(Fulfilling the Mitzvah of) Telling the story of the Exodus.
Maggid, the section of the Seder where we fulfil the mitzvah of telling the story of the Exodus, is a beautifully woven compilation of questions, answers, Talmudic discourse, and hymns of praise.
It is important that all in attendance should be involved in the retelling of the Passover story, and that the Haggadah be recited in a language that is understood by all participants. (However, even if participants do not understand Hebrew, there should be an attempt to incorporate the sacred tongue as much as possible, even via transliteration. This may be accomplished simply by reading only the blessings in Hebrew or by reading the paragraph headings in Hebrew and then continuing in English.) Some families have the custom of having every participant read a paragraph while others prefer that only the leader reads. Whatever one’s family custom, remember: creativity is welcome. If the participants of the Seder are particularly theatric, a short skit can be added to keep those present alert and inspired. If those gathered at the Seder enjoy debate, prepare discussion points beforehand and give everyone a chance to air their views.
The following outline of the Maggid section is meant to help you understand the text as well as to inspire conversation. Remember the Seder is designed for questions and discussions
(Please bear in mind that there are hundreds of different Hebrew-English Haggadot and translations of the following texts may vary slightly)
Ha Lachma Anya – This is the bread of affliction
The Ha Lachma Anya passage was added to the Haggadah after the destruction of the Second Temple (70 CE) and is written in Aramaic. Before telling the story of the redemption, an invitation is extended to anyone unable to celebrate on their own, underscoring the unity of Israel. (The Talmud ascribes the destruction of the Second Temple to lack of unity.)
“This year we are slaves, next year – free people!” How can one understand this passage today, especially in America where it seems that our freedoms are limitless? The Haggadah, however, is talking about spiritual freedom–when one is freed from the bonds of materialism and from the many fears that beset modern society.
Mah Nishtana – The Four Questions
The Four Questions are an essential element of a successful Seder because they underscore the importance of the children’s participation and of asking questions.
While in Ashkenazi communities the Four questions are traditionally recited by the youngest capable Seder participant, one should not assume that the Four Questions are meant only for the children. Asking questions is everyone’s duty. In fact, according to the Talmud, even if one is alone, one should ask the Four Questions aloud.
i) Judaism puts great value on questioning because questions demonstrate a sincere interest in learning answers.
ii) Since the Four Questions emphasize the participation of children at the Seder, it is important to remember to have discussions on a level that they can understand.
The order of the Four Questions varies between Ashkenazic and Sepharic communities. The text of the questions, however, is the same.
Many Sephardic communities lead into the Four Questions or into The Maggid section itself with an interactive dialogue. For more on the varying customs of the Passover Seder, CLICK HERE.
Avadim Ha’yinu…/We Were Slaves In Egypt and the discussion of the Rabbis
The response to the Four Questions is found in the section that begins with Avadim Ha’yinu. Why is this night different from all other nights? Because “we were slaves in Egypt…”
What does the Haggadah mean when it says that had G-d not brought out our ancestors from Egypt, then we, our children and our children’s children would still be enslaved to Pharaoh? It is difficult to assume that this means physical slavery. We must therefore understand that the Haggadah is referring to a spiritual enslavement:
The sages teach that had the Jewish nation remained in Egypt even a few moments longer, they would have lost any ability to be redeemed. Had they remained in Egypt they would have become inextricably mired in the idol worship of the Egyptians, and enslaved to the deity of Pharaoh.
“Even of we were all wise…all knowing the Torah, we would still be obliged to tell about the Exodus…” The Haggadah uses this verse in Avadim Ha’yinu to segue into a discussion of 5 great rabbis who stayed up until dawn discussing the Exodus and why they spent the night retelling the Passover story.
Baruch HaMakom/Blessed is the Everpresent
Baruch HaMakom is a paragraph of praise.
HaMakom is one of the names of G-d which implies that G-d is everywhere (makom can also be translated as place). Baruch HaMakom reminds us that even in what seems to be the ultimate downfall – slavery – G-d was there, for G-d is everywhere.
The Four Sons – This section opens with a description of four children (the wise, the wicked, the simple, and the one who does not know how to ask), how they react to the Seder and how one should respond to their questions.
While translated as Four Sons, it must be remembered that Hebrew has no gender neutral language and the masculine is used for the general. Thus this section refers to both sons and daughters.
The section of the Four Sons reminds us that one must treat each child as an individual and pay attention to their particular needs.
The Four Children:
The Wise Child asks “What are the commandments which G-d has ordained for us?” This child includes him/herself with those who are commanded. This child is considered wise because (s)he recognizes his/her relationship to the Exodus and to G-d.
The Haggadah advises that the Wise Child should be answered by being instructed in all the laws of the Seder. Once a child is ready to study more, the Haggadah stresses the fact that all of Torah should be open to probing. Judaism welcomes and respects questions, and encourages probing minds to seek more and more knowledge and understanding.
