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Q & A: ‘Its Reading Is Its Praise’

QUESTION: On Purim we read the Megilla but do not recite Hallel, unlike other holidays. I am told that the Talmud teaches that the Megilla replaces Hallel. If so, could the Passover Haggadah replace Hallel as well? (Yet we do say Hallel on Passover.) I also remember learning that there is a connection between the holidays of Purim and Passover. Please explain.

Andy Goodman
(Via e-mail)

ANSWER: Hallel is indeed said on most holidays, although not on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. The Gemara (Arachin 10a-b) states, “R. Yochanan, in the name of R. Shimon b. Yehotzadak, said that on 18 days an individual completes Hallel: On the eight days of the Festival [Sukkot], the eight days of Chanukah, the first day of Passover, and on the festival of Shavuot. In the Diaspora there are 21 days: Nine days of Sukkot, eight days of Chanukah,
the first two days of Passover, and the two days of Shavuot…'”

The Gemara explains the reasons why we only say half of Hallel on the remaining days of Pesach and do not say it at all on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. The Gemara then discusses Purim and concludes with R. Nachman’s statement, “The [Megillat Esther] reading is its praise (hallel).”

The Gemara has numerous questions in this regard, one of them being that Purim celebrates a miracle that occurred outside of the Land of Israel, and we would not normally officially sing praise in the form of Hallel for miracles that occurred outside of Israel; nevertheless, the Rambam (Hilchot Megilla veChanukah 3:6) states, “…and they (the sages) did not enact Hallel on Purim. [Why?] Because the reading of the Megilla is [Purim’s] Hallel.”

From Rambam’s statement we clearly deduce the halacha. If not for our requirement to read the Megilla, we would be obligated to say Hallel.

In response to your question regarding the reading of the Haggadah, which includes Hallel: Even had it not included Hallel, the day itself is one on which we do say Hallel. Should we not,
therefore, say, “Keriyatah zu hallelah – Its (the Haggadah’s) reading is its praise” and thus not recite Hallel?

There is a difference between the Haggadah and the Megilla. The Rambam states (ibid. 2:3), “One who reads the Megilla aloud [not looking in a written scroll] has not fulfilled his obligation.” Further on he states that just as one who read in such a manner has not fulfilled his obligation, so, too, one who heard the Megilla from one who was not reading from a written scroll has not fulfilled his obligation.

The Haggadah, on the other hand, is not a scroll required to be read. Rather, the Rambam (Hilchot Chametz U’Matzah 7:1) refers to our narrating the great miracles and wonders that were wrought by G-d for our fathers in Egypt (the text of the Haggadah is based on the Mishna and the Gemara in Pesachim ch. 10) in fulfillment of the biblical command (Exodus 13:8), “Vehigad’ta le[b]incha bayom hahu lemor, ba’avur zeh asah Hashem li betzeiti miMitzrayim – You shall tell your son on that day, saying, [This is done] because of that (the miracles) which G-d wrought for me when I departed from Egypt.”

Moreover, we recite the Haggadah at night only, while the Megilla must be read at night and then again on the day (Megilla 4b). Thus, because one reads it by night and then again by day,
according to the rule of “its reading is its Hallel,” the reasoning is that there is no further obligation to say Hallel.

However, when it comes to the Haggadah we do not read it by day at all and thus we can assume that Hallel is required by day. At night Hallel is incorporated in the text of the Haggadah. We might suggest that this is so since we do not find that the reading of the Haggadah itself is considered like Hallel. Hallel was added to the text of the Haggadah not only for the expressions of praise but also for the awe at the great miracles and wonders performed on our behalf.

