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January 20, 2017 / 22 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Mah Nishtanah’

Children and the Essence of Pesach

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

The humble-natured sheep symbolic of Nissan (Aries), the first month of the year, recognizes the shepherd to be its guide, just as the Jewish people place their faith in their Shepherd, the Creator of the universe.

With humility of spirit and purity of soul, we celebrate the birth of our nation and the awesome miracles by which we were redeemed from the abyss of bitter enslavement. The historic epic of our Exodus from Egypt is most significant in that it defines our identity as a people. Yetzias Mitzrayim is our insignia, the stamp that proves our special link with our Creator – a remembrance that we evoke every Shabbos and holiday.

Children are encouraged to stay awake and play an active role in the Seder – a night when all heavenly barriers dissolve to allow a splendiferous divine light to shine down upon God’s beloved nation. The young ones who remain alert and awake reap the enormous benefit of this supernal light that connects us to our Father above.

The elaborate system that guides the Seder (literally “order”) in its magnificence is geared as a lesson in living color – mainly for children – that has been handed down from generation to generation.

Why are children inspired by the Pesach service to ask Mah Nishtanah (“Why is this night different “)? Shouldn’t they be at least as curious of our Sukkos holiday, when we leave the comfort of our homes to feast in a makeshift abode that strong winds threaten to blow asunder at any time – and yet no questions are asked?

Simply, our children are acclimated to our daily struggles. What most are not accustomed to viewing in our midst is a lavishly bedecked table glittering with our best silverware, the comfortable chaise laid out for the patriarch – the king at our soiree – and the pervading atmosphere of luxurious liberty. Hence, the four questions.

It is a mitzvah for children to ask the Mah Nishtanah of their father and for him to answer their questions. The heads of households repeat the Mah Nishtanah, likewise performing the mitzvah of asking their Father the four questions, equally anticipating His answer.

Once at the Belzer Rebbe’s Seder table the youngest child had fallen asleep. When little Yehoshua awoke much later, he began to wail inconsolably. His father, the Sar Shalom, took the sobbing child in his lap. Contemplating his son’s sad demeanor, he commented, “The child is right to be upset. He was not awake for Eliyahu HaNavi’s visit.” The Belzer Rebbe called on those at the table to return to the verse recited to welcome the prophet – after which the child promptly calmed down and ceased his crying.

* * *

Those born under the sign of Aries are stubborn and often reluctant to accept defeat. Lucky for them, they have a way of coming out on top in most situations.

The Aries nature is a lively and playful one and harbors a natural optimism.

* * *

Reb Pesach, the father of the eminent Reb Zvi Elimelech of Dinov, would leave his family for the winter in order to earn a livelihood by hiring himself out as a melamed (children’s teacher) to another family in a distant hamlet. He would work until erev Pesach, at which time he would receive his accumulated wages before returning home in time for the holiday.

It so happened that R. Pesach once worked for a miser who would turn away anyone appearing at his door seeking alms. Unable to bear watching this scene repeatedly unfold, R. Pesach offered his employer money from his own earnings, to be deducted on payday. When the day of reckoning arrived, a calculation revealed that the teacher had forfeited his entire earnings and then some.

The kindly melamed hardly looked forward to facing his wife with the news since she had struggled all winter to make ends meet and feed their children. His young son Zvi Elimelech eagerly ran ahead to meet his father. The two greeted one another warmly and walked together until R. Pesach informed the child that since he would be heading to the synagogue to pray, the youngster should run on home and inform his mother of his arrival.

A man in the vicinity happened to notice some money lying on the ground where R. Pesach had just been walking. Assuming the coins had fallen from his pocket, the finder rushed to perform the mitzvah of returning lost belongings. R. Pesach’s grateful wife was relieved that her husband’s return now meant she was able to procure the necessary provisions for the holiday.

On erev Pesach Zvi Elimelech was dispatched to the marketplace to purchase some greens for the Seder. Arriving at his destination, the boy noticed other youngsters frolicking in a large wagon that had been left sitting idle. A mere child himself, Zvi Elimelech was enticed to join in the fun. But as luck would have it, the wagon driver soon returned, brandishing his whip and landing a thwack on the poor flinching boy who cried out in bewilderment, “Why are you hitting me? Have I been any naughtier than the other children?”

