of matzah and marror with love. But later we sing of our current experiences, and for this salvation we will raise our voices in song.

            Because song emanates from the heart, we recite no brachah on it as we do on mitzvoth that require action, like lulav or candle lighting, writes Rabbi Frand. It’s now a new song based on my current experience. It flows spontaneously, naturally, a reaction to the love I feel for Hashem Who has bestowed all this goodness upon me. In this respect, the entire Seder is a song, and all the empty spaces on the parchment represent the emotion that I cannot express in words. At the Seder, and each day, I continue to sing a new song for the new and continuing chessed Hashem does for me personally and for Bnei Yisroel as a nation. And we will sing the greatest song at the final redemption, may we soon sing it together.






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