We learn that the retelling of the Exodus must follow a dialogue format. The Mah Nishtanah expresses this. But we wonder why this must be. Our obligation to teach our students and children Torah all year need not follow a dialogue format. What is it about the retelling of the Exodus – the Haggadah – that requires dialogue? And what more does dialogue accomplish, than monologues or lectures?
Why must this dialogue be accomplished through a discussion starting with our degraded state (as idolaters and slaves) and concluding with our praise as a freed people following God? As long as all information is imparted to the child, what would be lost of we arrange the order as we wish?
We also note a unique statement, “For all who increase in retelling the Exodus are praiseworthy”. Why aren’t those who increase in Torah study also considered “praiseworthy”? It is also strange that this statement actually forms part of the Haggadah’s text. But there is a hint: that Haggadic section says, “Even if we were all wise, all of us understanding, all of us elders, all of us knowing the Torah…it is a Mitzvah upon us to retell the Exodus. For all who increase in retelling the Exodus are praiseworthy.” What do these “even ifs” come to add to our Haggadah?
The obligation to retell the Exodus is derived from this verse: “And you shall tell your son saying, ‘Because of this did God perform for me, when I left Egypt”. (Exod. 13:8) Also derived from this verse is the obligation for each of us to view ourselves as if we exited Egypt.” (Tal. Pesachim 116b) This is derived from, “Because of this did God perform for “me”, when “I” left Egypt.” The verse speaks in the first person. What aspect of Haggadah demands we view ourselves as having personally left Egypt? And is it a coincidence that this obligation is derived from the very same verse that teaches our obligation to teach our sons?
Lastly, why does the Haggadah conclude with Hallel?
Want is significant about Charoses – mortar?
“And they embittered (vayi’Maroru) their lives with harsh labor, with mortar and with brick making…” (Exod. 1:14) We see how in this verse, God joined embittered (Maror) with mortar. Charoses embodies the real phenomenon we experienced; the mortar pits. We didn’t eat bitter herbs in Egypt during our stay, nor were such herbs the cause of our bitterness. But we are commanded in the bitter herbs since “imagining” the pain of our forefathers is not experiential and does not impact us, as much as real sensations. So Maror is necessary to experience some pain. Perhaps Rav Elazar bar Tzadok taught that the mortar (Charoses) requires a blessing, as it was the true, historical phenomenon experienced back then. He felt mortar must be raised to the level of Maror through its own blessing. The fact is, the verse quoted above teaching how Egypt embittered us, also refers to mortar. Mortar and Maror are integrally tied. “And they embittered their lives with harsh labor, with mortar and with brick making…” The mention of mortar in a verse is license to require a blessing. However, greater gratitude is evoked when we can contrast the suffering to the redemption: the greater our sensation now (eating bitter herbs) the greater will be our gratitude. Perhaps this explains why the Torah law requires Maror, and not mortar, Charoses.
But both Maror and Charoses serve to offer us today an “experience”. We must literally sense the bitterness by eating Maror, and we must view the Charoses in memory of the mortar.
Retelling the Exodus is not a matter or “learning”. That is not the goal. For if it was, then if we were all wise, we might dispense with this law. However, as acquisition of wisdom is NOT the objective, the obligation to retell the Exodus is incumbent upon everyone. What is the obligation?
This is the theme of Passover night. We recount the story of the Exodus to evoke feelings of gratitude for the Creator. This is the main concept on Passover…the holiday of God’s redemption. It matters none that we know the story inside out. For Haggadah is not to engage us in an act of “Torah study”. Rather, it is as we said: we are to perform many actions to engender feelings of gratitude. Therefore a dialogue format is unnecessary when teaching Torah, but required when reciting the Haggadah. Torah study and teaching deal with intellectual truths, whereas Haggadah deals with evoking gratitude.
“And you shall tell your son saying, ‘Because of this did God perform for me, when I left Egypt”. This verse requires we act upon matters, but with a singular objective: 1) the father must teach the son, and 2) he also must view himself as having left Egypt. But both are subsumed under the objective of “Gratitude”.