The driver meekly replied that if the lad would not report him to his parents, he would be handsomely rewarded. At that, he retrieved a packet from his wagon, handed it to the boy and told him to take it home.

Zvi Elimelech did as the driver bid – and what a surprise awaited them all when the package was revealed to contain numerous gold coins!

The family of R. Pesach sat around a resplendent table, along with the needy who were invited to join them. When the door was unlatched to the tune of Shefoch Chamascha, little Zvi Elimelech’s voice rang out, “Father! There is the man who gave me the packet of money!”

A glowing R. Pesach replied, “That, my son, is Eliyahu HaNavi – and as you have merited to behold him this year, you will be granted the privilege every year.”

* * *

Jewish children well versed in the custom of afikoman that concludes the Seder meal tend to have grand expectations as to how high they can reach in their bartering. Only after the “pickpocket” is assured he or she will get the coveted prize is the afikoman retrieved from its hiding place.

On one such occasion, the child who would later become the tzaddik R. Yonosson Eibeshutz stole the afikoman and informed his father that he would produce it on condition that his father buy him a new satin bekeshe (the shiny robe worn by chassidim).

With no alternative in sight, the father agreed and the afikoman was presented and distributed among the Seder participants – except for young Yonosson who was skipped over.

“Father, where is my piece of the afikoman?” asked the perplexed youngster, to which his father replied, “Ahh! When you will free me of my obligation to buy you the bekeshe, you will receive a part of the afikoman.” As they all prepared to bite into their last morsel of matzah for the night, Yonosson reached into his pocket and extracted his own piece of afikoman.

His surprised father asked him where he had procured his portion. The son answered, “I anticipated your reaction beforehand and provided for my need by breaking off a piece of the afikoman before returning it. Now, hopefully, I have both ”

* * *

The honest, forthright and intellectual Aries native tackles problems head-on and is not inclined to see a situation as untenable.

The amiable and quick-minded Aries has the ability to size up a situation with lightning speed and to make a determination accordingly.

* * *

A grandson of R. Shimon Sofer, the son of the Chasam Sofer, once asked his grandfather at the Seder table why the custom of afikoman was instituted as the means to keep children from falling asleep. Couldn’t the Sages have thought of a different tactic that did not involve an act of “stealing”?

R. Shimon did not immediately address the child’s curiosity but later stated that the reason for his delayed response was to teach that age-old customs must be adhered to even when their rationale is beyond our comprehension.

R. Shimon went on to explain that the Seder ritual is rife with symbolism such as that of the charoses, representing the lime mixture the Jews used to bond the bricks at the behest of the Egyptian slave drivers, and the marror, which hints at our bitter exile. And yet, though it is written that when the Jews departed Mitzrayim en masse the dogs held their tongues and not one was heard to bark, there is no allusion to that remarkable phenomenon.

“The Talmud,” expounded Reb Shimon, “advises us to inhabit a place where there are dogs, for their barking serves to deter thieves from carrying out their dishonest trade. It seems the afikoman may be the hint to the chesed that allowed us to ‘steal’ our way out of Mitzrayim unhindered.”

* * *

On the seventh day of Pesach, the loyal disciples of the Brisker Rav, the Maharil Diskin, were accompanying their rebbe home from shul.

A young girl ran up to the rav and breathlessly proclaimed that her mother had sent her to ask him a question. At the rebbe’s encouraging nod, she continued.

“My mother had asked me to add three eggs to the grated potatoes she had prepared for latkes, and by mistake I added four,” explained the child, as members of the rebbe’s entourage stifled their laughter. In answer to her question as to whether the pancakes would be edible, the Brisker Rav gently advised the girl to let her mother know the family would be able to consume the latkes “tomorrow, on acharon shel Pesach.”

The Rav explained to the puzzled onlookers that in this girl’s home there had been only three eggs until today when their chicken had laid another, which became muktza (prohibited from being used) due to the fact that it was “born” on Yom Tov. The little girl’s use of it in the mixture would render the latkes forbidden from being consumed on the holiday, but the Rambam’s ruling that the last day of Pesach is considered to be a separate order of kedusha (holiness) from the rest of the holiday allowed for the food to be eaten on the second day (of the last days).

