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The Seder Night: An Exalted Evening

Excerpted from ‘The Seder Night: An Exalted Evening’ A Passover Haggadah with a commentary based on the teachings of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik; Edited by Rabbi Menachem D. Genack Click here to buy the book

סדר הקערה The Talmud (Pesachim 114b) discusses the requirement to place shenei tavshilin, two cooked items, on the Seder plate, commemorating the korban Pesach and the chagigah offering that were eaten when sacrifices were brought in the Temple. Rav Huna says that this requirement may be fulfilled by using beets and rice. According to Rav Yosef, one must use two different types of meat. Rambam (Hilkhot Chametz u-Matzah 8:1) follows the opinion of Rav Yosef, while the popular custom is to place one item of meat and an egg on the Seder plate (see Kesef Mishneh, loc cit.).

The presence of the egg at the Seder also has another source. The first day of Passover always occurs on the same day of the week as Tishah be-Av, the day that marks the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jews (Orach Chayyim 428:3). Accordingly, the custom is to eat an egg, a symbol of mourning, on the first night of Pesach (see Rama, Orach Chayyim 476:2). The egg, therefore, symbolizes both joy, the chagigah, and mourning, Tish’ah be-Av.

The Beit ha-Levi explains the correlation between the first day of Passover and Tish’ah be-Av as follows. Several midrashic sources indicate that the Exodus from Egypt was premature. The Jews were supposed to have been enslaved in Egypt for 400 years but were redeemed after only 210 years. After 210 years of exile, the Jews were in danger of completely losing their Jewish identity. Had they remained in Egypt any longer, they would have been hopelessly assimilated. The urgent need to redeem them without further delay explains why the Exodus occurred “be-chipazon, in haste” (Deut. 16:3). God, therefore, redeemed them prematurely, and the balance of their term of exile would have to be completed in future exiles. Thus, the redemption from Egypt was not a complete redemption, since it was the cause of the later exiles. It is, therefore, appropriate to eat an egg, an open expression of mourning, on the very night of redemption.

It is interesting to note that the terminology of shenei tavshilin occurs with respect to the laws both of Passover, when one is required to place shenei tavshilin on the plate, and of Tish’ah be-Av, when one may not eat shenei tavshilin in the meal preceding the Tish’ah be-Av fast. The similar terminology further points to the correlation between Passover and Tish’ah be-Av.


סדר ליל פסח There is a logic and a structure not only to the Maggid section of the Haggadah, but also to the entire Seder. The Gemara emphasizes in several places the necessity of preserving the proper order of performance on Pesach night. For example, the Gemara (Pesachim 114b–115a) asks what blessing should be made if one must eat maror before the Maggid section because there is no other vegetable for karpas. It is evident from the discussion that the fulfillment of the mitzvah of maror would not have occurred the first time it was eaten when it was eaten as karpas, but rather the second. If one could fulfill the mitzvah of maror at the first dipping, the whole discussion of the Gemara would be superfluous. Apparently, one may not eat maror before matzah. According to Rashbam (Pesachim 114a), the sequential order of eating matzah first and then maror is biblically mandated. This is based on the verse “al matzot u-merorim yo’kheluhu, they shall eat it (the korban Pesach) with unleavened bread and bitter herbs” (Num. 9:11), implying that the matzot are eaten first, and then the maror. The requirement to maintain a sequence, however, is also applicable to the entire Seder.

In order to explain this, we must understand that each of the mitzvoth of Pesach night has two aspects, two kiyumim, two fulfillments. The mitzvah of sipur Yetzi’at Mitzrayim is discharged in a twofold way – through the medium of speech and through symbolic actions. A person who eats the matzah and the maror before saying Maggid fulfills the mitzvah of eating matzah, but does not fulfill the mitzvah of sipur Yetzi’at Mitzrayim by means of eating matzah. That is what the Gemara (Pesachim 115b) means by referring to matzah, lechem oni (Deut. 16:3), as “lechem she-onin alav devarim harbeh, the bread over which we recite many things.” Since eating matzah is also part of sipur, we understand the need for Seder, for a particular order of performance.

(Kol ha-Rav)

The language utilized by Rambam in his introduction to the order of the Pesach Seder is reminiscent of his introduction to the Temple service of Yom Kippur. In Hilchot Chametz u-Matzah (8:1), Rambam begins “Seder, the order, for the performance of the mitzvoth on the night of the fifteenth is as follows.” In Hilchot Avodat Yom ha-Kippurim (4:1), Rambam begins, “Seder, the order, for the performances of the day is as follows.” Just as following the order of the Yom Kippur service is essential for the proper performance of the mitzvah, so, too, following the order of the Seder is essential for the proper fulfillment of the mitzvoth of this night of the fifteenth of Nisan. By following an order we demonstrate that all the parts of the Seder are interconnected and only collectively do they properly retell the story of Yetzi’at Mitzrayim. If, for instance, one were to consume the matzah before reciting Maggid, the narrative would be deficient in that one would not have satisfied the facet of lechem oni, bread over which we are to recount the Exodus. Similarly, the karpas is intended to elicit the questions that will enable the Maggid discussion to proceed, and the failure to eat the karpas in its proper sequence would impair or forestall the Maggid section. Only through adherence to the prescribed order can we express the overarching principles and ideas that are intended to emerge from, and which are coordinated with, our actions on the Seder night.