Rabbi Bernie Fox




Two Themes of the Seder

This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt.  Let all who are hungry come and eat.  Let all who so require come and join in the Pesach meal.  Now, we are here.  Next year, may we be in the Land of Israel.  Now, we are servants.  Next year, may we be free people.  (Hagadah of Pesach)


1. Ha Lachma Anya – Its components and context

The Seder begins with the recitation of Kiddush.  The Kiddush is not unique to the Seder night. Every Shabbat and Yom Tov is introduced with Kiddush.  We continue the Seder by washing our hands and then dipping a vegetable into saltwater and eating it.  This process is unique to the Seder night and is specifically designed to stand out, draw attention, and evoke questions.  The Seder focuses upon the children and its objective is to involve them in learning about our redemption from Egypt.  We can only succeed in teaching our children once we evoke their curiosity and engage their minds.  We intentionally adopt this unusual activity of dipping and eating a vegetable to initiate the learning process by seizing our children’s attention. 

The Seder continues with Yachatz – the breaking of the middle of three matzot that are on the table.[1]   Ha Lachma Anya – the short paragraph above – is recited immediately after breaking the matzah.[2]  The paragraph contains three elements[3]:


          1.  It begins by describing the matzah as the bread eaten by our ancestors during their bondage.

          2.  It includes an invitation to others to join in our meal. 

          3.  It closes with an affirmation of our conviction in the coming of the Messiah.  The Messiah will come             and we will be a free people in the Land of Israel.


The relevance of the first of these three elements is easily grasped.  In Yachatz we divided the middle matzah into two parts.  The first component of Ha Lachma Anya provides an explanation for this step of the Seder.  Why do we perform Yachatz?  Rav Yosef Dov Solovaitchik Z”l offers a simple explanation for this practice.  The Torah refers to matzah as “lechem oni.” [4]  The Talmud offers various interpretations of this phrase.  One interpretation is based upon the traditional pronunciation of the phrase.  Translated on this basis the term means bread over which we recite.  We are required to recite the Hagadah over the matzah.  An alternative interpretation is based upon the spelling of the phrase.  If the phrased is pronounced exactly as spelled, it would be read “lechem ani” which means bread of affliction or impoverished bread.  The matzah is a form of bread that reflects poverty and suffering.  It is hastily baked and composed of simple ingredients.  However, the Talmud adds that our ancestors rarely had the opportunity to eat a full matzah.  Instead, they sufficed with a portion of a matzah.[5]   Yachatz reflects both of these interpretations.  As we prepare to recite the Hagadah over the matzot – the lechem oni, we break the matzah so that it will more accurately reflect lechem ani – bread of affliction and poverty that our ancestors ate in Egypt.  In other words, we initiate the matzot into their role as bread used in our recital of the Hagadah by rendering the matzot into a perfect simulation of the fractured bread of poverty and affliction that our ancestors ate in Egypt.[6]  

The first element of Ha Lachma Anya explains the significance of Yachatz.  We state that with the breaking of the matzah, it now perfectly represents the bread of affliction and poverty that our ancestors ate in their bondage. 



2. Pesach and our longing for the redemption

The final element of the Ha Lachma Anya is an expression of our confident expectation of redemption and our return to the Land of Israel.  Why is this sentiment expressed at this point in the Seder?  Some have suggested that this sentence is added as an expression of a halachah that was established by the Sages after the destruction of the first Temple.  Maimonides discusses this law in the final chapter of his Laws of Fasts.  He explains that after the Churban – the destruction of the First Temple – the Sages established a number of observances designed to draw our attention to our loss.  Many of the observances share a common design.  They moderate or in some way qualify our happiness on joyous occasions. In this manner, we are reminded at times of happiness that our joy cannot be complete as long as we remain in Exile and the Temple is in ruins. One of the practices established by the Sages is placing ashes on the head of the chatan – the groom – at his wedding.  Another of these practices is that when entertaining guests at a meal, we are required to introduce an element that qualifies and diminishes the celebration.  We leave out some component from the meal or we leave one place at the table unset.[7]   Some have suggested that our reference in Ha Lachma Anya to our longing for and anticipation of our return to the Land of Israel is an expression of this halachah.  According to this interpretation, this sentence is not uniquely relevant to the Seder; it is a sentiment that should be expressed at every festive or festival meal.  However, these other festive meals do not have a text associated with them.  Only the Seder has a text.  Therefore, at other festive meals, we must express our inconsolable disappointment with our continued exile through another method – those discussed by Maimonides.[8] 

