Should Maggid Take Forever?
The Shulchan Aruch’s view may surprise you
by Chaim Saiman & Josh Weinberger
The view of the seder that has become commonplace is a fairly long maggid– replete with each child opening up his notebook to recite the Brisker Rov’s vort on derech cheirus—thereby delaying the eating of the meal until rather late into the night.
All Night Long
The source for this practice is found in the haggadah itself which famously notes that “כל המרבה לספר ביציאת מצרים הרי זה משובח׳,” “whoever elaborates in the retelling of the story of the exodus from Egypt is praiseworthy.” This point is illustrated as the haggadah recounts the story of the five tannaim in Bnai Brak who were so engrossed in retelling the Pesach story that they had to be reminded that it was time for shacharit.1
מַעֲשֶׂה בְּרַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר וְרַבִּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ וְרַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן-עֲזַרְיָה וְרַבִּי עֲקִיבָא וְרַבִּי טַרְפוֹן שֶׁהָיוּ מְסֻבִּין בִּבְנֵי-בְרַק וְהָיוּ מְסַפְּרִים בִּיצִיאַת מִצְרַיִם כָּל-אוֹתוֹ הַלַּיְלָה, עַד שֶׁבָּאוּ תַלְמִידֵיהֶם וְאָמְרוּ לָהֶם רַבּוֹתֵינוּ הִגִּיעַ זְמַן קְרִיאַת שְׁמַע שֶׁל שַׁחֲרִית.
It happened that Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Joshua, R. Elazar b. Azaryah, R. Akiva, and Rabbi Tarfon were reclining at a Seder in B’nei Brak. They were retelling the story of the Exodus from Egypt the entire night, until their students came and told them: “Our Masters! The time has come for reciting the morning Shema!”
This view, that more is better, is then codified by the Rambam in his introduction to the Seder (Chametz u’Matzah 7:1) and refined a few paragraphs later (7:4).
אפילו חכמים גדולים חייבים לספר ביציאת מצרים וכל המאריך בדברים שאירעו ושהיו הרי זה משובח.
Even great scholars are obligated to retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. And anyone who elaborates in recalling the events that occurred is praiseworthy.
וכן מתחיל ומודיע שעבדים היינו לפרעה במצרים וכל הרעה שגמלנו ומסיים בנסים ובנפלאות שנעשו לנו ובחירותנו. והוא שידרוש מארמי אובד אבי עד שיגמור כל הפרשה. וכל המוסיף ומאריך בדרש פרשה זו הרי זה משובח.
One begins by recalling that we were slaves in Egypt, and recounting all the hardships Pharaoh wrought. But he should conclude with the miracles and wonders that were done for us, and with our freedom. That is, he should expound on the verse “my father was a wandering Aramian” until he concludes that paragraph. And anyone who adds and elaborates in the exposition of these verses is praiseworthy.
According to Rambam, and as common practice confirms, the idea of kol hamarbeh is tied to: (i) retelling the story of pesach and (ii) primarily to maggid, which takes place prior to the meal. This point is made clear as Rambam ties the concept of kol hamarbeh specifically to the recitation of the drasha of ארמי אובד, which, common practice aside, stands as the core of maggid.
Are we there yet?
Notwithstanding the prominence of kol hamarbeh in the standard Haggadah and Rambam, this surprisingly does not appear to be the view of either the Tur or Shulkhan Arukh (“SA”). Notably, both of these codes suggest that one should move to the eating part of the seder quickly. Hence Tur/SA open their laws of the Seder as follows (OC 472):
יהיה שלחנו ערוך מבעוד יום כדי לאכול מיד כשתחשך ואף אם הוא בבית המדרש יקום מפני שמצוה למהר ולאכול בשביל התינוקות שלא ישנו אבל לא יאמר קידוש עד שתחשך:
One’s table should be set while it is still daytime, in order to eat immediately as it gets dark. And even if he is engaged in Torah study, he should conclude his studies and hurry [home] as it is a mitzvah to eat right away so that the children not fall asleep.
“Eating immediately as it gets dark” offers a rather different ethic than “elaboration is praiseworthy.” Rather than the long maggid and late meal, Tur/SA rule that one should hurry and eat in order to keep the children awake and engaged. Interestingly, the Mishneh Berurah cannot quite accept that the eating part of the seder should start right away – presumably at the expense of an elaborated maggid – and thus reinterprets SA to require starting the seder and maggid immediately. But this is not the plain meaning of either Tur or SA, a fact recognized by the Mishneh Berurah itself.2
Even more surprisingly, neither Tur nor SA cite the famous language of the haggadah – kol hamarbeh harei zeh meshubach – codified in paraphrase by the Rambam. This is particularly unusual, as the SA usually follows the ruling of the Rambam (often verbatim) in absence of clear consensus in dissent among the Ashkenazi Rishonim, such as here.3
The source of Tur/SA is a Tosefta (Pesachim 10:6), repeated with slight variation in the Gemara (Pesachim 109a).
