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The Seder Night: An Exalted Evening: The Passover Haggadah

The Seder Night: An Exalted Evening: The Passover Haggadah

by Joseph Soloveitchik

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KTAV Publishing House, Inc.
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The Seder Night: An Exalted Evening

The Passover Haggadah With a commentary based on the teachings of RABBI JOSEPH B. SOLOVEITCHIK

Copyright © 2009

Orthodox Union
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-60280-118-9


In my experiential - not intellectual - memory, two nights stand out as singular, as endowed with a unique and fascinating quality, exalted in their holiness and shining with a dazzling beauty: the night of the Seder and the night of Kol Nidrei. As a child I was fascinated, indeed entranced, by these two clear, moonlit nights, both wrapped in grandeur and majesty. I used to feel stimulated, aroused, inspired; illuminating vision heightened my senses, which were sharpened and liberated from all inhibitions. A strange silence, stillness, peace, quiet, and serenity enveloped me. I surrendered to a stream of inflowing joy and ecstasy.

I can still hear the solemn, sad, nostalgic melody of "YaKNeHaZ" - the mnemonic acronym for the order of the sections of the Kiddush and Havdalah - which I heard most probably at the age of seven, when my grandfather recited the Kiddush on a Seder night that happened to coincide with the end of the Sabbath. I still remember the finale of the blessing, "ha-mavdil bein kodesh le-kodesh, Who distinguishes between holy and holy." The melody gradually faded away - or, shall I say, was transposed into another melody, namely, one of silence. As a child, I used to brood for hours over the notion of "ha-mavdil bein kodesh le-kodesh" - two sanctities, one of the Sabbath and the other of the holiday. I liked both, I cherished every spark of holiness; I hated the everyday, the gray, the routine, the workaday dreariness. I always saw in my frail young mother, with her pale face, deeply set eyes, and aristocratic, gentle features, the personification of the Sabbath, of the Princess. I saw the holiday in all its glory represented by one of my uncles, an athlete, tall, dark and handsome. All these memories are at the root of my religious Weltanschauung and experience. Without them, I would miss the ecstasy accompanying religious observance and the depth and sweep of religious meditation and thinking. However naive and childish, these emotions and visions have always been, and still are, the wellspring of my colorful religious life.

On the night of the Exodus, the people met God, had a rendezvous with Him, and made His acquaintance for the first time. On Pesah night, man, free, hopeful, and courageous, enhanced by fulfillment, exalted by his independence, surges forward, expands, grows, ready to accomplish all that is related to his blessedness and freedom. All selfishness renounced, he forgets himself, rising like the mighty river to do, to practice, and to immerse himself in hesed. (Festival of Freedom)


On the night of the fourteenth of Nisan, we conduct the search for leaven. The search is done by candlelight.

Before beginning the search, we light a candle and recite the following:

Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His mizvot, and commanded us concerning the removal of leaven.

After the search has been completed, the following is recited:

Any type of leaven that may still be in my possession, that I have not seen or not removed, or that I do not know about, let it be nullified and shall be considered ownerless, like the dust of the earth.


On the morning of the fourteenth of Nisan, all of the remaining leaven in the house is burned. After burning the leaven, prior to an hour before midday one is to nullify the leaven in his heart and recite the following:

Any type of leaven that may still be in my possession, that I may or may not have seen, found or removed, let it be nullified and shall be considered ownerless, like the dust of the earth.


When the first day of Pesah falls on Thursday, an eiruv tavshilin should be prepared on Wednesday for it to be permissible to cook on Yom Tov for Shabbat. One should take some mazzah and a ka-zayit of any cooked food and set them aside. The following is recited:

Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His mizvot and commanded us concerning the mizva of eiruv.

With this eiruv it shall be permitted for us to bake, cook, keep food warm, kindle flame and make all necessary preparations on Yom Tov for Shabbat for ourselves or for all Jews who live in this city.


On Friday night add the words in brackets:

Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His mizvot and commanded us to light the [Shabbat and] Festival candles.

Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.

[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Rambam (Hilkhot Shabbat 5:3) states that one must light Shabbat candles before sunset while it is still day. This halakhah begs interpretation. Of course one is forbidden to light candles after sunset. Why must Rambam instruct us to light candles "while it is still day"?