As my friend Shalom said, by teaching the son, the father offers the child the best chance of sensing gratitude for God, as children follow their parents more than anyone else. Furthermore, the dialogue format engages the child to a far greater degree than lecturing or a monologue. The child is personally involved in the discussion. This is why we remove the Seder Plate and dip twice…to evoke curiosity in the children. Secondly, the father must also view himself as having been freed, thereby evoking his own gratitude. It is perfect that both requirements are found in this single verse, as they share the same objective: father and son must feel gratitude towards God for the Exodus. And many other Torah commands function to do this as well. Think about how often we read “Zecher l’Yitzias Mitzrayim”, “A remembrance to the Exodus”. It is insufficient that such a great act as the Exodus is recalled only one time yearly. Sabbath too is a remembrance of the Exodus, as our ability to rest when we wish is a direct result of our having been freed. (Maimonides’ Guide, book ii, chap. xxxi) We observe Sabbath each week. And many other laws too recall the Exodus.
Acknowledging the Exodus is of paramount status. For this reason, the very next verse (Exod. 13:9) requires us to don Tefillin daily. Tefillin encase these two sections concluding Parshas Bo: the redeeming of firstborns in memory of the final plague that freed us, as all Egypt chased us out, fearing that they too might die. The “Yad Chazakah” mentioned in this verse refers to God’s “mighty hand” in delivering such an amazing and completely inexplicable plague. Yad Chazakah – “mighty hand” – refers to the idea that God is strong, while “others” are not. Death of the firstborns revealed God as the only power in the universe. This plague rejected the notion of idolatry, as Egypt’s lifeless gods could not defend themselves or the Egyptians. This is why we also include the Shema in Tefillin. Shema describes God as “One”, while redeeming firstborn recounts when God “judged the Egyptian gods”, reducing them to dust. (Rashi, Exod. 12:12) Tefillin embody a single idea that God is one, and all other deities as seen in Egypt, are imposters. They could not save the firstborns, nor could the idols prevent God’s destruction of their forms.
Regarding Yad Chazakah, “strength” is a relative term, and here, it is stated in stark contrast to the Egyptian fallacy that idols were powerful. What an awesome and mighty plague Firstborns was. How do only those who were born first, suddenly fall dead, and simultaneously? No biological law explains this.
It is quite fitting that the Exodus is brought about through the destruction of the firstborns and the Egyptian gods. For the 10 Plagues had as one of its core objectives the establishment of monotheism and the rejection of idolatry. And when Moses commands the Jews in Tefillin, he is informing them of another fundamental: “you are freed so as to accept God”. Tefillin must be immediately commanded at the freedom of the Jews. They must understand for what they were freed.
“For all who increase in retelling the Exodus are praiseworthy.”
The expression of gratitude for some good we receive is greatly reduced, if we can describe this gratitude one moment, and then in another, switch topics of conversation. But a sustained discussion on God’s deliverance from Egypt enhances the very gratitude. We are more impressed with the “person” unable to stop describing the goodness he received via the Exodus. The sincerity and feelings of thanks expressed by such an individual imbues all listeners with a higher evaluation of the Exodus. It is to this, I believe, what the accolade “praiseworthy” refers. One is “praiseworthy” when his retelling of the Exodus results in listeners becoming awed by God’s miracles and redemption. And this is accomplished by one who goes on and on about that extraordinary history.
Additionally, since the theme of the night is gratitude, one’s continue description of the Exodus is an act of gratitude, explaining why such a person is praiseworthy.
We now also understand why we commence with our degradation as slaves. For when we end with our status as a freed nation, our gratitude is greater due to this contrast. We then recite Hallel as an expression of this gratitude.
Why don’t we have many mitzvahs that are “remembrances of creation”, just as many are “remembrances of the Exodus”? The reason is that man might increase his allegiance to God and His commands. God wants the best for man, so God offers us a chance to realign ourselves with His Torah by causing us to reflect on His kindness. This same God who freed us, also gave us a Torah 50 days later. Both acts must be for man’s well-being. “I am God, I do not change”. (Malachi 3:6)
So as we recount all those amazing miracles this Passover, we are recalling God’s kindness, which should imbue us with the realization that His Torah too is for our good. Through the laws pf Passover, God helps generate in each of us a sense of gratitude, in order that we might find following Torah – what is best – all that easier when we first start down that path. Eventually, we need no incentives to study and practice Torah, as the study itself and the Mitzvahs become things difficult to part with due to the amazing insights included in all areas.
God needs nothing, and nothing from man. All He does, all His commands and the deep ideas conveyed through them, is in order that man might enjoy the best life here, and grant his soul eternal life in that most happiest, ultimate state. But the only way to attain an eternal existence where we enjoy that purely spiritual state is if while here on Earth, we learn to enjoy wisdom through continued Torah study.