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Question: What constitutes the actual Haggadah, the mitzvah to retell the story of our slavery in Egypt and how Hashem redeemed us and delivered us from there? Also, if the head of household reads the Haggadah to the assembled, has he discharged their obligation?

Yosef Slomovicz
Via email

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Synopsis: We noted that there is a mitzvah incumbent upon every Jew to retell [Haggadah] the story of our deliverance from the bondage of Egypt. We discussed divergent views regarding Mah Nishtanah, the opening query that prompts the tale that is the Haggadah. Some are of the opinion that once the question is asked, there is no need for any to repeat the query but all go straight to the Haggadah’s response, Avadim Hayyinu. Others require repeating the Mah Nishtanah. In the Jerusalem Talmud (Pesachim 10:4) we are taught that the four sons and the four questions, and how we respond to each of them, are all based on verses in the Torah. Rema and Mishna Berurah express the former view based on the above-referenced Gemara, and thus no need to repeat Mah Nishtanah. Chatam Sofer notes that Rambam expresses the latter view, which is clearly at odds with the Gemara.

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Answer: In attempting to resolve this difficulty, we must establish where the actual “Haggadah” begins, i.e., the requirement or mitzvah of “Maggid – to relate,” according to our texts.

The Gaon Rabbi 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 (Deut. 6:20), “Ki yish’alcha vincha… 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 it be that 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 mitzvah of the Seder night is dependent on the question of the son.

Thus, it seems that according to the Maharal, that the Haggadah begins at Mah Nishtanah, the questions. Yet we see that “Hineni muchan” is immediately followed by the interjection of another matter, a reference to the matzah that is set before us on the table, “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 matzah be a staple of the Seder. The Gemara (115b) Shmuel, based on the verse, “Seven days shall you eat because of it unleavened bread of affliction…” (Deut. 16:3), 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 Rabbi 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.” He states that “Hineni muchan” is based on the verse at the beginning of Parashat Bo (Exodus 10:2), “… 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 mitzvah of sippur, to relate, 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 Mitzvah 21, also derives it from the verse “Ve’higad’ta l’vincha,” 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), “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 [the children of Israel] should be aware of the miracles and wonders that were performed [by Hashem on their behalf] and thus “know” that “I am Hashem.”

(We might add that knowing something, as it relates to human comprehension, is even greater in many ways than believing, a higher level one reaches only as he/she comes to put his complete trust in Hashem. Here, on the other hand, the mitzvah is clearly, as the Satmar Rebbe adds, that they know that “I am Hashem.” The reference here is back in the Torah portion of Bo (Exodus 8:6; 18) both clear statements of “knowing” as a result of open miracles clear for all to see.)

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

To be continued…

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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.