Rambam (Hilkhot Shabbat 30:5) states that one must arrange his home before nightfall in honor of Shabbat - the candle lit, the table set, and one's bed prepared - because all these are honors for Shabbat. Vilna Gaon (Be'ur ha-Gra, Orah Hayyim 529:1) explains the difference between delighting in Shabbat (oneg Shabbat) and honoring Shabbat (kavod Shabbat). Oneg refers to the acts that are performed on Shabbat proper to enhance the day, while kavod refers to those preparations that are performed before Shabbat in anticipation of the day. Since Rambam includes lighting candles in the category of kavod Shabbat, like all components of kavod Shabbat the lighting of candles must rightfully be performed on erev Shabbat. The requirement that candles be lit on erev Shabbat is not merely a consequence of the prohibition of lighting candles on Shabbat. This approach yields the following practical consequence. Although one is permitted to light a fire on Yom Tov, one must still honor Yom Tov by lighting candles before sunset. Just like all other matters that pertain to kavod Yom Tov, this, too, must be performed on erev Yom Tov. (Reshimot)


The custom of the Gra z"l [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]




[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] The Talmud (Pesahim 114b) discusses the requirement to place shenei tavshilin, two cooked items, on the Seder plate, commemorating the korban Pesah and the hagigah offering that were eaten when sacrifices were brought in the Temple. Rav Huna says that this requirement may be fulfilled by using beets and rice. According to Ray Yosef, one must use two different types of meat. Rambam (Hilkhot Hamez u-Mazzah 8:1) follows the opinion of Ray Yosef, while the popular custom is to place one item of meat and an egg on the Seder plate (see Kesef Mishneh, loc cit.).

The presence of the egg at the Seder also has another source. The first day of Passover always occurs on the same day of the week as Tishah be-Av, the day that marks the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jews (Orah Hayyim 428:3). Accordingly, the custom is to eat an egg, a symbol of mourning, on the first night of Pesah (see Rama, Orah Hayyim 476:2). The egg, therefore, symbolizes both joy, the hagigah, and mourning, Tish'ah be-Av.

The Beit ha-Levi explains the correlation between the first day of Passover and Tish'ah be-Av as follows. Several midrashic sources indicate that the Exodus from Egypt was premature. The Jews were supposed to have been enslaved in Egypt for 400 years but were redeemed after only 210 years. After 210 years of exile, the Jews were in danger of completely losing their Jewish identity. Had they remained in Egypt any longer, they would have been hopelessly assimilated. The urgent need to redeem them without further delay explains why the Exodus occurred "be-hipazon, in haste" (Deut. 16:3). God, therefore, redeemed them prematurely, and the balance of their term of exile would have to be completed in future exiles. Thus, the redemption from Egypt was not a complete redemption, since it was the cause of the later exiles. It is, therefore, appropriate to eat an egg, an open expression of mourning, on the very night of redemption.

It is interesting to note that the terminology of shenei tavshilin occurs with respect to the laws both of Passover, when one is required to place shenei tavshilin on the plate, and of Tish'ah be-Av, when one may not eat shenei tavshilin in the meal preceding the Tish'ah be-Av fast. The similar terminology further points to the correlation between Passover and Tish'ah be-Av. (Reshimot)


Kadesh Recite Kiddush. Urhaz Wash hands. Karpas Eat vegetable dipped in salt water. Yahaz Break the middle mazzah and hide the larger piece for the Afikoman. Maggid Recite the narrative of the Pesah story. Rahzah Wash hands prior to eating mazzah. Mozi Recite the "Ha-mozi" berakhah on the mazzot. Mazzah Recite the "Al akhilat mazzah" berakhah and eat the mazzot. Maror Eat the bitter herbs. Korekh Eat the mazzah and bitter herbs together. Shulhan Orekh Eat the meal. Zafun Eat the Afikoman. Barekh Recite Grace after Meals. Hallel Recite Hallel. Nirzah Conclusion of the Seder.


Each participant's cup is poured by someone else. He then takes the cup with both hands, holds it in his right hand, and recites Kiddush.