This explanation is not unreasonable.  However, it ignores the context of the sentence.  Were this sentence in Ha Lachma Anya the sole mention of our longing for redemption, this explanation would be more plausible.  However, even a cursory examination of the Hagadah indicates that this is a basic and recurrent theme of the Seder.  In fact, the Seder shifts its focus between two redemptions – our redemption from Egypt and our awaited redemption from our current exile. 


3. The two redemptions in the Blessing of Ga’al Yisrael

At the end of the Magid – the portion of the Hagadah that retells the story of the exodus – we recite the blessing of Ga’al Yisrael – Redemption.  In this berachah we begin by thanking Hashem for redeeming us from Egypt.  We acknowledge that we now celebrate the Seder as a result of this redemption.  We, then, express our wish to soon be able to celebrate the festivals in the rebuilt Holy Temple. 

This reference to two redemptions – our historic redemption from Egypt and our anticipated redemption from our current exile – is reflected in our recital of Hallel at the Seder.  We recite the first two paragraphs of the Hallel before the meal and recite the balance of the Hallel after the meal.  The interruption of the Hallel between the first two paragraphs and the remaining paragraphs is not arbitrary, but instead, reflects the different themes of these two parts of the Hallel.  The first two paragraphs of the Hallel are composed entirely of praise and thanksgiving.  These paragraphs relate to our redemption from Egypt.  The second portion of the Hallel that is recited after the meal also contains praise and thanksgiving.  However, an element of petition is also present. This portion of the Hallel deals with our anticipated, final redemption and return to the Land of Israel.  We petition Hashem to deliver us from our exile and restore our people.[9]  Like the blessing of Ga’al Yisrael, the Hallel deals with two redemptions – our redemption from Egypt and our coming redemption.

So, it is not surprising that the Ha Lachma Anya introduces the Seder by expressing our prayers for our ultimate redemption.  But how is the celebration of Pesach related to the Messianic era?  What is the exact relationship?


4. The Pesach redemption is completed by the Messianic Era

There are two basic approaches to understanding the relationship between Pesach and the final redemption.  The first is that the redemption from Egypt was incomplete; it lacked finality.  We are again in exile.  Our affirmation of the approach of the Messianic Era and our petition to Hashem to hasten the Messiah’s coming express our longing for the completion of the drama that began with our redemption from Egypt.  This explanation is consistent with the formulation of the blessing of Ga’al Yisrael.  We begin the blessing thanking Hashem for our redemption.  Then, we implicitly acknowledge that this redemption is incomplete.  We cannot serve Hashem in the Bait HaMikdash – the Holy Temple.  We pray that Hashem rebuild the Temple so we can serve Him more perfectly and completely.

The Talmud asserts that just as we were redeemed from Egypt in the month of Nisan, our current exile will end in Nisan.[10]   What is the message communicated to us through both redemptions occurring in the same month?  The apparent message is that the final redemption is the completion of the first.  Their shared month communicates to us that the awaited redemption is the continuation of a process that began in the month of Nisan long ago.

At the Seder we drink four cups of wine.  These four cups correspond with the four expressions of redemption that Hashem employed in describing to Moshe the approaching deliverance of Bnai Yisrael from Egypt.  Hashem told Moshe that He would “take out” the people, “save” them, “redeem” them, and “take” them to Himself as His nation.[11],[12]   However, it is customary among Ashkenazim to pour a fifth cup of wine which we do not drink.  This custom seems difficult to understand.  The fifth cup is clearly different from the others; we do not drink it.[13]   What is the meaning of this cup and how can its ambiguous nature be explained? 

