Splitting the song: Hallel, Nishmat and Shirat Hayam

This article talks about Hallel read in two parts at the Seder, and said while skipping two parts after the first day of the holiday, but it also deals with Shirat Hayam, the song at the splitting of the Reed Sea, said on the last day.

Rabbanit Shira Smiles, | updated: 15:37

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Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

The words signifying the order of the Seder are well known. We begin with Kadesh/Sanctifying the Seder night over wine, continuing with another eleven or thirteen (depending on whether some segments are combined or separated) and ending with Nirtzah/Acceptance (of our Seder).

In the entire order, there is only one segment that is split, that seems to begin before its designated and announced time, being interrupted by the meal and Birkat Hamazon/Grace After Meals, and then resuming. This is Hallel, the recitation of praises for Hashem. This anomaly is very strange, as Hallel is not supposed to be divided. Further, if it is divided, why not proclaim its order where it begins, prior to the festive meal, instead of afterward? Our final question for today is, we generally precede the Hallel with a blessing; why do we not do so during the Seder?

If we examine the formal contents of the Haggadah, we would realize that the Haggadah itself seems to be divided into two sections, notes the Levush.  The first half of the Seder, the part referred to as Maggid/Telling of the story, deals explicitly with our redemption from Egypt. The first two paragraphs of Hallel, those recited before our meal, speak directly to the exodus and praise Hashem for redeeming us from the servitude of Egypt to become His servants, a time when all nature witnessed Hashem’s presence, from the Sea that fled to the mountains that danced like lambs. In this context, writes Rabbi Mendelowitz, those passages of Hallel are a continuation of Maggid itself, rather than a new segment of the Seder. In contrast, immediately after our meal and Birkat Hamazon, we no longer focus on the past, but rather on the present and on the future. We begin by asking Hashem to pour out His wrath upon the nations who do not know Him. From there we segue into Hallel that connects us to God today and prays for our future salvation.

The Haggadah Rosh Hayeshivah points out that we are supposed to view ourselves as if we personally were redeemed from Egypt. When we can integrate that experience into our own psyches, then it is only natural that we would want to sing praises to Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

Rabbi Frand emphasizes this point by explaining the seeming contradiction in the verse introducing the Song of the Sea. The verse states,”Then Moshe and Bnei Yisroel will sing this song...” While they will sing in the future, “this song” refers to a song of the past.

Rabbi Frand explains that Moshe, witnessing the miracles at the splitting of the Sea, was so emotionally moved that his heart rose up in song. Song is an emotional response, a reaction of the heart. While every mitzvah that requires action, such as eating matzoh, is preceded by a blessing, mitzvoth that are sourced in emotion are not. [Do we recite a blessing when we feel an outpouring of love for Hashem, fulfilling the mitzvah of “Ve'ahavta et Hashem Elokecha? We may bless Hashem for the event that triggered this love, but we do not bless Hashem for fulfilling this mitzvah. CKS] Similarly, since we are hopefully imagining ourselves being redeemed from Egypt, our hearts are overflowing with song and praise of Hakodosh Boruch Hu, and just as the Jews sang at the Reed Sea, we are moved to sing Hallel. But we recite no blessing over the Haggadah at the Seder, since it is really an emotional expression.

In a somewhat contrasting but related vein, Rabbi Leib Minzeberg z”l in his Haggadah in Ben Melech writes that our redemption from Egypt is not a one time occurrence of thousands of years ago, but is the forerunner to Hashem’s keeping His promise to our forefathers Vehi she’amda, that He would always be with us and save us. That promise has been kept throughout the millennia of our history, as in every generation there arose those who would annihilate us, but, just as Hashem saved us in that first exile in Egypt, so has He stood by us, and will continue to protect us and preserve us forever. Therefore Lefichach we have the obligation to thank Him and praise Him for that first redemption that proved to be only the first of many.  And we feel that redemption not just in our national history, but also in our personal lives. As we review the year in our minds, we recognize Hashem’s guiding hand in so many ways. We become emotional and want to sing a new song to Hashem.

This is indeed the entire purpose of the Seder, to bring us closer to Hashem on a personal level, to see His loving hand in our lives so that we want to serve Him, writes Rabbi Kluger in Beni Bechori Yisroel. Rabbi Kluger here cites a medrash in the Yerushalmi that relates that on the night of the death of the firstborn, Pharaoh screamed, “Until now you were servants to Pharaoh; now you are servants to Hashem.” Immediately, Bnei Yisroel sang out, “Hallelu avdei Hashem/ Praise [Him] those who serve Hashem.” At the Seder, we are re-experiencing this night and are again moved to be grateful for being Hashem’s servants and singing our gratitude. Therefore, we do not recite a blessing, writes Rabbi Frand, for it is not a commemoration of past miracles, as when we recite Hallel on other occasions and holidays, but a song of gratitude for the present.

To further this idea, R. Mirsky notes that we only say full Hallel on the first day[s] of Pesach, not on chol Hamoed, or on the seventh day.  The reason, we know is that since the Egyptians drowned it is inappropriate for us to say a full Hallel.  If we only say part of Hallel on the seventh day, it is only correct on Chol Hamoed to follow suit.  However, if we don’t say full Hallel when others are suffering, how do we understand saying full Hallel at the seder when the first born died?!  It is for this reason, some offer, that we spill a bit of our wine from our cups when saying the Makot, to recall the suffering of others, and we can’t full rejoice. R. Mirsky, however makes the distinction that we are allowed to say a full Hallel only if we personally experienced the salvation. The seventh day of Pesach we are recalling what happened to the Jews at the Red Sea; at the Seder we are singing about what happened to us!

