Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Hallel at the Seder

When we think about Pesach, our minds often turn to the special foods and traditions associated with it, such as Matzah, Maror and four cups of wine. We are well-prepared for these additions to our regular Yom Tov meal as we go through the Haggadah. However we are often surprised that in the middle of our Seder we find Hallel as a section. This is very strange, and we will see that there is a fundamental difference between the Hallel at our Seder and any other Hallel. Normally, the following rules apply to Hallel:
  1. It is said in Shul.
  2. It is part of Shacharit, following the Amidah repetition.
  3. It starts and ends with a bracha, and one is not allowed to interrupt its recitation 
The Hallel in our Seder seems to break all three rules:

  1. It is said at home around the table.
  2. It is said in the evening and is not part of tefilla.
  3. It is split into two sections, with the opening two paragraphs at the end of Maggid and the rest said after Birkat Hamazon.

Understanding the reason for this will help us to better appreciate what we go through on Seder night. There are two types of Hallel – the first is said in commemoration of a miracle, which we are familiar with saying, such as on the morning of festivals or Rosh Chodesh. The second is a spontaneous Hallel, which is said in immediate thanks for what Hashem is currently doing to the Jewish people. This Hallel does not happen often but when it does, is not bound in the same strict rules as the commemorative form of Hallel, simply because what you are doing is ‘live’!

The Hallel we say at our Seder is a spontaneous expression of thanks to Hashem for redeeming us on this night from Egypt. We ourselves have gone out of Egypt, so the natural instinct is to sing Hallel and thank Hashem for saving us. However this still does not explain why we split Hallel into two parts, one before the meal and one after.

The answer to this is that uniquely for Pesach, our praise to Hashem is not solely expressed through the words of tefilla. On Seder night, our eating of a meal is also part of the way we express our thanks to Hashem, since we are eating to commemorate the Korban Pesach meal, which was one of the most fundamental mitzvot. Therefore on Seder night our meal is part of Hallel since on this night we elevate our physical bodies to be able to express our feelings towards Hashem in a way normally reserved for our spiritual souls and the words we say. Although we no longer have a Korban Pesach, the Hallel at our Seder helps us relive the notion of what korbanot tried to achieve, namely that the ultimate way in which we thank Hashem is through a combination of mind, body and soul – a complete service, which can be done from the comfort of our own homes.

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