The disciples were astonished at the Brisker’s insight, especially when they went to the trouble of verifying the circumstances that prompted the little girl’s concern and found the rav’s rendering of the incident had indeed been accurate.

* * *

The Maharal of Prague was born on the first night of Pesach. In fact, the family had been sitting at their Seder table when R. Betzalel’s wife began to feel the first stirrings of labor. Family members rushing out the door to fetch a doctor spotted a man approaching, carrying a bundle over his shoulder.

Their sudden appearance startled the person who, it turned out, was carrying a dead Christian child and had been planning to dump the body on Jewish property. Taking flight, he drew the attention of the police, who suspected him of being a thief and stopped him in his tracks. Thus the Maharal of Prague was already a savior of his people on the night he was born.

* * *

A story from the Midrash: When Pharaoh enacted his decree to have all Jewish newborn males tossed into the river, Jewish women were forced to carry their babies out into the fields in order to avert the unspeakable alternative. With desolation in their hearts and a prayer on their lips, they would leave their newborns behind – at which point angels descended to care for the young ones.

Each baby was washed and swathed in a satin cloth, a small stone placed in each of their hands from which the infants would suckle honey and milk alternately.

When the Egyptian taskmasters approached, the earth opened up to swallow the infants, who remained out of sight to be miraculously reared and nurtured until they were grown. At that time, they would emerge to be shepherded like sheep into the city by guiding angels who escorted each to his respective family’s home where they would identify themselves by name to their parents.

* * *

The Torah commandment to relate the wondrous details of our departure from Egypt – Sipur Yetzias Mitzrayim – is the only one without limitation or boundary; the more time we spend recounting the spectacular narrative, the more praiseworthy our lot.

* * *

This year, as we prepared for Seder night and the Pesach holiday, we were also privileged to take part in another observance. Birkas HaChamah (the blessing of the sun), a once-in-every-28-years event commemorating God’s superb and precise formation of the sun that had first been set in place, along with the other celestial luminaries, on the eve of the fourth day of the week of Creation.

Celebrating our Creator’s craftsmanship serves – as does the Pesach Seder – to teach our children to recognize His presence in every facet of our lives, to acknowledge and appreciate His creative works and to recognize our obligation to serve Him.

Our mandate is to impress upon our children the purpose of our earthly sojourn and to emblazon in their hearts and minds the absolute power of Hashem, whose astounding miracles in Nissan established that all of nature is divinely ruled – a fundamental message of both the Seder and Birkas HaChamah.

Rachel Weiss is a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press.

Rachel Weiss

Don’t Take The Bait – The Self-Imposed Threat (Part II)

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

        Our children have no idea how vulnerable we are as parents. And as our children grow into adulthood, most of us dream about having them around our Yom Tov table, hearing the “Mah Nishtanah” recited by our grandchildren, and listening to their brachos and words that they learned in yeshiva or day school, which makes all that tuition so worthwhile. This is our dream and any threat of losing that dream upsets us. Sometimes this threat only exists in our heads. Sometimes we are totally unaware of it. But it is this threat that often sets the stage and is the “bait” for us to do things for our children that we have promised ourselves we would never do.


         I have been a guest in friends’ homes on Yom Tov and found that I am the only one helping the exhausted mother serve and clear, as the younger people sit around the table. The mother is resentful, but says nothing and does not ask for help. They tell me they are afraid to ask. They tell me they don’t want to lose having the children with them for Yom Tov and feel that if they do not give them a “vacation” they will go to the in-laws to be given one. Then their dream of their “family around the table” will be gone.


         I have heard people say they will not take part in all the  “have to” that happens before a wedding. There is, after all, the absolute must to present the kallah with a human hair sheitel costing from hundreds-to-thousands of dollars. There is the gift at the time of engagement, which I am told must be nice – but not as expensive as the gift presented in the yichud room, the magnificent bouquet for the vort, the pearls, and of course the engagement ring itself. There is the vort itself, the weekday and Shabbos tallis, the gold watch and/or cufflinks for the engagement gift, the gift in the yichud room and a nice Shas.