The Rebellious Child asks “What does this service mean to you?” This child does not look upon the Seder, the redemption from Egypt or a relationship with G-d as having relevance to him/herself.
The Haggadah instructs that the Rebellious Child’s teeth be blunted, meaning that it may be appropriate to answer this child sharply, in order to jar him/her from apathy and self-absorption and make him/her recognize that even in Egypt, to be redeemed one needed at least to recognize him/herself as part of the community of Israel.
The Simple Child asks for the meaning of the Seder. Unlike the Wise Child who has learned and is instructed in laws, the Simple Child seeks to understand the basic facts.
The Haggadah instructs that the Simple Child be told that G-d took the Jews out with a strong hand, so that such children will feel the security of G-d’s love.
The One Who Does Not Know How To Ask must also be addressed, for very often this is the child most threatened with disappearing from the Jewish community. When one asks questions, one expresses some level of interest. Where there are no questions, there is likely to be no interest.
The Haggadah instructs that the child’s interest must be stimulated, even if it means that the question is asked by someone else. The commentators add that the tone of the response must be appropriate for each particular child.
Mit’chee’lah Ovdei Avodah Zarah/In the Beginning Our Ancestors Were Idol Worshipers:
Having defined the Four Sons, the Haggadah begins the Passover story anew, this time moving back in history to before the enslavement in Egypt. By referring back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Haggadah reminds participants that the Jewish forefathers earned the special love and protection that the Jews receive from G-d. Following right after the Four Sons, it is important to remember that this history must be shared with all participants so that they understand that they too are part of the redemption.
“And he said to Abram: Know that your children will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they shall serve them, and they shall treat them harshly for four hundred years, but I will also judge the nation that they shall serve and afterwards they shall come out with great wealth” (Genesis 15: 13-14). This quote reminds Seder participants of the fact that the Jewish enslavement in Egypt was all part of a predefined Divine plan and that history must be looked upon as a complete unit in order to recognize the Divine element.
V’hi Sheh’amdah/And it is this that has stood
This paragraph praises G-d for protecting the Jews throughout the generations.
And it is “this” – What is the “this” that is referred to? Some sages say that “this” refers to the Torah, which is the contract between the Jews and G-d. From the logical sequence of the words, however, one could also assume that “this” refers to G-d’s promise to Abraham to redeem the Jews from slavery.
T’zei Ul’mad/ Go and Learn
Having praised G-d for protecting the Jewish people throughout the generations, the Haggadah returns to the Passover story by examining the wickedness of Laban and the story of the Jewish people through their journey to Egypt, slavery, and redemption.
After introducing this section with the charge of “go and learn,” the Haggadah presents four verses from Deuteronomy and proceeds to elaborate on the meaning. In doing so, the story of the Exodus is studied in depth. The four verses are:
- “The Aramean sought to destroy my father (Jacob) and the latter went down to Egypt and sojourned there, with a family few in number; and he became there a nations, great, mighty and numerous.” Deuteronomy 26:5
- “The Egyptians ill-treated us, oppressed us and laid heavy labors upon us.” Deuteronomy 26:6
- “We cried to the L-rd, the G-d of our ancestors and the L-rd heard our voice. He saw our ill-treatment, our burden and our oppression.” Deuteronomy 26:7
- “G-d brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand, with an out-stretched arm, with great fearfulness, with signs and with wonders.” Deuteronomy 26:8
Dam, Va’aish, V’timrot Ashan/ Blood, Fire and Pillars of Smoke
After discussing the meaning of “with wonders,” which introduces the ten plagues (wonders meaning blood, the first of the plagues), the Seder participants recite “Dam, Va’aish, V’timrot Ashan/ Blood, Fire and Pillars of Smoke.”
The Haggadah elaborates on the first plague by quoting from the prophet Joel who foresaw blood, fire and pillars of smoke as signs of the final redemption. However, it is also understood that when the Nile turned to blood, it boiled and emitted pillars of steam.
As one says “Dam,” “Va’aish,” and “V’timrot Ashan” drops of wine are spilled from the full cup.
While there are varying opinions as to why the wine is spilled, the great Spanish commentator, the Abrabanel, explained that one should remove wine from the cup because wine is a sign of rejoicing, and one should not rejoice when an enemy falls.
How the wine is spilled varies from family to family: some pour the wine out directly from the cup and some flick the wine out with their finger.
The removal of wine drops is repeated for the ten plagues and the mnemonic for the ten plagues.
The Ten Plagues – During the reading of the Ten Plagues, drops of wine are spilled from the full cup for each plague.
Dam – Blood – During the plague of blood the waters of Egypt turned to blood. This plague had two separate features: (1) the Nile, which the Egyptians worshiped, turned to blood, and (2) all the water that the Egyptians kept in containers in their homes also turned to blood, while the Jews still had water to drink.
