Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Five Mitzvot of the Seder (Part I)

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

Although the singing of “Dayeinu” and “Chad Gadya” are important components of any Pesach Seder, they are not, however, among those things considered to be actual mitzvot, binding obligations of the evening. While we must not abandon even the most seemingly insignificant customs of the Seder, it is appropriate, however, to emphasize those rituals that are halachically required. Though it may appear otherwise, there are actually only five mitzvot that every Jew must be sure to perform at the Seder. Two of these are biblical in origin, while the other three are rabbinical in origin.


Click here to read moreOne of the biblically required mitzvot of the Seder night is to relate the story of the Exodus and freedom from Egyptian captivity. [1] This mitzva is based on the verse “And you shall relate it [the story of the Exodus] to your son on that day.”[2] Although one can theoretically do so in any style or order that one chooses, universal Jewish custom is to follow the format as it is presented in the Haggada.

Although there is a mitzva to recall the Exodus every single night of the year, Pesach night is different in that one is required to do so verbally and in a format of question-and-answer storytelling.[3] Even a person who is alone for the Seder would still be required to recite the Haggada audibly to his or herself.[4] While the Torah's wording seems to imply that a father is personally obligated to relate the story of the Exodus to his son, it is not always necessary that the father be the specific person to do so. It is permitted to appoint a shaliach, an agent, to ensure that one's son is told the Pesach story on Seder night. [5] For example, one fulfills the requirement of teaching one's son (read: children) through a Grandparent's recitation of the Hagadda or by one's host who may be leading the Seder. Women are equally obligated in this and all other Seder night mitzvot, as they too were redeemed from Egypt.[6]

Although as a general rule it is better to pray in Hebrew even if one doesn’t understand the meaning of the words rather than to pray in any other language,[7] it is imperative, however, that one understands the story of the Exodus. As such, one who is not fluent in the Hebrew text of the Haggada is required to recite it in English (or any other language one understands) in order to properly fulfill the mitzva.[8] While it is ideal, of course, to read and sing the entire Haggada, one must be sure at the very least to recite the portion of the Haggada that begins with the words “Rabban Gamliel used to say.”[9] This is often applicable to women who often find themselves preparing for the meal rather than sitting at the Seder table.

One must recite the story of the Exodus with a feeling as if one is now leaving Egypt oneself.[10] As a further display of freedom, the Haggada should be recited while comfortably sitting, though not while reclining.[11] One should make every effort to keep the children awake for as long as possible at the Seder that they too should hear the Haggada.[12] It is interesting to note that one who is visiting his children in Israel over Pesach and keeping a second day of Yom Tov[13] will be obligated in the mitzva of "And you shall relate it [the story of the Exodus] to your son on that day" towards one's Israeli Chol-Hamoed-observing children just like on the first night.[14]

While on a Shabbat or Yom Tov it is generally required to eat one's meal immediately following Kiddush without delay, the Pesach Seder is somewhat of an exception to this rule. Between the Kiddush and the start of the festive meal there is often a delay of quite some time, even hours, while reading the Haggada. Nevertheless, since the recitation of the Haggada is considered as a part and preparation for one's meal it is not considered a hefsek, a forbidden interruption between Kiddush and eating.[15]


The other biblically ordained mitzva that one must fulfill on the Seder night is that of eating matza, as the Torah says: “In the evening you shall eat matzot.”[16] While it is ideal for one to eat two kezaisim of matza when matza is first eaten at the Seder[17] ("Motzi Matza"), one fulfills the mitzva with even a single kezayit, 1.33 ounces.[18] It is recommended that one put the two kezaisim of matza into one's mouth at once,[19] swallowing one kezayit at a time.[20]

The matza must be eaten while reclining.[21] It is preferable to eat the matza within a three minute time span, though many authorities allow up to nine minutes.[22] One should have in mind when eating the matza that one is performing a mitzva of the Torah.[23] In our day and age, due to the lack of a functioning Beit Hamikdash, the mitzva of matza is the only mitzva of the Torah that one fulfils through eating.[24] It is best that one officially own the matza that one is using for the mitzva of eating matza.[25] Although there are other points in the Seder where one will be prompted to eat more matza, it is at "Motzi Matza" that one discharges the actual mitzva. Nevertheless, one 'gets' a mitzva for every bite of matza one eats throughout the first night of Pesach.[26]

EXTRA: Seder Tidbits

1. Many New Jerseyans following Rabbis Preil and Teitz use bananas for karpas
2. Rav Nebenzal and others, do not refill their cups after the ten plagues but are careful to use an oversized cup in order to maintain a post-spillage shiur of wine
3. The Lehmann Haggada translates Dayennu as a question: "Would it have been enough?”
4. Reportedly, the Bostoner Rebbe sings certain Seder songs (Echod mi Yodea/Chad Gadya?) in Arabic

Send more Seder Tidbits for next week!

NEXT WEEK: "The Five Mitzvot of the Seder, Part II". Please send me your lesser-known and obscure sources as well as anecdotes for inclusion. I truly thank and appreciate all those who sent me tidbits in preparation for this article!! rabbiari@hotmail.com


[1] Rambam Chametz U'matza 7:1
[2] Shemot 13:8
[3] Sefer Hamitzvot Rambam 157, Piskei Teshuvot 473:7
[4] O.C. 473:7
[5] B'tzel Hachachma 6:67, Teshuvot V'hanhagot 2:236
[6] O.C. 472:14
[7] OC 101:4; but see Sefer Chassidim 588 and 785 for a dissenting view.
[8] Rema O.C. 473:6
[9] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 119:4,
[10] Rambam Chametz U'matza 7:6
[11] Shulchan Aruch Harav 473:48
[12] Mishna Berura 472:50
[13] This writer is of the opinion the visitors to Israel should keep only one day. See: Shulchan Aruch Harav 496:11, Chacham Tzvi 167. Historically, from the time of Chazal onwards, visitors to Israel kept only one day. See Ir Hakodesh V'hamikdash 3:19
[14] Nitei Gavriel Pesach 83:27
[15] Aruch Hashulchan O.C. 273:4
[16] Shemot 12:18.
[17] O.C. 475:1
[18] Shulchan Aruch Harav O.C. 475:8, Mishna Berura 475:11;Biur Halacha
[19] Magen Avraham 475:4
[20] O.C. 275:1
[21] O.C. 475:1, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 119:5.
[22] Igrot Moshe O.C. 4:41
[23] Mishna Berura 475:34
[24] Chatam Sofer C.M. 196, cited in Nitei Gavriel 90:n28
[25] O.C. 454:4
[26] Nitei Gavriel 90:26

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