         What about parents who can’t afford this, or parents who feel it’s just too much? Our rabbeim have set guidelines for weddings, but I have yet to hear of guidelines for all the extra expectations. I have also seen many parents that still give in to the pressure to “come across” and fulfill these expectations when the time comes. For many parents, the fear of losing their children “to the other side” that might give them more, compels them to participate.


         And what of a family in which there is chronic illness? The parents are so pleased that there is a shidduch, despite the illness, that they are often too intimidated (even if only in their own heads) to raise any objections to the demands – or let’s call them expectations or even wishes – of the couple.


         And so, we continue to perpetuate the very behavior we complain about. Can we blame our children for behaving in a manner that we have repeatedly taught them and accepted from them? Our own vulnerability has made us give to our children in ways we may not want to and often can ill afford. Our own vulnerability has kept us from asking for help and participation so that everyone, even the mother of the house, can enjoy the Yom Tov more. And so, we continue totake the bait” whether in the form of a direct threat or one we have decided exists – even if only in our own minds.


         We need to have more faith in our children and their love for us. We also need to realize that in-laws have the same desires as we do and are entitled to equal nachas. Our children will behave as we have taught them. If we continue to expect less participation from our adult children at a Yom Tov meal, than we did from them when they were children – well, that is what they will give us. If we want them to have a vacation at our home, they will feel entitled to one. They will not automatically know how difficult Yom Tov can be or how expensive simchahs are unless we tell them or allow them to experience it on their own.


         If we allow ourselves to be disabled by our fears of how they will react to our limits, we are dooming our children to a life as “takers” without them ever realizing they are expecting and taking too much. If we do not teach them to think and respect our needs, they will not know how to teach their children to do the same. And so, the problem will perpetuate – and the fault will be ours.


         You can reach me at annnovick@hotmail.com.

Ann Novick

Q & A: The Mitzva Of Maggid

Wednesday, April 28th, 2004
QUESTION: Does a katan (minor) exempt the father or leader of the Seder from having to recite the Mah Nishtanah? The father could continue with Avadim hayyinu, as stated in the Shulchan Aruch (473:7, Hilchot Pesach). The poskim bring proof from Tractate Pesachim (116a), where R. Nachman continued with Avadim hayyinu, as did Abaye and Rava. I put this question to my grandfather, Reb Beryl Ackerman, and he responded that in the margin of the Shulchan Aruch the Chatam Sofer quotes Rambam, who states that the reader of the Haggadah must repeat the Mah Nishtanah. His Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Binyomin Paler, understands Rambam to mean that since a child is not a bar chiyyuva, the father must repeat the Mah Nishtanah, and the cases cited in the Talmud do not deal with a minor. In light of the above, why do certain poskim such as the Mishna Berura state that he does not have to repeat the Mah Nishtanah?
Pinchus Cynamon
Bais Medrash of Flatbush
ANSWER: Indeed, the Mechaber (Orach Chayyim 273:7) states as follows: “We pour the second cup immediately so that the children ask, ‘Why do we drink a cup [of wine] before the meal?’ If the son lacks sufficient intelligence, his father teaches him; if he has no son then his wife asks him; if he has no wife then he himself asks; even two scholars ask one another the Mah Nistanah.” The Rema notes, “If the son or wife asks, there is no need to repeat the Mah Nishtanah and we continue with Avadim hayyinu, etc.” The Mishna Berura ad loc. adds that where there are two scholars and one asks the other, there is no further need to repeat the Mah Nishtanah, and we continue with Avadim hayyinu.We find that even though the Rema states that there is no need to repeat, and the Mishna Berura further includes that rule for all cases, there are many whose custom it is to repeat the questions.

Let us now examine the procedure for the Seder on Pesach to help clarify the source of this particular mitzva.