This fifth cup is commonly referred to as the “Cup of Eliyahu.”[14]   It corresponds with a fifth expression of redemption which Hashem used to describe our rescue from Egypt.  He told Moshe that He would “bring” us to the Land of Israel.[15]  The incorporation of this fifth cup alerts us that there is an expression of redemption in addition to the four represented by the four cups we drink.  However, this final expression of redemption is different than the first four.[16]   It awaits Eliyahu whom the Prophet Malachi tells us will be the harbinger of the approach of the Messiah.[17]   This cup is poured but we do not drink it.  It refers to a final step of the redemption that we confidently await but which we cannot yet celebrate through drinking its cup. 

In conclusion, there are many indications that the Seder calls upon us to recognize that our redemption is not complete and we still await its conclusion with the coming of the Messiah.  However, this insight does not seem to explain the affirmation of the Messianic Era at the opening of the Seder in the Ha Lachma Anya.  This interpretation only explains our mentioning of the Messianic Era after recalling our redemption from Egypt.  We are asking Hashem to complete the redemption.  But in Ha Lachma Anya we express our longing for the Messiah’s arrival before we even mention our redemption from Egypt.  It does not seem sensible to petition Hashem to complete our redemption from Egypt before we discuss our historic rescue from bondage. 


5. The Messianic Era is a Fundamental Element of the Torah

Maimonides identifies thirteen convictions that are essential to Torah observance.  He contends that only through accepting these convictions can a person be regarded as a member of our religious community and attain the afterlife – Olam HaBah.[18]  Many of these thirteen convictions are obviously elemental to our religion.  They include belief in a cause Who is the source of all that exits, belief in Revelation and the immutability of the Torah.  However, Maimonides’s characterization of some of his principles as elemental to the Torah has been criticized.  One of these thirteen fundamentals is the belief in the coming of the Messiah.  Abravanel formulated the question well.  What is lacking in my observance if I do not believe that the advent of the Messianic Era is predestined?  How is my observance or commitment to Hashem and His Torah compromised?[19]

In order to answer this question, it is necessary to understand the nature Maimonides thirteen principles.[20]   The answer is that Maimonides maintains that the Torah is more than a set of religious beliefs and practices; it is a perspective upon and interpretation of our world.  Our belief in Hashem is not merely a religious affirmation; it is an understanding of how our universe operates and is constructed.  For this reason he does not describe the first of these thirteen principles as belief in Hashem as the G-d of the Revelation or the G-d described in the Torah.  Instead, the first of his principles is to accept that there is a cause of all that exists.  All that exists depends upon this prime cause for its continued existence and this first cause does not require any prior cause to sustain its existence.  This first principle is not merely a religious affirmation; it is an outlook or interpretation of the universe that surrounds us.  Similarly, our belief in the divine origins of the Torah is not just an expression of devotion and commitment to its observance; it is a perspective on Hashem’s relationship with humanity in general and the Jewish People specifically. 

Our conviction in the advent of the Messianic Era must be understood in a similar manner.  It is not merely a religious or national aspiration; it is an interpretation of the history of humankind.  It is an assertion that there is meaning in history. It has a direction and end.  History is not the sum total of human endeavors and achievements; it is the inexorable progression to an inevitable outcome.[21]  


6. The Redemption from Egypt confirms our ultimate redemption

Through introducing the Seder with an acknowledgement of the Messianic Era we are identifying one of the objectives of the Seder.  The purpose of the Seder is not solely to recall our exodus from Egypt.  Retelling the story of our redemption serves another purpose.  We are obligated to fully accept that the Messiah will ultimately arrive.  How do we know that there is a basis for this conviction?  During periods of suffering throughout our history our ancestors’ confidence in our ultimate redemption must have been severely tested.  The redemption from Egypt provided them and continues to provide us with proof of our destiny.  Hashem rescued our ancestors from slavery.  He created a free nation from an oppressed people. If we accept the truth of these events, we have a firm basis for our conviction in a second redemption through the Messiah.

