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Peninei Halakha > Pesah > 16 – The Seder Night > 17. Magid – Beginning the Hagada

17. Magid – Beginning the Hagada

After breaking the middle matza, the leader of the Seder removes the cloth covering the upper matza and lifts the matzot and, if possible, the entire Seder plate with the matzot. While showing the matzot to the participants he recites the paragraph “Ha Laḥma Anya” and explains the meaning of the words. Upon completing Ha Laḥma 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. We do this so 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). Some have the custom that if the children ask no questions after the Seder plate is removed, they continue to remove dishes until the children start asking.

After removing the Seder plate, and even before reciting “Ma nishtana, we pour the second cup, so that the entire Hagada, even its preliminary questions, is recited over a cup of wine. Additionally, pouring the second cup also surprises the children, because we do not usually pour two cups of wine before a meal.

It is best to delay filling the cups of young children until just before it is time to drink the second cup, because they will have a hard time making it through the long Hagada without spilling the cup, and wine spilled on the table can aggravate participants and impair the honor of Yom Tov, which should be honored with a clean tablecloth and a beautifully set table.

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). The general purpose of the Seder is that through the retelling of the Exodus story, the children learn 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 the perfect text, the text of the Hagada, so people would relate the story of the Exodus precisely, without omitting any important elements. 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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Translated By:
Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

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The Laws of Women’s Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Pesach - Joshua Wertheimer
The Laws of Zemanim - Moshe Lichtman

Editor: Nechama Unterman