Sunday, 17 March 2013

Seder Night Guide 2 (The Mitzvot of Seder Night)

There are 4 main mitzvot that the Torah directly obligates us to do on Seder Night:

1.      Korban Pesach: eating the Passover sacrifice
2.      Eating Matza
3.      Eating Maror
4.      Telling the story of the Exodus to children

The only one of these that we are unable to fulfil is the Korban Pesach since there is no Beit Hamikdash and instead we place a shank bone on the Seder plate as a reminder (although Maror is now considered a rabbinic mitzvah). In addition to this, the Rabbis enacted further obligations including four cups of wine, charoset, karpas, leaning to the left and reciting Hallel.

The Mitzvah of telling the story (Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim)

The mitzvah of telling the story to the Exodus is unique to Seder night. We do have a mitzvah to remember the Exodus every day, which we fulfil by saying Shema. However on Seder night there is a specific mitzvah to tell children what happened. The story of the five Rabbis in the Haggadah shows us that this mitzvah is not quantifiable, since the more one tells, the more praiseworthy one is. The Maggid section facilitates our performance of this Mitzvah. After starting with an invitation to the poor (Ha lachma anya) and getting children’s attention (Ma Nishtana), we discuss our obligation of telling the story, where the story starts and finally, the story itself. The Mishna in Pesachim 10:4 says that one should “start [the Seder] in disgrace and end with praise” and the Maggid section allows us to go through this process of becoming free through reliving the story. Once we have done this, we ‘end with praise’ and move on to the more celebratory parts of the Seder.

The Mitzvot of Matza and Maror

There is an argument in the Gemara in Pesachim 115a between the Sages and Hillel as to how to eat the Pesach, Matza and Maror. The Sages held that they should be eaten separately and Hillel would eat them together, schwarma style. This explains the next stage of the Seder:

Rachtza and Motzi are different names for what we do at every Shabbat and Yom Tov meal – wash with a bracha and eat two loaves of bread/matza. At this point we add in an extra bracha to denote the Seder-specific mitzvah of eating matza. Maror requires a bracha to denote the special obligation to eat it on Seder night, however the regular ‘ha’adama’ bracha for eating a vegetable is covered by the earlier bracha on the karpas.

Immediately after this, we aim to fulfil Hillel’s opinion through korech, eating matza and maror together. Following this, we eat our Yom Tov meal and bentsch, as well as completing the cycle of slavery-freedom by finding and eating the Afikoman.


By this point in the Haggada, we have been redeemed from slavery. We have eaten a celebratory meal and fulfilled the mitzvot so the obvious next step is to praise Hashem for this through saying Hallel. This is unique because it is the only time we say Hallel in our homes and not as part of a minyan, and it is the only time of year we say it at night. Whereas our regular recitation of Hallel in Shul is a thanksgiving for a miracle that occurred in the past, this is a ‘spontaneous’ singing of Hallel due to the fact that we have just experienced redemption from Egypt. This is a wonderful example of how the guidelines of Seder night allow us to transcend the boundaries of time and place through physical actions and words said around a family table. Following Hallel, we conclude the Seder with a collection of songs and praises, as well as the ultimate hope of ‘next year in Jerusalem’.

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