By Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss
The annual holy narrative of the Pesach Seder is a multi-faceted experience with which we should familiarize ourselves so that we can get the most out of this rarified opportunity. The Haggadah makes a sweeping statement, “V’afilu kulonu chachamim, kulonu nevonim, kulonu zekeinim, kulonu yodim es haTorah, mitzvas alenu l’saper b’yetzias Mitrayim – Even if we were all wise, all people of understanding, all elderly, veterans of this experience, and all knowledgeable of the Torah, it is still a commandment to tell the story of the Exodus.” This obviously begs the question: If we all know why the paragraph of Ha Lachma Anya is in Aramaic, and what is the answer to the Four Questions, and what does V’Hi She’amda stand for, and there are only oldsters at the seder so there are no youngsters to introduce its ideas to, why do we have to re-hash it again? The answers to this question shed light on the different angles of the seder experience.
The Rambam and the Ritva explain that the Haggadah is really a Shir of Hodaah, a Song of Thanks to Hashem. After all, Pesach is the anniversary of the Jewish people and as we express, if we weren’t taken out then we would still be a lowly Semitic people until this day. On this level, the Haggadah is not an experience of intellectual prowess nor an educational opportunity, but rather an eloquent chance to say thank you together with our loved ones to Hashem for the fact that He chose us for His nation and gave us His wonderful mitzvos. This explains why Ashkenazim wear the kittel, a garment usually reserved for prayer, during the seder. It also explains why the Hagaddah is said over the second cup of wine, for song is said over a goblet of wine as it says, “Kos yeshuas esa uv’Sheim Hashem ekra – The cup of salvation I raise and in the name of Hashem I call out.” Likewise, certain Chasidic groups even wear a tallis during the seder.
A completely different element of the seder narrative is that it is an integral component of the mitzvah of matzah. For, the matzah is called lechem oni, which literally means poor man’s bread. It is for this reason that at the announcement of “Yachatz!” we break the matzah, for a poor man usually has only a piece and saves some of that for later. But, the Gemora also informs us that lechem oni has another meaning: Lechem she’onin alov devorim harbeh – Bread upon which we answer many questions.” Thus, in order for the matzah to be complete, we have to have a question and answer session about the Exodus.
Yet, another facet of the telling of the Exodus is to aid in the fulfillment of the unique mitzvah of the seder night, Chiyov odom liros es atzmo k’ilu hu yotza m’Mitzrayim, that one is required on the night of the seder to use one’s imagination to mentally visualize as if they were now actually leaving Egypt. Indeed, this is one of the reasons why we drink the four cups of wine (except of course for those who cannot do so because of health issues) for the slight intoxicating effect of the alcohol helps us to achieve this artificial sense of newfound freedom. And, in order to help us experience this imaginative rescue, we must say the narrative of the Exodus, although we are familiar with it, to help us to relive the experience once again.
Another important element of the Haggadah experience is to further accomplish the goal of taking what we know intellectually and making it a part of our very instinctive behavior and our very being. This is the aim of what we say in Aleinu, “V’yodata hayom v’hasheivosa el levovecha – You should know today and bring it to your heart.” Such lessons, like Yaakov insisting on always remaining a visitor in Egypt which we know intellectually is the correct behavior, we review from year to year in order to remind ourselves that we too are only visitors in America. And, although we know this intellectually, to make it a part of our very persona, we need to repeat it from year to year. As the Baalei Mussar have taught us the way to make something a natural part of you is to review the idea over and over again, for constant repetition helps to get a theme into our very bones.
Finally, there is another important pursuit at the sedar. Rev Chaim Pulagi, Zt”l, Zy”a, writes that the Haggadah was written by Rabbi Akiva. As such, it is part of the Oral Law and there applies to it the rule of, “Ein cheiker lisvunoso – There is no end to its understanding.” As such, even if we were all wise and knowledgeable of the Torah, every year we can find many new lessons in the Haggadah. As the great Rav Yecheskal Saran says in the Hagadas Chevron, “Every time we open the Haggadah we can discover new lessons.”
May it be the will of Hashem that this year’s sedar opportunity should be indeed a multi-faceted and wonderful experience for ourselves and our families, and in this merit may Hashem bless us with a chag kosher v’sameicha, and with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.
Please learn and daven for the refuah sheleima of Miriam Liba bas Devorah, b’soch shaar cholei Yisroel.
Sheldon Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’s articles.
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