ר”א אומר חוטפין מצה לתינוקות בשביל שלא יישנו. ר’ יהודה אומר משמו אפילו לא אכל אלא פרפרת אחת אפילו לא טבל אלא חזרת אחת חוטפין מצה לתנוקות בשביל שלא יישנו
Rabbi Eliezer states: We grab the matzot so that the children will not fall asleep. R. Yehuda related in his name: Even if he has only eaten one appetizer, and even if he has not dipped in relish, we grab the matzot so that the children will not fall asleep.
Rishonim offer different understandings of this “grabbing” practice. For Rambam (C&M 7:3), it is intended as a tool to pique the children’s interest in the Seder, likely the source of the customary hide-and-go-seek afikomen game. Others (Rashi, Rashbam ibid; Ra’avad to C&M) read “grab” the matzot as meaning to quickly eat them, so that the children will not fall asleep before eating the matzah, the night’s central mitzvah.4
Returning to the Tur/SA then, there seems to be no merit in elongating the maggid on the basis of kol hamarbeh. To the contrary, their plain reading implies that the eating, not maggid, is the night’s primary focus.
Overtaken by Exhaustion
Before we too hastily conclude that the Tur/SA prescribe “Seder-lite,” we should note a line in the SA, based on the Tur, at the end of the laws of the Seder (OC 481):
חייב אדם לעסוק בהלכות הפסח וביציאת מצרים ולספר בניסים ובנפלאות שעשה הקדוש ברוך הוא לאבותינו עד שתחטפנו שינה.
A person is required to delve into the laws of the Pesach sacrifice and the Exodus and to recount the miracles and wonders that God performed for our forefathers until he is overtaken by exhaustion.
On a careful reading, it is clear that this concept is distinct from the Rambam’s idea of kol hamarbeh. The first divide emerges regarding the timing. Tur and SA cite this at the very end of the laws of the Seder; not only does Rambam, in contrast, place kol hamarbeh in his discussion of maggid, but even the haggada itself puts kol hamarbeh in the opening paragraph of maggid. Further, in the codifing structure of the SA and the Tur, this law shares a chapter with only one other ruling, the restriction on drinking wine beyond the fourth and final cup of the seder. The language draws the conceptual link, that the restriction is meant to encourage staying awake to learn after the Seder. These two instances would indicate that this obligation of lengthy study is reserved for following the completion of the seder.
The source for this halacha is once again found in the Tosefta (Pesachim 10:8), which cites an alternate/parallel story to the one found in the haggadah.
אין מפטירין אחר הפסח כגון אגוזים תמרים וקליות . חייב אדם לעסוק בהלכות הפסח כל הלילה אפילו בינו לבין בנו אפילו בינו לבין עצמו אפילו בינו לבין תלמידו. מעשה ברבן גמליאל וזקנים שהיו מסובין בבית ביתוס בן זונין בלוד והיו עסוקין בהלכות הפסח כל הלילה עד קרות הגבר. הגביהו מלפניהם ונועדו והלכו [להן] לבית המדרש.
One does not eat any desserts after the Pesach sacrifice, such as nuts and dates. A person is obligated to engage in the laws of the Pesach sacrifice all night, even just with one’s son or even by himself or with his student. It once happened that Rabban Gamliel and the elders were reclining at a Seder in the home of Beithus b. Zunin in Lod, and they were engaged in the laws of Pesach that entire night, until the rooster crowed. At that time, the tables were removed from before them and they arose to attend the synagogue.
When compared with the story in the haggadah, several key differences emerge. First, in the Tosefta’s version, the all-night chavruta takes place after the Pesach sacrifice has been eaten (nowadays, the time when we eat the afikoman) and the Seder has concluded. In fact, these are the penultimate lines of Tosefta Pesachim. The Tosefta’s “takeaway” image of Pesach is the post- Seder learning trailing off into the night. Second, rather than telling the story of pesach, these tana’aim are learning the technical halachot of korban pesach.5 Finally, whereas the haggadah suggests that the students had to remind the rabbis to wrap up the Seder because they lost track of time, in the Tosefta the Rabbis conclude their study session in a seemingly deliberate and orderly manner as dawn breaks.In fact, Sefat Emet audaciously reads the haggadah’s story as suggesting that the Rabbis were so involved in their discussion, they forgot to eat matzah!6
Thus, while the Tosefta records a requirement to stay up all night learning the laws of the Pesach sacrifice after the Seder, it says nothing about elaborating the maggid before the meal. Additionally, it makes no mention of the language כל המרבה לספר.
