The Focus of the Seder Night
By Rabbi Johnny Solomon, Teacher at Midreshet Lindenbaum
While we know that there is a mitzvah to talk about the Exodus on Seder night, a closer look at the Haggadah and other Rabbinic teachings suggests that there is less clarity than necessarily meets the eye about what, precisely, this entails.
True, we meet the five Tana’im sitting in Bnei Brak who were מספרים ביציאת מצרים (i.e. telling the story of the Exodus from Egypt). Yet, it is noteworthy that when the Tosefta (Pesachim 10:8) recounts this same event, it informs us that these Tana’im were, in fact, עסוקים בהלכות פסח (i.e. involved in discussing the laws of Pesach). Moreover, further evidence that we may fulfil the mitzvah of talking on Seder night through studying and discussing halachot can be found in the response directed to the wise son of, ואף אתה אמר לו כהלכות הפסח. Therefore, the question remains: what, precisely, should we be speaking about on Seder night?
As we might expect, the Rambam addresses this issue in his Mishne Torah.
However, instead of stating that we should tell the whole Exodus story, and instead of teaching us that we should discuss and study the laws of Pesach, he rules that the mitzvah on Seder night is לספר בנסים ונפלאות שנעשו לאבותינו במצרים בליל חמשה עשר בניסן – ‘to relate about the miracles and wonders wrought for our ancestors in Egypt on the night of the 15th of Nissan’ (Chametz U’Matzah 7:1). What this implies is that, at least on Seder night, our task is not to talk about the events experienced by the Jewish people which occurred after the 15th of Nissan, nor to reflect on any of the non-miraculous aspect of the Exodus. Instead, it is solely to focus on the ‘miracles and wonders.’ But if this is so, how do we then reconcile the Rambam with the Tosefta and the response given to the wise son?
This question is considered by Rav Yitzchak Hutner in his Pachad Yitzchak (Pesach: Ma’amar 40), who explains that since the miracles and wonders that were performed for our ancestors were done in order that they could leave Egypt and receive the Torah and mitzvot, then כל הענינים הרוחנים שנולדו מאותם הנסים מהוים חלק של תוכן הנס עצמו – ‘all the spiritual dimensions that were subsequently borne from those miracles carry an element of the miracles within them’. What this means is that when we study and discuss halacha, we are also studying and discussing the events that led to us receiving those halachot.
Given all this, how do we pasken? Unsurprisingly Rav Yosef Karo was cognizant of all these views, and this is why he rules in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 481:2) that: ‘A person is obliged to involve themselves in the study of the laws of Pesach’ לעסוק בהלכות פסח)), ‘and [to discuss] the Exodus from Egypt’ (וביציאת מצרים), ‘and to relate about the miracles and wonders that the Holy One, Blessed Be He, performed for our ancestors’ (ולספר בנסים ובנפלאות שעשה הקדוש ברוך הוא לאבותינו) ‘until sleep overcomes them’ (עד שתחטפנו שנה) – meaning that we should strive to do all three: tell the story, speak of the miracles, and discuss the laws of Pesach.