The order of the Seder expresses this theme.  We begin with an affirmation of the Messianic Era.  We then discuss the basis for our conviction – the redemption from Egypt.  We close the Magid section of the Hagadah with the blessing of Ga’al Yisrael in which we articulate the connection.  Hashem redeemed us from Egypt.  Therefore, we can be sure that He will redeem us again.


7. Inviting the needy – Rav Huna’s practice

The middle element of the Ha Lachma Anya is an invitation to the needy and less fortunate to share with us our matzah and join us in the Pesach meal.  This invitation seems out of place.  Why at this point do we invite the hungry and the less fortunate to join with us in our celebration?  Of course, this is a commendable sentiment and we cannot be surprised that the Seder should include an invitation to the less fortunate to share in our meal.  But it seems odd that this invitation should be inserted into the Hagadah at this specific point.  Ha Lachma Anya begins by explaining Yachatz and ends by introducing a basic theme of the Seder – our anticipation of our coming redemption.  Why are we interrupting our discussion of issues specifically relevant to the Seder with this invitation?

Rabbaynu Matityahu Gaon suggests that the source of the phrasing of this invitation can be traced to the Talmud.  The Talmud explains that Rav Huna’s practice before every meal was to announce that any person who is hungry is welcome to participate in the meal.[22],[23]   We do not generally engage is this practice and Torah law does not require of us this remarkable level of kindness and hospitality.  Why, then, are we required to adopt Rav Huna’s practice on Pesach night?


8. Including the needy in the Yom Tov meal

One possibility is suggested by a comment of Maimonides.  Maimonides explains that we are required to experience joy and happiness on our festivals. One of the means through which we experience and express our happiness is the festival meal.  Maimonides continues and explains that we are required to include among the participants in the Yom Tov – the Festival – meal the poor, destitute, bitter and the less fortunate.  He explains that a person who bars his doors against the intrusion of these less fortunate, needy people and shares his meal with only his family has distorted the joyous celebration of the Festival transforming it into a hedonistic pleasure. [24],[25]

If this is the source for our invitation to the hungry and needy, then we are engaging in a practice that is appropriate to every Yom Tov meal.  The proffering of this invitation is not a requirement specific to the Seder or even Pesach.  According to Maimonides, we should pronounce this same invitation before all Pesach meals and our Shavuot and Succot meals.  Of course, there is no text that is recited at these other meals; there is no Hagadah to provide a formula for the invitation.  Nonetheless, the Ha Lachma Anya is only providing an appropriate formula for the pronouncement of an invitation that is required before every Yom Tov meal.


9. Special considerations related to Pesach

Rav Matityahu Gaon, seems to suggest that the Seder engenders an additional obligation to invite the needy.  He explains that the invitation extended in the Ha Lachma Anya is the completion of a process that begins earlier in the day, perhaps even days and weeks before Pesach.  Before the night of Pesach, the members of the community would search for all those who were in need of assistance or companionship and invite them to their various homes for the celebration of the Seder.  The pronouncement of the Ha Lachma Anya invitation was the completion of this process.[26]   Rav Matityahu Goan seems to suggest that this practice was specific to Pesach.  In other words, in addition to the general obligation to include the poor and needy in every Yom Tov meal, Pesach engenders its own unique obligation to reach out to those who are less fortunate.

There is other evidence that Pesach prompts its own unique obligation to include the poor and less fortunate in our celebration.  Rama comments that it is customary in the weeks leading up to Pesach to purchase wheat or the matzot themselves on behalf of the poor and to distribute these provisions to them.[27]   The Gra points out that this custom is very ancient; it is mentioned in the Talmud Yerushalmi.[28],[29]

In summary there are three sources for the Ha Lachma Anya’s invitation to the needy.  The wording seems to be derived from the practice of Rav Huna who would extend this invitation to the poor any time he engaged in a substantial meal.  We do not engage in Rav Huna’s remarkable degree of charity and compassion.  However, we do borrow the wording of his invitation for the Ha Lachma Anya.  Why are we more demanding of ourselves on the night of Pesach? There are two reasons.  First, every Yom Tov meal is only properly celebrated when we include among our guests the less fortunate.  Second, the celebration of Pesach engenders its own unique obligation to offer support and encouragement to the needy and less fortunate.

