17. Magid – Beginning the Hagada

After breaking the middle matza, we uncover the matzot, and the Seder leader lifts the entire Seder plate, or at least the matzot, for all of the participants to see. While doing so, he recites the paragraph “Ha Laĥma Anya” and explains the meaning of the words to the participants. Upon completing Ha Laĥma Anya, the Seder leader places the Seder plate or matzot back on the table (SA 473:6).

At this point, the Seder plate is removed, making it appear as if the Seder is over. This is done so that the children become surprised and ask why the matzot and Seder plate are being taken away before we have even begun eating. Consequently, they ask “Ma nishtana? (SA 473:6).

After removing the Seder plate, and even before reciting “Ma nishtana, we pour the second cup. This also surprises the children, because we do not usually pour two cups of wine before a meal. Another reason we do this is that we want the whole Hagada, including the questions that precede it, to be said over a cup of wine.

It is best not to pour wine into the cups of the young children at this point, because they will have a hard time making it through the long Hagada without spilling the cup, and wine spilled on the table can cause aggravation and demonstrates disrespect for Yom Tov, which should be honored with a clean tablecloth and a beautifully set table. Therefore, it is best to pour wine for the children near the end of the Hagada, shortly before drinking the second cup.

After the second cup has been poured, the children ask “Ma nishtana? Following this, the Seder plate is returned so that the Hagada can be recited in the presence of matza and maror, and we begin answering the children with the story of the Exodus. We have already seen (ch. 15) that the purpose of the Seder night is to fulfill the mitzva of narrating the Exodus, and that the essence of this mitzva is to tell this story to the children. We also saw that there is a Torah commandment to tell the story of the Exodus even when no children are present (above 15:1) and that there is a mitzva to begin the story with a question (ibid. 3-4). We also learned that the story must be tailored to the ability and understanding of each child (ibid. 5), and that when telling the story, one must begin with indignity and end with praise (ibid. 7). We also saw that the purpose of the Seder is that the children learn, by means of the Exodus story, about the mission of the Jewish people in this world: to adhere to God, uphold His mitzvot, live in the land that He swore to give to our ancestors and to us, to enumerate His praises among the nations, and to earn divine blessing and goodness (ibid. 6).

The Sages introduced a fixed text for the Hagada so people would relate the story of the Exodus with precision and without omitting any important elements. Additionally, it is commendable to continue telling the story after the Seder ends. However, during the recitation of the Hagada one must take care not to make things too tiresome and long-winded for the children and other participants. Reciting the text is sufficient to fulfill the mitzva in the optimal manner.

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