This point seems to be the basis for a disagreement between Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai. On this night of the Seder, when we are re-experiencing the exodus, can we sing the passages of Hallel that refer to the exodus before midnight, when we were not yet redeemed until midnight, asks Beis Shammai? But Beis Hillel reasons that Pesach is a celebration of our personal redemption throughout the year, and we connect that to the national redemption that defines our identity. Further, when we relate the story of leaving Egypt, even through the Hallel of the Seder, it should be recited when there is matzoh and marror before us, before we consume them. The later part of Halle lrecited after the meal has no mention of Egypt, and we can thank Hashem for helping us overcome our personal challenges.

There is no mandated ritual of how to say Hallel at the Seder. There is not even a brachah preceding it. Since it is  meant to be an emotional outpouring of love for Hakodosh Boruch Hu, some people sit while others stand, and some may be moved to get up and dance.

In an interesting discussion that parallels our discussion of a divided Hallel, the Shvilei Pinchas posits that the entire Seder is actually divided in two. Based on the work of the Ramban, he writes that the first half of the Seder provides the lesson for the second half. In the first half of the Haggadah, we see all the open miracles Hashem performed for us, how He changed nature to bring on the plagues and redeem us from Egypt. But that God Who can change nature is also the same God Who controls every aspect of nature. The functioning of the world, of our very existence, are really miraculous manifestations of Hashem’s sovereignty hidden in the normal functioning of nature. Therefore, in the second half of Hallel, we thank Hashem Who releases us from all our foes, and Who provides food for all living things.

We conclude the Hallel with Nishmat kol chai...The soul of every living thing shall bless Your Name. We have moved the Seder from being purely historical to being personal, to seeing God’s kindness in everything, adds Rabbi Mattisyahu Salomon. At this point, we may certainly feel moved to thank Hashem for all the blessings in our lives, to thank Hashem for our children who may be cranky and fighting each other if they’re still awake, for our livelihood albeit it may be stressful, for having the home we obsessed over cleaning before Pesach.

When we appreciate all that we have to praise and thank Hashem for, we will move more slowly through Hallel because we will want to express our sense of gratitude and joy, adds Rabbi Pincus z”l. The Seder should move us to pure joy in being able to serve Hashem Who constantly maintains the world through His hidden miracles and loving kindness.

Interestingly, Imrei Emes z”l sees the meal not as a divider of the Haggadah, but rather as an integral, unifying element of the Seder. The meal itself is an expression of gratitude, and it is therefore sandwiched between the two formal parts of Hallel.  R. Tzadok Hakohen z”l notes that food itself contains sparks of the Divine, and thus enables us to survive. When we bless the food or discuss Torah at the table, we elevate the food. Shabbos and Yom Tov imbue the food with further sanctity, and when we make a special brachah over a special food, such as over matzoh and marror, they receive even further sanctity. By ingesting this food, we are ingesting the sanctity within it. When we eat the matzoh, we are vicariously ingesting the korban Pesach, and we are inspired to sing Hallel.

Since this is the case, it is important to maintain a sense of sanctity during the meal, reminds us Rabbi Schorr in Halekach Vehalebuv. The meal is the appropriate time to offer commentary and discussion on the Haggadah, or otherwise to personalize the lessons of Pesach. Indeed, every moment of the seudah/meal is part of our prayers and our Hallel rather than just an ordinary meal, writes Rabbi Biederman in Be’er Chaim.

Ordinarily, when one eats, one loosens one’s belt, but the korban Pesach, Pascal sacrifice, was to be eaten with a girded, tied belt. It is not a time to slack off, but to continue the praises of Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

The sanctity of this meal brings with it the scent of Gan Eden, continues Halekach Vehalebuv . It was on the night of Pesach that Yaakov brought the tasty food to his father Yitzchak and received the blessings. Upon Yaakov’s entry, Yitzchak smelled the scent of Gan Eden upon him. On that same night of Pesach, when we come before our Father, that same scent of Gan Eden accompanies us, and the food carries within it the aroma of Gan Eden. When we eat the matzah, we should sense the taste of Gan Eden and sense Hashem’s presence.

Taking this idea one step further, Rabbi Meislish in Sichot Ba’Avodat Hashem imagines our Seder meal as a meal of the future, with Hashem sitting at the head of the table. Through this meal we should see ourselves as offering the ketoret/incense offering to Hashem. The ketoret had the ability to vanquish our enemies, and therefore immediately after the meal we ask Hashem Shefoch Chamoscha…Pour out your anger on our enemies. Our main enemy is within ourselves, our yetzer horo/evil inclination. Hashem, pour out your wrath upon the yetzer horo so that it will hold no sway over me, we ask. Help me be redeemed from its clutches.

In a poignant observation, Rabbi Pincus z”l notes that the Hallel is not the only thing that is divided during the Seder. The matzoh too is broken. Perhaps, like the broken glass under the wedding canopy, these broken symbols are also meant to remind us that our redemption is not complete, that we still find ourselves in a state of exile, and therefore we cannot sing the full Hallel. That will be done when Moshiach comes and we experience our final redemption may it be speedily, in our day.





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