What is it about Pesach that engenders this additional requirement that we reach out our hands to the needy?  In order to answer this question we must consider another aspect of the Seder and its Hagadah.


10. The Pesach narrative style – Ascension from humble origins

The process of recounting the events of our redemption is performed according to a specific formula.  Of course, we are encouraged to explore the themes found in the Hagadah to the extent of our ability.  The mitzvah of recounting the events of our redemption is not fulfilled in its most complete form through merely recounting a specific narrative.  Instead, the material in the Hagadah provides a minimum standard.  But we are charged to expand upon and to enrich this material to the extent of our ability.  Nonetheless, we cannot abandon the format and formulation of the Hagadah. We must embellish but we must not revise or ignore the framework contained in the Hagadah.

One aspect of the formula we follow is discussed by the Talmud in Tractate Pesachim.  The Mishne explains that we begin our account by describing the humble beginnings of our people and we then proceed to describe its ascent to greatness.  What is the specific historic process that we describe?  The Talmud explains that Rav and Shemuel dispute this issue.  Rav suggests that we are required to acknowledge that our ancestors – Avraham’s own father and later our more immediate ancestors in Egypt – were idolators.  But Hashem chose us as His people and He gave us His Torah.  Shemuel suggests that we begin the process of recounting our redemption by describing the bondage of our forefathers in Egypt.  We then describe our redemption through the miracles and wonders that Hashem performed.[30] 

We can easily understand Shemuel’s interpretation of the formula.  We must recount our redemption by first describing our humiliating servitude and then we describe the process of our redemption.  This is exactly as we would expect the narrative of our redemption to be developed.  But how do we explain Rav’s alternative interpretation?  Why begin our Pesach narrative by recalling our primitive ancestors from before the time of Avraham?  It is difficult to even characterize these pagans as our antecedents.  With the emergence of our forefather Avraham we rejected the culture, values and religious fallacies of his predecessors.  We refer to Avraham as our first forefather; this is because he is our beginning and not his ancestors.

Rav and Shemuel agree on the basic theme of the Pesach narrative.  They both agree that the formulation of the narrative is designed to communicate that we did not ascend to greatness through our own might, wisdom, or tenacity.  We climbed out of the depths of despair or spiritual corruption through the mercy and intervention of Hashem.  This message of our dependence on Hashem forms the underlying motif of the Hagadah.   Rav and Shemuel only differ on a relatively minor issue:  Do we demonstrate our helplessness and our dependence upon Hashem through acknowledging His redemption of our ancestors from inevitable material destruction or do we provide this demonstration through acknowledging His rescue or our ancestors from moral and religious debasement?  Shemuel suggests that we acknowledge our helplessness and dependence through the experience that is most relevant to the Seder – our rescue from Egypt.  Rav suggests that our recalling of our redemption from Egypt should occasion our recognition of our general helplessness and dependency.  We expand upon the lesson of our redemption from Egypt and extend that lesson to the earliest history of our nation. 


11. The Pesach motif – Humble acknowledgement of helplessness and dependence upon Hashem

This dispute provides a basic insight into the celebration of Pesach.  Pesach recalls and celebrates the emergence of the Jewish nation – Um Yisrael.  Our redemption from Egypt is a central event in the drama of our ascent to the position of Um Hashem – Hashem’s chosen nation.  But the central motif of the Festival is not the celebration of our accomplishments and our pride in earning Hashem’s covenant.  The central motif is acknowledgement of Hashem’s role in this process.  He redeemed us.  He rescued us.  We did not shape and engineer our fate; we are the beneficiaries of Hashem’s benevolence. 

We can now appreciate our focus on Pesach upon charity and our sensitivity for others less fortunate than ourselves.  A person who does not feel the misery of others and cannot empathize with those who are suffering, has lost touch with his own essential helplessness and dependence.  When we identify with the less fortunate, when we empathize with them, we recognize that we are the same.  Had Hashem not redeemed us, we would be more desperate than those to whom we are extending a helping hand.  If He had not rescued us, we would be far more lost than those we are including at our Seder meal.  Any person who recognizes that his own good fortune is the result of the kindness that Hashem has bestowed upon Him will naturally reach out to others.    