Notably, the Rambam follows the haggadah’s version rather than the Tosefta and likewise makes no mention of the requirement to stay up all night to learn. To the contrary, Rambam ends his laws of the seder with the halacha of what happens when someone falls asleep at the Seder! Further, whereas Tur/SA explain the reason one cannot drink after the fourth cup is to be able to stay up to learn Torah (i.e., hilchot ha-Pesach), the Rambam gives a different reason: so that the taste of the matzah (afikoman) remains the final memory of the Seder on the palate.7 (Rambam 8:9). For the Rambam, the work of the Seder is done before the meal, not after.
If the most famous line of the Haggadah is kol hamarbeh the second most famous phrase is likely בכל דור ודור חייב אדם לראות/להראות את עצמו כאילו הוא יצא ממצרים that “everyone must see himself as if he personally participated in the Exodus from Egypt.” Surprisingly, this line is also absent from Tur and SA, a highly unusual omission given the prominence this idea receives in the Mishnah, Haggadah and Rambam.
Minimum and Maximum
A clue to understanding the different views of the Seder may be related to the reading of yet a third famous line in the Mishna, which too appears in the haggadah.
אמר רבן גמליאל כל שלא אמר שלשה דברים אלו בפסח לא יצא ידי חובתו ואלו הן: פסח מצה ומרור.
Rabban Gamliel said: Whoever does not mention these three things on Pesach has not fulfilled his obligation, and they are: the Pesach offering, matzah and maror.
The conventional understanding is that Rabban Gamliel is setting forth the minimal standard required to fulfill the mitzvah of סיפור יציאת מצרים, the retelling of the Exodus story during Maggid. This indeed is the view of the Rambam (7:5).
Rabbi Joseph Soloveichik, however, is quoted as noting that RambaN likely disagrees. Rabban Gamliel’s לא יצא refers not to the minimum standard for maggid, but to eating the Pesach, matzah and maror. On this view, Rabban Gamliel holds that unless one explains why each item is eaten, he has not fully fulfilled the mitzvah of eating the Pesach, matzah and marror. (Milchamot to Rif on Berachot 2b)
What emerges then is a debate over the central theme of the Seder. Consistent with his focus on the maggid, Rambam understands Rabban Gamliel as offering the corollary of the kol hamarbeh principle: The ideal is to stay up all night telling the story, but Rabban Gamliel informs us of the minimal baseline: at the very least, note the Pesach, matzah and marror.
RambaN, by contrast, holds that the eating of the Korban pesach is the primary focus, and thus R. Gamliel addresses this mitzvah. Moreover, as the protagonist of the Tosefta’s version of the all-night learning session, Rabban Gamliel is encouraging a short and quick maggid – just covering the main points– in order to transition the Seder toward its true focal point, eating the Korban Pesach (today, the matzah).8 This accords with the view codified by Tur/SA, who encourage one to proceed quickly to the eating, and then spend the rest of the night learning the laws of the Korban Pesach.
Different Girsas & Different Goals
To sum up, we have raised the following issues: (i) the ideal of kol hamarbeh, (ii) the related story in the haggadah, and (iii) the ideal of לראות את עצמו, Rambam holds the core mitzvah is the retelling of maggid, hence the longer the better. From this perspective, the mitzvot of eating the Pesach, Matza and Maror are understood as visual and tactile props used to enhance the retelling of the story.
The goal of this view of the Seder is to create an experience where the entire family, בנערינו ובזקינינו, uses story, study and song, to relive the birth of Am Yisrael. When successful, this is surely close to the Seder’s ideal, but there is also a cost to setting ambitions too high. Elaborate lomdusche vortlech are not always appreciated: the kids might fall asleep, the adults tune out, and tracking Sfat Emet, some may even miss out on the matzah itself. It is no wonder that Rambam who champions this view, ends his halachot of the Seder with the laws that apply to those who fell asleep in the middle (8:14)!
