06. The Main Message of the Hagada

In order to understand fully the goal of the Hagada and the story of the Exodus from Egypt, we must consider the question of the wise child and the answer he receives, for he is the preferred child, and we pray that all our children develop and succeed in becoming wise.

As befits him, the wise child poses a detailed question, as it is stated: “When in the future your child asks you, ‘What are these testimonies, laws, and principles that the Lord our God commanded you?’” (Devarim 6:20). The answer initially addresses the Exodus from Egypt but then broadens to include the overall purpose of the Jewish people: to come to Eretz Yisrael, to adhere to God, to fulfill all of His mitzvot, and to earn His benevolence:

Say to your child, “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but God took us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. God brought great and terrible miracles and demonstrations upon Egypt, Pharaoh, and his entire household before our very eyes. He brought us out of there in order to bring us to, and give us, the land He promised to our forebears. God commanded us to keep all of these laws, to fear the Lord our God, for the sake of our everlasting benefit, so that He might sustains us as we are today. And it shall be considered our virtue to observe and perform all these commandments before the Lord our God, as He commanded us. (ibid. 6:21-25)

We see, then, that the aim of the Seder is to impart to our children, by telling the story of the Exodus, the desire to belong to the people of Israel, to inherit the Promised Land, to adhere to God, and to perform all of His mitzvot.

To enable us to tell the story of the Exodus to the wise child without leaving out any of its essential components, the Men of the Great Assembly, who lived at the beginning of the Second Temple period, composed the text of the Hagada. Over time, the leading Tanna’im, Amora’im, and Ge’onim added passages containing important elements related to the mitzvot of the Hagada. Finally, about 800 years ago, a consensus version was accepted by all Jewish communities, based on the text of R. Amram Gaon.

The text of the Hagada is thus the complete story, and whoever recites it covers all aspects of the Exodus from Egypt. Nonetheless, the more one explains the Hagada and expands upon it with illuminating ideas, stories, and laws related to Pesaḥ and the Exodus, the more commendable it is.[4]


[4]. The text of the Hagada is the complete answer to the wise child. However, the Hagada itself states that the answer to the wise child is: “after the Paschal sacrifice, we do not conclude with dessert (afikoman).” The Hagada means to say that we teach the wise son all of the laws of Pesaḥ until the very last one, namely, that we do not eat anything after the consumption of the afikoman. (Originally, the sacrifice was the last thing eaten at the Seder; we now eat matza – the afikoman – instead.) This law highlights how beloved the mitzvot of the Seder are: we do not want to eat anything after the afikoman, so that the taste of the matza remains in our mouths. It also seems that the wise child has a tendency to discuss and attend to peripheral issues. On the Seder night, the goal is to understand the larger principles in all their profound simplicity. Thus, we say to him: “Do not go for dessert after eating the Paschal sacrifice. Focus on the main thing without getting sidetracked.”

Some had the custom of reciting the berakhaal sipur yetzi’at Mitzrayim” (“regarding the telling of the Exodus from Egypt”) before reciting the Hagada. This is not our practice, for several possible reasons: According to Me’iri, the berakha of “emet ve-emuna,” recited following the recitation of the nighttime Shema, counts as the berakha on the Hagada. According to Rabbeinu Yeruḥam, kiddush at the beginning of the Seder counts as the berakha on the Hagada. According to Responsa Rosh 24:2, it is not necessary to recite a berakha on the Hagada, since the main aspect of the mitzva is to eat the matza and maror while also telling the story. Berakhot are in fact recited on the matza and maror. According to Maharal (Gevurot Hashem 5:62), the key aspect of the mitzva is to understand, and we do not recite berakhot on thoughts. According to Shibolei Ha-leket, the berakha recited at the end, “asher ga’alanu” (“Who has redeemed us”), is a berakha on the Hagada. Ma’aseh Nisim adds that since we recite “asher ga’alanu” as part of the Hagada, we should not recite a berakha beforehand just as one does not recite a berakha on the mitzva of reciting Birkat Ha-mazon.

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Translated By:
Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

The Laws of Shabbat (1+2) - Yocheved Cohen
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Editor: Nechama Unterman