The Haggadah makes a sweeping statement: “V’afilu kulanu chachamim, kulanu nevonim, kulanu zekeinim, kulanu yodim es haTorah, mitzvah alenu l’saper b’yetzias Miztrayim – Even if we were all wise, all understanding, all elderly, all knowledgeable of the Torah, it’s still a commandment to tell the story of the Exodus.”
But why? If we all know why Ha Lachma Anya is written in Aramaic, and if we all know the answers to the Four Questions, and if there are only elderly people at the Seder so that there aren’t any youngsters to introduce its ideas to, why do we have to repeat the story yet again?
There are multiple answers to this question. First, the Rambam and Ritva explain that the Haggadah is really a shir of hoda’ah, a song of thanks to Hashem. After all, Pesach is the anniversary of the Jewish people; if we hadn’t been taken out of Egypt, we would still be a lowly Semitic people.
So the Seder is not just an educational and intellectual experience; it’s also a unique opportunity to say thank you together with our loved ones to Hashem for the fact that He chose us as His nation and gave us His wonderful mitzvos.
That’s why Ashkenazim wear a kittel – a garment usually reserved for prayer – during the Seder. That’s also why the Haggadah is said over a cup of wine, for song is said over wine as per the statement “Kos yeshuas esa u’vesheim Hashem ekra – The cup of salvation I raise and in the name of Hashem I call out.” Member of certain chasidic groups even wear a tallis during the Seder.
Another reason why we must conduct a Seder even if we’re very wise and knowledgeable is because it’s an integral component of the mitzvah of matzah. Matzah is called lechem oni, which literally means poor man’s bread. Indeed, at Yachatz we break a matzah to mimic the habit of a poor man who usually only has one piece of bread and saves some of it for later. But the Gemara informs us that lechem oni also has another meaning: “lechem she’onin alov devarim harbeh – bread upon which we answer many questions.” Thus, in order for the matzah to be complete, we need to have a question-and-answer session about the Exodus.
The Seder also helps us fulfill the unique mitzvah of “chayav adam liros es atzmo k’ilu hu yotza m’Mitzrayim” – of using one’s imagination to picture oneself actually leaving Egypt. One of the reasons we drink four cups of wine on the Seder night is actually to help us accomplish this task (since alcohol has an intoxicating effect). Saying the narrative of the Exodus serves the same purpose – it helps us imagine the experience.
The Seder also helps us make our knowledge part of our instinctive behavior and very being as per the words of Aleinu, “V’yodata hayom v’hasheivosa el levovecha – You should know today and bring it to your heart.”
We annually review lessons such as the importance of remembering that we are only visitors in foreign lands to make them part of our very persona. As the baalei Mussar have taught us, to make something a natural part of yourself, you must repeat it over and over again for constant repetition helps get a theme into one’s very bones.
Finally, Rav Chaim Pulagi writes that the Haggadah was composed by Rabbi Akiva; as such, it’s part of the Oral Law about which we know “ein cheiker lisvunoso – there is no end to its understanding.” So even if we were very wise and knowledgeable, we would still be able to glean new insights every year at the Seder. As the great Rav Yecheskel Saran says in Hagadas Chevron, “Every time we open the Haggadah, we can discover new lessons.”
May it be the will of Hashem that this year’s Seder be a multi-faceted and wonderful experience for everyone, and may Hashem bless us with a chag kosher v’sameach, long life, good health, and everything wonderful.