We read in the Torah (Exodus 13:8) as follows: “Ve’higad’ta le[b]incha bayom hahu le’mor, ba’avur zeh asah Hashem li betzeiti mimitzrayim – You shall tell your son on that day, saying, ‘It is on account of that which Hashem did for me when I left Egypt.'” Rambam lists this precept in Sefer Hamitzvot as the mitzva of “sippur yetziat mitzrayim – relating about the exodus from Egypt,” a positive commandment (Mitzva 157).

Rashi ad loc., citing the Mechilta, sees this as a hint to the answer one gives the wicked son: Hashem did it for me, but had you been there, you would have been unworthy of redemption. Rashi is actually citing the Jerusalem Talmud (Pesachim 10:4), a text source for our Haggadah [which differs somewhat from the text in our Haggadah], which states as follows, “R. Chiya learned in a baraita that the Torah speaks of four sons: one who is wise, one who is wicked, one who is foolish, and one who does not know what to ask.”

The Pnei Moshe in his commentary ad loc. explains that we find in the Torah four times a “haggadah,” lit. a telling, of a father to a son. The Gemara now explains to us why we refer to four sons.

The first verse we refer to concerns the wise son, who asks (Deuteronomy 6:20), “Ki yish’alcha [b]incha machar lemor, Mah ha’edot vehachukim asher tziva Hashem Elokeinu et’chem – When your son asks you tomorrow, saying, What are the testimonies, the decrees and the ordinances that Hashem our G-d commanded you?”

Pnei Moshe notes that the verse concludes with “commanded you,” but the Gemara quotes it as “commanded us.” He explains that in so doing the wise son manifests his wisdom because he does not wish to utter the words “commanded you,” for these words, on the face of it, appear to exclude him. Additionally, even though the verse states “commanded you,” he still prefaces his words with “Hashem our G-d,” unlike the wicked son who makes no mention of Hashem.

Therefore we answer him, pursuant to the verse in Exodus (13:14), “Bechozek yad hotzianu Hashem mimitzrayim mibeit avadim – With a strong hand Hashem brought us out of Egypt, from the house of bondage.”

The Gemara continues, “The wicked son, what does he say (Exodus 12:26)? ‘Mah ha’avoda hazot lachem – What is this service to you?'” The Gemara explains this to mean, “What is the great effort that you expend each and every year?” Since he has excluded himself from the community, you must tell him (Exodus 13:8), “… Ba’avur zeh asah Hashem li… – It is on account of that which Hashem did for me.” For me it was done, but for the wicked son it was not done, for had he been in Egypt, he would never have been worthy of redemption.

The Gemara then states, “The foolish son, what does he ask (Exodus 13:14)? “… Mah zot … – … What is this…- Therefore you must teach him the laws of the paschal offering ? that one may not partake of the afikoman after the paschal lamb [i.e., one may not leave his chabura (group) that partakes of the Korban Pesach, and subsequently join another group].”

Finally, the Gemara concludes with “the son who does not know what to ask.” Upon reviewing the four verses that we have repeated numerous times in relation to those questions, one verse, the one we cited originally (Exodus 13:8), lacks the preface of a question. Therefore you initiate the query. R. Yosah quotes the Mishna (Pesachim 116a; Jerusalem Talmud Pesachim 10:4) that if the son lacks the intelligence to inquire, his father teaches him.

It appears from all of the above that a main element of the Haggadah is the instruction of the children, who should be encouraged to make inquiries.

The Mishna Berura (Orach Chayyim 473, cited at the outset) is essentially explaining the Shulchan Aruch and the Rema ad loc., who in turn are codifying the law based on the Gemara (Pesachim 116a), which states as follows, “We learned in a baraita: if the son is intelligent he asks [the father], if the son lacks intelligence, his wife asks him, and if [he has no wife] he himself asks, and even two scholars who are well versed in the laws of Pesach ask one another.”

The Rema deduces from this Gemara – and the Mishna Berura rules accordingly – that in the event the son or wife asks the Mah Nishtanah, the father continues with Avadim hayyinu and there is no need for him to repeat the questions of the Mah Nishtanah.

The Chatam Sofer, whom your grandfather quotes as found in the margins of the Shulchan Aruch, cites Rambam (Hilchot Chametz U’Matza 8:2), who states: “… We pour the second cup [of wine] and the son asks [the Mah Nishtanah], and then the Reader says Mah Nishtanah, etc.”