12. Dependence and Redemption

The second and final components of the Ha Lachma Anya reflect two basic themes of the Seder.  The middle component reminds us of our kinship with the less fortunate and needy.  We reach out to them in recognition of our own helplessness and our reliance upon Hashem.  The final component expresses our anticipation of redemption from our current exile.  These two themes are closely connected. The Torah informs us that before Bnai Yisrael were redeemed from Egypt they called out in prayer to Hashem.[31]   Hashem tells Moshe that He will redeem the people in response to their prayers.[32]   Turning to Hashem, recognizing that He alone could provide salvation was prerequisite to Bnai Yisrael’s redemption.  Maimonides generalizes this lesson.  He explains that any affliction visited upon the Jewish People requires that we respond with prayer and acknowledgement of our dependence upon Hashem.  Only through this response can we illicit His intervention.[33]

We precede our longing for our redemption with an invitation to our brethren who are in need.  In this way, we affirm our own dependence upon Hashem.  From the depths of our acceptance of our own helplessness and our dependence upon Hashem we reach out to Him with our prayers and yearnings for redemption.

[1]   The performance of Yachatz that this point of the Seder is in accordance with the ruling of Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 473:6) and reflects general practice.  However according to Maimonides (M.T. Hilchot Chametz u’Matzah 8:6) Yachatz is performed immediately before eating the matzah.

[2] The recitation of Ha Lachma Anya immediately after Yachatz is in accordance with the ruling of Shulchan Aruch (Ibid.) However, According to Rabbaynu Amram Gaon, Ha Lachma Anya is recited after the Seder Plate with the matzot are removed from the table and the second cup of wine has been poured.  It immediately precedes Ma Nishtanah.  Maimonides’ position is unclear on this issue.  In his discussion of the laws of the Seder (M.T. Hilchot Chametz u’Matzah Chapter 8) he excludes any mention of Ha Lachma Anya.  However, in the versions of the Hagadah attributed to him it is included without indication of whether it is recited before the Seder Plate with the matzot is removed or after pouring the second cup.

The origins of Ha Lachma Anya are not clear.  It is not mentioned in the Mishnah, Talmud, or Midrash.  The earliest references to this portion of the Hagadah appear in the writings of the Geonim.  Both Rabbaynu Amram Goan and Rabbaynu Saadia Gaon include a variant of Ha Lachma Anya in their Hagadot.  The versions currently in use closely model Rabbaynu Amram’s version. 

[3] Rabbaynu Saadia Gaon’s version contains two of the three elements.  It begins with an invitation to join in the Seder.  It concludes with the affirmation of our conviction in the coming of the Messiah.

[4]   Sefer Devarim 16:3.

[5]   Mesechet Pesachim 115b.

[6]   Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, Harerai Kedem vol 2 p 161.

[7]   Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam/Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Ta’aniyot 5:13.

[8]   Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik discusses this position in his lecture of Ha Lachma Anya.  He rejects this position as not having a basis in halachah.  (

[9]   Rav Yitzchak Mirsky attributes this explanation to Levush. (Hagadah Higyonai Halachah, p 133, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik discusses the explanation in his lecture on Ha Lachma Anya (Ibid.) and adopts this explanation.

[10]   Mesechet Rosh HaShanah 11a.

[11]   Sefer Shemot 6:6-7

[12]   Talmud Yerushalmi, Mesechet Pesachim 10:1.

[13]   Rav Yisrael Meir Kagan, Mishne Berurah, 480:10.

[14]   Ibid. For a more extensive discussion of the origins of this custom and its meaning see: Yosef Lewey, Minhag Yisrael Torah, vol 3, pp. 158-60.

[15]   Sefer Shemot 6:8.

[16]   Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, Harerai Kedem vol 2 p 208-9.

[17]   Malachi 3:23.

[18]   Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam/Maimonides) Commentary on the Mishne, Mesechet Sanhedrin 10:1.

