A Thought on the Hagadah
With only two weeks to Pesach I would like to share a short idea on the Hagadah.
One of the Mitzvot De’oraiyta that we are obligated to perform on Pesach night is the mitzva of “Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim”, the telling of the exodus of our forefathers from Egypt. It is a mitzva to recall and learn extensively about the events that happened to our nation more than 3000 years ago.
The question is why is it so important for us to continuously dwell on this historic event? Often the Talmud, when contemplating the meaning of an incident brought in the Mishna, will refuse to accept that the Mishna is simply relating to an historical incident. “Ma de’have have” – what was – was!
To answer this question, let’s take a look at the beginning of the Hagadah.
After Ma Nishtana follow four paragraphs:
A. Avadim Hayinu – we were slaves to Paro in Mitzrayim and Hashem took us out, etc.
B. Ve’afilu kulanu chachamim – Even if we are all wise and knowing we all have a mitzva to tell the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim, etc.
C. Ma’aseh berabbi Eliezer – an incident with the five tana’im who discussed Yetziat Mitzrayim the whole night in Bnei Brak.
D. Amar Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryia – an argument between Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaryia and Chachamim regarding the obligation of mentioning Yetziat Mitzrayim at night.
In the spirit of Leil Haseder I would like to ask a few questions on these opening paragraphs of the Hagada:
1. If the Mitzva is “Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim”, why don’t we simply read over the relevant chapters from Sefer Shmot that relate the events precisely how they happened? The Hagadah itself seems to be quite haphazard and just generally not ‘user friendly’ in telling the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim.
2. Since when is it necessary to tell us that even Talmidei Chachamim have an obligation to do Mitzvot? Since Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim is a mitzva de’oraiyta, obviously everyone is obligated in it including Talmidei Chachamim. Do Chazal tell us anywhere that even Talmidei Chachamim are obligated to keep Shabbat, blow shofar, eat matzot and do all other mitzvot?!
3. What is the meaning of “hamarbeh lesaper” – the obligation to tell “a lot” of Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim? If it was an historical event, there must be a limit to how much can be told. Things either happened or they did not. If the story has been told what more can be added?
4. The story of the five rabbis in Bnei Brak has some peculiarities. Why did all the rabbis come to Rabbi Akiva who was the youngest? Why were their students not discussing with them Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim? After all, these were the Gedolei Hador – what an opportunity to have the perfect Seder! If the students knew it was dawn, why did the rabbis not know? Why was it so necessary to stop them doing one mitzva for the sake of another?
5. What is the relevance of the argument of Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaryia and Chachamim regarding the obligation of mentioning Yetziat Mitzrayim at night to the evening of Leil Haseder? It is well known that there are two different obligations regarding Yetziat Mitzrayim: One, on Leil Haseder. Two, a daily obligation to remember Yetziat Mitzrayim. 
Starting from the last question, let’s take a closer look at the argument between Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaryia and Chachamim. Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaryia explains in the name of Ben Zoma that there is a mitzva to mention Yetziat Mitzrayim at night, learning it from the word “kol yemei cha’yecha”. Chachamim argue and say that the word “kol” comes not to include the night but rather “le’havi le’yemot ha’mashiach” that also during the times of Mashiach we will mention Yetziat Mitzrayim.
The Gemara brings a Beraita that elaborates on their argument.
“It has been taught: Ben Zoma said to the Sages: Will the Exodus from Egypt be mentioned in the days of the Messiah? Was it not long ago said: Therefore behold the days come, saith the Lord, that they shall no more say: As the Lord liveth that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; but, As the Lord liveth that brought up and that led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country and from all the countries whither I had driven them? (Jer. XXIII, 7. 8) They replied: This does not mean that the mention of the exodus from Egypt shall be obliterated, but that the [deliverance from] subjection to the other kingdoms shall take the first place and the exodus from Egypt shall become secondary.”
Ben Zoma, quoting a verse, says to Chachamim that in the times of Mashiach, Bnei Yisrael will no longer mention Yetziat Mitzrayim rather they will talk about their own present redemption from the exile. According to ben Zoma it would appear that the purpose of Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim is in order to get to redemption if ever Am Yisrael again finds themselves in exile. According to him, the reason why we dwell on the past is in order to make sure that we learn from the past to redeem ourselves (or be redeemed by Hashem) in the future. Once that future arrives, once we have internalized that lesson and physically achieved that redemption, there is no longer any purpose on dwelling on the past. “Ma de’have have” what was – was!
Returning to the questions asked previously we can now reply:
1. On Leil Haseder we are not merely reminiscing over the past; we are learning about the past in order to recognize and act in the future. That is why the Hagadah is not just about “telling the story”.
2. Although a bit daring, maybe the author of the Hagadah is warning the Talmidei Chachamim that even they have a duty to involve themselves in seeking out the physical redemption . Since the mitzva is not just focusing on the theoretical aspect but on the practical more, there is room to warn especially the Talmidei Chachamim on this issue.
3. The Ba’al Hagadah then goes on to bring an example of Gedolei Hador who involved themselves exactly with this issue. The theory is well known that all the elderly rabbis came to join with Rabbi Akiva who lived in Bnei Brak who was the “arm’s bearer of Bar Kochba”. They were discussing andplanning their own redemption from the Roman exile, the most real actualization of the mitzva of Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim. At dawn, symbolizing the redemption, the talmidim, who were perhaps keeping guard, or who simply were not privy to the discussions, come and tell their Rabbis that the time has come for “kriat Shema shel Shacharit”, a symbolic hint to the “ayelet hashachar” that symbolizes the time of the Geulah.
4. The concept of “hamarbeh lesaper” can also be understood in the context of the obligation to relentlessly seek out one’s own redemption in one’s own time.
The mitzva of “Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim is indeed not just about stories of the past. Judaism is always looking to the future. The whole concept of ge’ula is about a continuous change and improvement. Indeed Chazal have instructed us in the Hagadah: “In every generation a person is obligated to regard himself as if he had come out of Egypt”. This is not only intended for one to imagine him or herself back there some 3,000 years ago, or to explain it in the Chassidic way of seeing oneself being redeemed spiritually, but literally one must seek out the redemption of Am Yisrael in every way.
“This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat; whoever is in need, let him 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.”(Hagada)
The Ya’avetz in his commentary to the Hagada asks, “Where is the comfort in what Chazal instituted to say: ‘This year [we are] slaves; next year [we will be] free people’ if we are still in the exile?” He answers: “It is not considered a real Galut, because even though we are in a foreign land, next year we can be in Eretz Yisrael when we desire and no-one will stop us, even if ‘chas ve’shalom’ the time of redemption will not yet come, the Land of Israel is in front of us to come and dwell therein at any time…”(Rav Ya’acov Emdin 1697 – 1776)
Shabbat Shalom and Chag sameach