The Chatam Sofer notes that this text of Rambam appears to be at odds with what we conclude from the Gemara, upon which the Rema and the Mishna Berura seem to base their ruling. The Chatam Sofer leaves this question unanswered, which only further confounds us in regard to this matter.

In attempting to answer your question, we must establish where the actual “haggada” begins, i.e., the requirement of “maggid,” according to our texts.

The Gaon R. Yehuda Loew, zt”l, known as the Maharal of Prague, prefaces the recitation of “maggid” in his Haggadah with the following: “Hineni muchan u’mezuman…” lit. “I am prepared and ready” to fulfill the obligation of the commandment to recount the deliverance from Egypt, as the verse states (Deuteronomy 6:20), “Ki yish’alcha [b]incha… – When your son will ask you tomorrow, saying, ‘What are these testimonies, statutes and laws that Hashem our G-d has commanded you?’ you shall answer ‘Avadim hayyinu…’ – We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and Hashem took us out of Egypt with a strong arm.”

The Maharal continues with “Leshem yichud… For the sake of the unification of the Holy One, blessed be He, and His presence, through Him who is hidden and inscrutable, I pray in the name of all Israel. May the pleasantness of the L-rd our G-d be upon us. May He establish our handiwork for us; our handiwork may He establish.”

In this text of “Hineni muchan” we see that the mitzva of the Seder night is dependent on the she’ela (“Ki yish’alcha [b]incha”), the question of the son.

Thus, it seems that according to the Maharal, the Haggadah begins at Mah Nishtanah, the questions. Yet we see that “Hineni muchan” is immediately followed by “Ha lachma anya,” lit. “This is the bread of affliction.” The Divrei Negidim commentary (Maharal Haggadah ad loc.) explains that the Sages (Pesachim 114a, Mishna) enacted that matza be a staple of the Seder. In the Gemara (115b) Shmuel, based on the verse in (Deuteronomy 16:3), “Shiv’at yamim tochal alav matzot lechem oni… ? Seven days shall you eat because of it unleavened bread of affliction…” explains that lechem oni, the bread of affliction, is “lechem oneh,” the bread [which] answers (oneh) many questions. Thus, this is the appropriate place for us to commence the recitation of the Haggadah.

Similarly, we find in the early authority Kol Bo that the Haggadah starts from “Ha lachma anya.”

The Satmar Rebbe, Admor R. Joel Teitelbaum, zt”l, in his Haggadah “Divrei Yoel,” disputes the text of “Hineni muchan” of the Maharal, who bases his opinion on the verse “Ki yish’alcha” (Deuteronomy 6:20). He states that “Hineni muchan” is based on the verse at the beginning of Parashat Bo (Exodus 10:2), “U’lema’an tesapper be’oznei [b]incha u'[b]en bincha … – So that you may relate to your son and your son’s son…” This verse indicates that no question is meant to preface the father’s statement.

Possibly, when Rambam in his Sefer Hamitzvot (which we cited at the outset) refers to this as the mitzva of sippur (relating), he derives it from this verse as opposed to the verse “Ve’higad’ta – You shall tell” (Exodus 13:8) which he quotes in his Mishneh Torah. It should be noted that the Sefer Hachinuch, which lists sippur yetziat mitzrayim as Mitzva 21, also derives it from the verse “Ve’higad’ta le[b]incha,” as does Rambam in his Mishneh Torah.

Notwithstanding the above, we can understand the Satmar Rebbe’s reasoning when he explains that the entire purpose of man is to fear Hashem and to propagate further generations who will also fear Hashem, as we find in Genesis (18:19), “Ki yeda’tiv lema’an asher yetzaveh et banav ve’et beito acharav veshamru derech Hashem… – For I know him (Abraham) that he will command his children and his household after him that they keep the way of Hashem….” Thus, the entire process of sippur yetziat mitzrayim is that they should be aware of the miracles and wonders that were performed and thus know that “I am Hashem.”

This may be a hint that the actual mitzva of “maggid” first begins at “Avadim hayyinu,” which starts the narrative of the great miracles and wonders that led to our exit from Egypt.