Tze’far’day’ah – Frogs – There was no place for the Egyptians to escape from the frogs. They were everywhere, in the Egyptians’ beds, in their pockets, and even in their ovens.
Kinim – Lice – To initiate the plague of lice, G-d commanded Aharon via Moshe to hit the ground with his staff and the dust turned to lice and spread everywhere.
Arov – Wild Beasts – The plague of wild beasts trapped the Egyptians in their homes, for they dared not go out in the streets in fear for their lives.
Dever – Pestilence – The Egyptian cattle that had survived the ravaging of the wild beasts were struck by pestilence and died. No Jewish owned cattle died, even those in close proximity to the Egyptian cattle. The first five plagues taught the Egyptians that their possessions were lost and their wealth ephemeral.
Sh’chin – Boils – Even with all of their land and cattle destroyed, the Egyptians continued to deny G-d and to treat the Jews unfairly. The plague of boils struck them personally, showing them that ultimately they had no control over anything, not even themselves.
Barad – Hail – The plague of hail was two-fold in its actions: (1) it destroyed the physical structures of Egypt, and (2) it was a “fireworks” display of the power of G-d. For those who needed to be impressed by the awesomeness of G-d, the seventh plague consisted of giant hail that contained fire encased in ice. The hail killed much of the surviving Egyptian cattle and destroyed many agricultural crops.
Arbeh – Locusts – Not much was left of Egypt by the time the plague of locust arrived. The cattle were dead, the buildings destroyed, morale was low and then the locusts came in an enormous swarm which darkened the sky and devoured anything that remained of the crops.
Choshech – Darkness – For three days, total darkness descended on Egypt. The Sages taught that the darkness of choshech was so intense that it served as a physical restriction as well, leaving the Egyptians unable to move. The Jews, however, could see where they were going and had full range of motion.
Makkat B’chorot- Death of the First Born – The final plague was the only one for which the Jews needed to prepare. In order to be “passed-over,” Moshe instructed the Jews to mark their doorposts with lamb’s blood. And in the darkness of the midnight hour, G-d smote all of the first born in the land of Egypt.
D’tzach, A’dash, B’ah’ch’av – The mnemonic device
The Haggadah relates that Rabbi Yehuda, a Talmudic Sage, grouped the plagues by their initials, which underscores the importance of not only remembering the plagues, but of remembering them in order.
As one says “D’tzach,” “A’dash,” and “B’ah’ch’av,” drops of wine are spilled from the full cup.
Rabbi Yose the Galilean…
Following the Ten Plagues, the Haggadah discusses the varying opinions of the Rabbis as to how mighty and numerous the plagues actually were. Each opinion serves to glorify the deed done by G-d and leads the Seder participants into Dayenu.
One of the most famous of all Seder songs, Dayenu praises G-d for the many miracles and gifts He gave to the Jews.
The format of Dayenu: Dayenu is a song that builds upon itself. Each verse starts with the end of the preceding verse, and ends with an enthusiastic call of the word Dayenu! Dayenu means “It would have been enough!” This song reminds Seder participants how much for which there is to be grateful.
An example of the structure:
If G-d had brought us out of Egypt, but had not executed judgement upon the Egyptians, it would have been enough — (Dayenu)!
If G-d has executed judgement upon the Egyptians, but not upon their gods, it would have been enough — (Dayenu)!
An excellent Yom Tov day activity with older children is to go through Dayenu and then to encourage them to think about how Dayenu applies to their lives.
Pesach, Matzah and Maror
The next section of the Haggadah, introduced by a quote of Rabban Gamliel, defines the key ingredients of Passover: Pessach (The Pascal Offering), Matzah and Maror.
While one does not point to the shank bone when discussing the Passover offering, since it is only a representation, the matzah and Maror should be held up for all to see as they are discussed.
B’khol Dor Va’Dor/In Every Generation…
Having displayed the Maror and Matzah, and referred to the Passover offering, the Haggadah reminds Seder participants that they are not simply recounting an ancient tale: “In every generation one is obliged to regard him/herself as though he/she had actually gone out from Egypt.”
This is the perfect opportunity for the Seder leader to encourage all Seder participants to think about their own dependencies and how they can perhaps free themselves spiritually.
L’phi’chach…/Therefore it is our duty…
The paragraph beginning with “Therefore is it our duty” begins the conclusion of Maggid. From this point until the blessing on the second cup of wine, various psalms, part of the Hallel service, are recited.
The Second Cup of Wine
The Maggid section concludes with the drinking of the second cup of wine, after the proper blessings are recited.
The cup should be refilled before the blessing, since some wine (even if only a few drops) were spilled when reviewing and discussing the Ten Plagues.