[19]  Don Yitzchak Abravanel, Rosh Amanah, Chapter 3.

[20]  Various scholars have provided differing interpretations of Maimonides’ intention in describing these principles as fundamental.  It is difficult to describe these principles as postulates.  Postulates are independent principles that cannot be derived from one another.  This is clearly not true of Maimonindes’ principles.  For example, his second principle is that Hashem is an absolute unity.  This means the He has no parts, divisions, or aspects; it is not appropriate to describe attributes to Him in their literal sense or characteristics. From this principle one can easily derive the conclusion that Hashem cannot be material.  Any material entity cannot be described as an absolute unity.  Nonetheless, Maimonides lists as his third principle that Hashem is not material.

Others have suggested that these thirteen principles are not a set of postulates but instead are fundamental beliefs.  We are required to be aware of and to accept each explicitly.  Implicit acceptance of any of these principles does not suffice.  Therefore, it is necessary for Maimonides to specifically describe the principle of Hashem’s non-material nature even though this can be deduced from the principle of His unity. 

However, even if we assume that these are fundamental convictions which require explicit acceptance, it remains unclear why Maimonides selected these beliefs and no other or fewer.  Some are clearly within the class of beliefs we would ascribe as appropriate to a religious system – belief in the existence of an ultimate cause for all that exists, that He is a unity, Revelation, that He interacts with humanity.  Others of the thirteen beliefs outlined by Maimonides seem less essential.  Abravanel identifies two beliefs in Maimonides’ list that he regards as subject to this criticism: belief in the Messianic Era and in the resurrection of the dead.

Abravanel points out that it is difficult to imagine that one’s religious experience, outlook or practice would be significantly impacted if one did not ascribe to these beliefs.  Of course, it is not Abravanel’s intention to imply that these beliefs are not part of the Torah and or not absolutely correct and even required.  However, he questions why they should be identified as fundamental.

[21]   Implicit in Maimonindes’ perspective is rejection of the division commonly suggested between religious and scientific knowledge.  According to Maimonides, both combine into a comprehensive understanding of the universe.  The scientist who arbitrarily interrupts his study of the universe and his search for causes  and will not consider the source of the natural laws has only a partial understanding of the universe that he studies.  Similarly, the student of religion who regards G-d as the Creator but is ignorant of and uninterested in the means by which Hashem governs His universe has artificially truncated his study of Hashem and His ways.

[22]   Mesechet Ta’anit 20b.

[23]   See Yekutiel Cohen, Hagadat HaGeonim ve’HaRambam p 39.

[24]   Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam/Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Yom Tov 6:17-18.

[25]   See Yekutiel Cohen, Hagadat HaGeonim ve’HaRambam p 40.

[26]   See Yekutiel Cohen, Hagadat HaGeonim ve’HaRambam p 39.  It is not completely clear from the earliest sources of Rabbaynu Matityahu’s comments that he regarded this procedure as unique to Pesach.  However, Avudraham seems to interpret Rabbaynu Matityahu’s comments as referring only to Pesach.  Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik discusses Rabbaynu Matityahu’s comments in his lecture on Ha Lachma Anya and assumes the comments are specific to Pesach.  The above interpretation of Rabbaynu Matityahu’s comments is based on Rav Soloveitchik’s understanding of his position. 

[27]   Rav Moshe Isserles (Rama), Comments on Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chayim 429:1.

[28]   Rav Eliyahu of Vilna (Gra), Biur HaGra, Orech Chayim 429:1.

[29]   Talmud Yerushalmi, Mesechet Baba Batra, 1:4.

[30]   Mesechet Pesachim 116:a. In the standard text of the discussion in the Talmud, Rav does not mention the idolatry of our ancestors in Egypt, only the practices of Avraham’s predecessors. Rashbatz, in his commentary on the Hagadah, includes in Rav’s position the idolatry of our ancestors in Egypt.   


[31]   Sefer Shemot 2:23-25

[32]   Sefer Shemot 3:7-8

[33]   Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam/Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Taaniyot  1:2-3.