By contrast, following the Tosefta’s requirement to keep the children awake for the matzah, and its story of R. Gamliel and the Elders, the Tur and SA adopt a more modest view of the Seder. There is no mitzvah kol hamarbeh if the effect is that the audience will lose interest or fall asleep. Hence maggid is kept short and the night’s focus rests on eating the Pesach (today, matzah). Then, once the Seder is over, and the kids are presumably asleep, one should follow R. Gamliel’s lead to stay awake all night in discussion of the laws of the Pesach. Notably, this approach hews closer to what some Rishonim as well as academic scholars understand as the practice during Mikdash times. The food came first and the discussion followed.9
Halakhah & Aggadah
The tension between whether the core of mitzvah is to retell the story of Pesach or to focus on the halachot of the korban pesach is also reflected in a competing version of the beraita of the Four Sons. Following the Mechilta, the text of the haggadah explains that we teach the חכם the “הלכות הפסח” whereas the תם,is told stories, כי בחוזק יד הוציאנו’. By contrast, the Yerushalmi’s version is reversed. The חכם is told the story of the Exodus whereas the טיפש—a term far less ambiguous term than תם– is told the halakhah of not eating after the afikoman.10
Of course, the very definitions of halacha and aggadah shift depending on the abilities of the student. In the standard version of the haggadah, the halacha taught to the חכם’s is the lomdus of kodshim relating to the korban pesach. Here halacha takes on a broad meaning: not just a series of rules but a complex religious worldview developed from the analysis of halacha and its principles. The aggadah told to the תם , on the other hand, is more along the lines of the “Little Midrash Says”– a basic narrative that children of all levels can grasp.
The Yerushalmi teaches the opposite. In telling the Exodus story to the חכם, we mean the philosophy and theology of being an עם הנבחר and what it means to serve Hashem. On the other hand, the halakhah we tell the טיפש is much flatter, akin to a קיצור שלחן עורך: Eat this, drink that, and do not touch that. These are rules of conduct, but not much more.
This machloket is replicated in the competing stories of how the tannaim spent the Seder night. Did these proverbial חכמים learn the halakhah of the korban or retell the aggadah of the Exodus? The argument about the details of the Seder is no less than a debate over how to convey the essence of the Jewish experience: halakhah or aggadah? Talmud or theology? This tension is presented in the Mishnah and Tosefta and filters down to Rambam, Tur and Shulchan Aruch, with implication for how we should run our own Seder tables.
The text of this story is indigenous to the Haggadah. it does not appear in any other classical source. ↩
See MB, OC 472 (1) and (3) and Sha’ar HaTzyuin at (2); See also Arukh HaShulkhan 472:1. ↩
We note that R. Sa’adya Gaon’s haggadah omits both the text of kol hamarbeh as well as the follow up story of the Tana’aim in Bnei Brak. This text does appear, however, in the Haggadot of R. Natronai Gaon, R. Amram Gaon, as well as the Rambam. See Shmuel and Zev Safrai, Haggadat Chazal at 266-67 (Carta 1998). ↩
See also Sha’ar Hatziyun 472:2. ↩
The version of the Tosefta cited in Tur states חייב אדם לעסוק בהלכות הפסח וביציאת מצרים כל הלילה. This girsa is reflected in the psak of the Shulchan Aruch cited above. Nevertheless, many of the girsaot of the Tosefta do not contain this addition, a position favored by most scholars. See Safrai, at p. 45, Joshua Kulp, The Schechter Haggadah at 203,(Schechter Institute 2009); Menachem M. Kasher, Torah Shelimah vol. 12 p.176. ↩
5640 d”h kol hamarbeh. ↩
The Tur/SA also cite the concept of not eating after the Afikoman, based on the Mishna of אין מפטירין אחר הפסח אפיקומן, in addition to the custom not to drink after the fourth cup for fear of falling asleep. The Rambam, on the other hand, does not mention the additional concern of not drinking more wine after the Seder. ↩
Interestingly, R. Gamliel who holds that the halachot of the korban are to be learned all night, also holds that the Korban can be eaten all night, as per the first Mishna in Berachot and more explicitly in Mechilta Bo 6. By contrast, R. Eliezer who holds that the Korban can only be eaten until midnight, maintains that the mitzva to learn about the korban also applies only until midnight. (See Mechilta to Shemot 13:14) This reinforces the connection between learning the laws of the korban and a seder focused on eating the korban. ↩
This is probably the simplest reading of Mishna P’sachim 10:3, and is so understood by the Mordechai (Seder Shel Pesach), and the “Seder Pesach Le’Rabbeuni Shmaya”, a student of Rashi. Amongst modern scholars, see Safrai, 13-18 who assumes that a seder centered on the retelling of the story, (as opposed to the recitation of Hallel and Korban) is a post-Churban innovation of Chazal. For a more complete discussion, see Yosef Tabory, Pesach Dorot at 70-78 (Hakibutz Hameuchad, 1996). ↩
This idea is developed in R. Kasher’s Haggadah Shleima at 120-123 (Machon Torah Shleima 1967) and The Schechter Haggadah at 206-210. ↩