As for connections between Purim and Passover, the Gemara (Megilla 15a), in explaining the verse (Esther 4:17), “Vaya’avor Mordechai vaya’as kechol asher tzi’veta alav Esther – Mordechai left (lit. passed, went over) and did all that Esther (the queen) had commanded him,” notes that Mordechai spent the first day of Passover fasting. Rashi ad. loc. s.v. “Yom tov rishon shel Pesach” explains – citing the Megilla – that on the thirteenth of Nissan (the day before Passover) the royal writs authorizing the annihilation of the Jewish people were written and the edict was distributed in the capital city of Shushan (Esther 3:12). Thus, on the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth of Nissan (the first three days of Passover), the Jews fasted. On the sixteenth Haman was hanged.

The Vilna Gaon (Perush HaGra on Megillat Esther) explains the words, “Vaya’avor Mordechai” to mean “She’avar Mordechai” – that Mordechai violated Jewish law and fasted on the first day of Passover, not eating matzah and maror as required.

The Gaon also refers us to the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 8:7) which explains the verse (Esther 4:15-16), “Vatomer Esther lehashiv el Mordechai, Lech kenos et kol hayehudim… – Esther said to send (the following command) to Mordechai, Go gather all the Jews who are in Shushan and fast for me (for the success of my mission) and do not eat or drink for three days.” The Vilna Gaon explain that this refers to the thirteenth through the fifteenth of Nissan (note the difference according to Rashi, who described the fast as taking place from the fourteenth through the sixteenth).

Mordechai responded to Esther, “Is the first day of Passover not among these (which would mean not eating matzah and maror at the seder)?” Esther responded, “Sage of Israel, what is Passover?”

Etz Yosef (ad. loc.) explains this last comment. Esther’s message was, “To whom was the mitzva of Passover given? Only to the nation of Israel, and if, Heaven forbid, the nation of Israel is annihilated, what will be with Passover?” Mordechai immediately understood her implication and agreed.

Thus we see that the crucial final events that foiled Haman’s wicked plan of total annihilation of the Jewish nation and brought about his own ultimate demise, as recorded in the Megilla, actually occurred on Passover.

Interestingly, R. Joseph Grossman, zt”l (Otzar Erchei HaYahadut, p. 142) explains that originally, according to the Rishonim, the Ba’alei HaHaggadah (the authors of the Haggadah,
that is, the Men of the Great Assembly), when mandating the retelling of the story of our deliverance from Egypt recited every year at the seder in fulfillment of the biblical requirement of Vehigad’ta le[b]incha, allowed that this be done by each person according to his own understanding. Eventually, Anshei Knesset HaGedolah (the Men of the Great Assembly) enacted a set text based on the Gemara, selected midrashim, and piyutim.

The set text, which is what we use today, includes the following statement: “Ve’he she’amda la’avoteinu velanu, shelo echad bilvad amad aleinu lechaloteinu; ella, she’bechol dor va’dor omdim aleinu lechaloteinu, veHakadosh Baruch Hu matzileinu miyadam… – It is this that has stood by our fathers and us; for not only one has risen against us to annihilate us, but in every generation they rise against us to annihilate us. But the Holy One, Blessed be He, rescues us from their hand…” (This is the translation of ArtScroll’s Haggadah).

In the Haggadah Migdal Eder, by R. Israel Miller (Vilna, 1892), we find the commentary Gevul Binyamin by R. Benjamin HaKohen, zt”l, who poses a query. He points out that it would have sufficed to say that Hakadosh Baruch Hu saves us. Why was it necessary to say that He saves us “from their hand”?

R. HaKohen explains that just as Moses, the redeemer of Israel, was saved from the water and brought up in the house of Pharaoh, literally by, or at the hand of the enemy, so does G-d do in every generation. Haman gave the advice to Ahasuerus to remove Vashti and to replace her, with the result that Esther was instrumental in (playing her part in the miracle) causing the king to order the execution of Haman.

Therefore we see that the Jewish people were saved at Haman’s hand, that is, through the effects of his actions.

Thus the theme of our deliverance on Passover is in actuality the same as the deliverance that occurred on Purim. No matter how and when our enemies try to destroy us, Hashem, to whom we turn for salvation, will always save us, possibly even at the hand of the enemy.

About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.

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