On Friday night begin with the following paragraph:

Some begin: And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good

It was evening and it was morning The sixth day. The heavens and the earth and all their hosts were completed. On the seventh day God finished His work which He had made, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, for on it He rested from all His work which God had created and done.

On other nights begin here:

With your permission, gentlemen, my masters and my teachers. Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.

On Shabbat, add the words in brackets:

Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, who has chosen us from among all people, and raised us above all tongues, and made us holy through His commandments. And You, Lord, our God, have given us in love ]Sabbaths for rest and] festivals for happiness, feasts and festive seasons for rejoicing [this Sabbath-day and] the day of this Feast of Mazzot and this Festival of holy convocation, the Time of our Freedom [in love], a holy convocation, commemorating the departure from Egypt. For You have chosen us and sanctified us from all the nations, and You have given us as a heritage [Shabbat and] Your sacred holidays [in love and favor], in happiness and joy. Blessed are You, Lord, who sanctifies [the Shabbat and] Israel and the festive seasons.

On Saturday night add the following:

Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, Creator of the light of fire.

Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, who makes a distinction between sacred and profane, between light and darkness, between Israel and the nations, between the seventh day and the six work-days. You have made a distinction between the holiness of the Shabbat and the holiness of the festival, and You have sanctified the seventh day above the six work-days. You have set apart and made holy Your people Israel with Your holiness. Blessed are You, God, who makes a distinction between holy and holy.

On all nights, conclude with the following blessing:

Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.

Drink the wine while reclining to the left. It is preferable to drink the entire cup; but it is sufficient if one drinks most of the cup.


Hands are washed prior to eating the karpas, without reciting the blessing.


Take less than a ka-zayit (the volume of one olive) of the karpas, dip it into salt-water or vinegar, and recite the following blessing, keeping in mind that it is also for the bitter herbs (of maror and korekh), to be eaten later on. Some are of the opinion that a ka-zayit should be eaten. There are different opinions as to whether one reclines:

Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the earth.


Take the middle mazzah and break it into two, one piece larger than the other. The larger piece is set aside to serve as afikoman. The smaller piece is put back between the two mazzot.


One should have in mind to fulfill the positive biblical commandment to tell the story on Pesah night of the Exodus from Egypt. The mazzot are uncovered and the seder plate raised.

This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat; let whoever is in need come and conduct the Seder of Passover. This year we are here, next year in the land of Israel. This year [we are] slaves; next year we will be free people.

[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] There is a logic and a structure not only to the Maggid section of the Haggadah, but also to the entire Seder. The Gemara emphasizes in several places the necessity of preserving the proper order of performance on Pesah night. For example, the Gemara (Pesahim 114b-115a) asks what blessing should be made if one must eat maror before the Maggid section because there is no other vegetable for karpas. It is evident from the discussion that the fulfillment of the mizvah of maror would not have occurred the first time it was eaten when it was eaten as karpas, but rather the second. If one could fulfill the mizvah of maror at the first dipping, the whole discussion of the Gemara would be superfluous. Apparently, one may not eat maror before mazzah. According to Rashbam (Pesahim 114a), the sequential order of eating mazzah first and then maror is biblically mandated. This is based on the verse "al mazzot u-merorim yo'kheluhu, they shall eat it (the korban Pesah) with unleavened bread and bitter herbs" (Num. 9:11), implying that the mazzot are eaten first, and then the maror. The requirement to maintain a sequence, however, is also applicable to the entire Seder.

In order to explain this, we must understand that each of the mizvot of Pesah night has two aspects, two kiyumim, two fulfillments. The mizvah of sipur Yezi'at Mizrayim is discharged in a twofold way - through the medium of speech and through symbolic actions. A person who eats the mazzah and the maror before saying Maggid fulfills the mizvah of eating mazzah, but does not fulfill the mizvah of sipur Yezi'at Mizrayim by means of eating mazzah. That is what the Gemara (Pesahim 115b) means by referring to mazzah, lehem oni (Deut. 16:3), as "lehem she-onin alav devarim harbeh, the bread over which we recite many things." Since eating mazzah is also part of sipur, we understand the need for Seder, for a particular order of performance. (Kol ha-Rav)


Excerpted from The Seder Night: An Exalted Evening Copyright © 2009 by Orthodox Union. Excerpted by permission.
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