Indeed, Hagaon R. Shmuel HaKohen Burstein, zt”l, of Sha’tava, Ukraine, the grandfather of our good friend, colleague, and columnist, HaRav J. Simcha Cohen, explains in his Ma’adanei Shemuel on Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (Hilchot Pesach) that the entire obligation of the Seder is for the father to explain to the children the great wonders and miracles that Hashem wrought for us. Thus he stresses that it is important that it be explained in a language that they can comprehend. From here, too, we see that the essence of maggid starts at “Avadim hayyinu.”

Additionally, if we consult the Shulchan Aruch HaRav (473:43, Hilchot Pesach) we see that he states openly that “the essential text” of the Haggadah (“maggid”) which our Sages enacted as a requirement for all is from the beginning of “Avadim hayyinu” (the view of the sage Shmuel, Pesachim 116a).

We further find that the Gaon R. Moshe Sternbuch in his responsa Teshuvot VeHanhagot” (Orach Chayyim 236) cites the following in the name of the Brisker Rav, R. Chaim Soloveichik, zt”l: “The essential requirement of the son is that he ask ‘Why is this night different?’ He need not ask the four questions. Therefore, as the Sages say, we return the ke’ara (the Seder Plate) and we distribute parched stalks of grain (to the children) in order that the child be moved to ask. In fact, this is what Rambam states, ‘Here the son asks, and then the reader [father] says Mah Nishtanah etc. [all four questions].'”

The Gaon R. Chaim explains that the son simply asks about the difference of this night, but the adult (gadol) asks all the four questions so that the Haggadah will be in the style of an answer to a question, for this is the essence of sippur yetziat mitzrayim.

On the other hand, if the child did indeed ask all four questions, it would seem that according to the Rema, as interpreted by the Mishna Berura, there is no need for the adult to ask the questions, and one can proceed to the main mitzva of sippur yetziat mitzrayim.

I was very fortunate to find a similar explanation in the Haggadah Kol Dodi (p. 104) by the Gaon R. Dovid Feinstein, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem, which we now quote:

“If one’s child or wife asked the Mah Nishtanah, the one who has been asked need not himself recite it… (Rema, ibid.)

“We note two implications: (a) Only when asked by his child or wife is the leader of the Seder exempt from reciting the Mah Nishtanah, but not if the questions are asked by another participant. (b) All other participants at the Seder must say the Mah Nishtanah regardless of who asked [the questions] out loud to the leader. However, [the] Mishnah Berurah (ibid. 473:70) interprets Rema to mean that the one questioned need not recite the Mah Nishtanah, regardless of who asked it.

“It seems to me, though, that when the questions are asked by a child or other unlearned persons, the narrative of the Haggadah is literally a response to the questions, so that there is no need for the questions to be repeated. But if the participants of the Seder are scholars who know the Haggadah, the recitation of the Four Questions is in order not to tamper with the Haggadah’s text. If so, the participants, including the leader, must also adhere to the text and repeat the Mah Nishtanah, for the mitzvah does not consist of teaching unknown facts to the questioner. Since the participants, too, do not fulfill the mitzvah of answering the questions and informing the questioner, they, too, must recite the Four Questions. From this practice, that the participants repeat the questions, the custom developed that even the leader repeats the questions.”

On the other hand, the Gaon R. Paler, zt”l, whom your dear Zeide cited, probably was following the opinion of R. Chaim Brisker which we previously cited, who says that the gadol (which might be read as the bar chiyyuva, the one who is obligated in mitzvot) asks the questions. Yet I am sure that even he would agree that the mitzva of “Ve’higad’ta le[b]incha” does not precisely require that the child be a gadol, a bar chiyyuva, to exempt the father from asking the questions. Rather, a child or any other unlearned person who asks the questions prompts the response which is the Haggadah, namely, the mitzva of maggid, as the Gaon R. Dovid Feinstein states. But he also adds that it has become the custom for the leader to repeat the questions.

Rabbi Yaakov Klass

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/ask-the-rabbi/q-a-the-mitzva-of-maggid/2004/04/28/

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