Favorite Haggadah Insights

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The Ohr Somayach Haggadah Supplement
The essential goal of the Pesach Seder is to communicate the story of the going out of Egypt. The following are insights into the Haggadah, contributed by Ohr Somayach Rabbis. We sincerely hope they will enrich your Pesach Seder.


The Torah calls Pesach "Chag Hamatzos." But we call it "Pesach." Why is this so? Rav Chaim Volozhiner explains as follows:

The word Matzos and the word Mitzvos are spelled exactly the same in Hebrew. Thus "Chag HaMatzos" can be read "Chag HaMitzvos," meaning that by leaving Egypt and receiving the Torah, the Jewish People now have the opportunity to earn great reward by doing the Mitzvos.

Pesach, on the other hand, means Passover: Hashem "passed over" the houses of the Bnei Yisrael. By calling it Pesach, we emphasize the good that Hashem has done for us.

Our Sages teach us not to serve Hashem with an eye to the reward; rather we should serve Him out of a sense of love and gratitude. By calling it Pesach we de-emphasize the reward that each Mitzva brings, and instead focus on the good that Hashem has done for us.

Rabbi Reuven Lauffer

Pesach II

The Torah calls this festival Chag HaMatzos (The Festival of Matzos), while we call it Pesach (Passover). We call it Pesach because Hashem passed-over our homes in Egypt. Hashem calls it Chag HaMatzos because of the "Mitzvos" (spelled similarly to "Matzos" in Hebrew) we perform with the Matzos. The Ari z"l points out that Pesach is a compound word which means Peh (mouth), and Sach (speaks), hinting that on this night we retell the history of the Exodus.

During the festival we read several sections of the Tanach (acronym for Torah, Nevi'im [Prophets] and K'suvim [Writings]). They mention Pesach and its Halachic details, its history and the description of its celebration at a particular time. There are three exceptions: The Haftorahs on the last two days of Yom Tov, and Shir HaShirim (The Song of Songs). The Haftorah of the seventh day presents David's song of thanksgiving after he was saved from King Saul. This parallels the Torah reading for that day, which is the singing of the Bnei Yisrael after crossing the sea.

The Haftorah for the eighth day presents a description of the Messianic redemption which the Sages said will start in Nisan, just as the redemption from Egypt began in Nisan. Shir HaShirim, read on Shabbos Chol HaMoed, alludes to our liberation from Egypt, and stresses the deep bond that was created at Sinai between the Bnei Yisrael and Hashem. This theme is expressed by a metaphor of a beautiful relationship between a man and a woman.

The Seder

The Seder has 15 parts, corresponding to the fifteen steps which ascended to the Temple. Our Sages say that our table is like an Altar, and this is particularly true on Seder-night, when our family table is a tool to achieve new spiritual heights. Similarly, just as the Temple helped the Jewish People sense the Divine Order in the world, so too, the Seder, the Hebrew word for order, is a reminder that Hashem guides world history.

Based on the Maharal


The Talmud explains that by beginning the Seder meal in an unusual way, with a vegetable instead of with bread, the children will be curious and ask, "Why are we beginning the meal with a vegetable instead of bread?" Once their curiosity is aroused, they will be more attentive to the story of the Exodus. Why a vegetable? Just as a vegetable serves as an appetizer, so too the unusual things we do this evening are meant to whet the children's curiosity.

Rabbi Yehuda Albin

The Four Cups

The cups parallel the four expressions in the Torah which describe our freedom from Egypt. The first cup, which also serves as Kiddush, parallels "I will take you out," when Hashem helped us recognize that we were Egyptian Jews, and not Jewish Egyptians. This is the essence of Kiddush sanctification - the realization that the Jewish People play a unique role in this world. The Haggada, the story of our physical exodus from Egypt, is recited over the second cup, symbolizing our physical salvation, which is parallel to "I will save you." A person is a slave to his physical needs. When the people were fed by Hashem in the wilderness, as we are today in a less miraculous manner, they were liberated from the shackles of the physical world in order to concentrate on loftier matters. Birkas HaMazon, the blessings which remind us that Hashem provides for our sustenance, is recited over the third cup, paralleling "I will redeem you" - the goal of the Exodus was the formation of a unique relationship with Hashem. Hallel is recited over the fourth cup. Hallel is the praise we bestow on Hashem, recognizing that He said "I will take you to be My nation."

Rabbi Milevsky

The Four Questions

According to the Abarbanel, the son is pointing out a contradiction: On the one hand, we recline like free people and dip our food like aristocrats. But, on the other hand, we eat "bread of affliction" and bitter herbs. Are we celebrating freedom here, or are we commemorating the slavery?

The answer is both!

"We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and Hashem, our G-d, took us out from there with a 'strong hand'..." Tonight we experience the transition from slavery to freedom.

The Four Questions II

More so than any other festival, the Seder-night is dedicated to children, because the Torah dictates that we must tell the history of the Exodus to our children on this night. The Haggada directs us to do many unusual things to arouse the children's curiosity so that they will want to know "why this night is different than all other nights." Immediately following Kiddush the curiosities begin. We wash hands as on each Shabbos or Festival, but on Seder-night we wash without a blessing because we first eat karpas (a vegetable) and not bread. Just as karpas whets our appetites for the matzah, so too, this unusual procedure interests us in the secrets of this night. The four questions expressing the childrens' interest are more than just a springboard for our discussion. They are part of the answer - the best story is one you want to hear! That is why the Sages say that even if you sit by yourself on this night you should interest yourself in the material by asking the four questions. People are inquisitive and should not be afraid to ask; if you are embarrassed to ask, you do not learn. The custom of providing treats for the children not only helps keep them awake, but also serves as a stimulus for their questions, and as a reward for their participation.

Rabbi Milevsky

“And if The Holy One...

Blessed be He, had not taken our fathers out of Egypt, we and our children and the children of our children would still be under the domination of Pharaoh in Egypt. Therefore we must thank [and] praise...Hashem.”

The Haggada tells us that Hashem Himself and not any other force freed us from Egypt. When the Divine contacts this finite world, something must be affected. Because Hashem, Himself, took us out of Egypt, the essence of the Jewish soul was changed, so that any physical enslavement in future generations could never lead to a slave mentality. Our aspirations will always be toward the loftiest goals, even when our day to day conduct may be filled with drudgery. Our unique drive toward a meaningful existence that forces Jewish people to the forefront of every major "cause" and "-ism" in world history is the direct result of Hashem, Himself, taking us out of Egypt. When we will realize what Hashem did for us, and not just for our ancestors, we will be able to "thank [and] praise..." the One who performed miracles for our ancestors and for us.

Based on the Maharal "Kiddush Hashem" - Sanctifying the Name of Heaven by giving up one's life - is not a Mitzva that every Jew has the opportunity to fulfill. And so it was that in Auschwitz a debate arose amongst the religious inmates: What is the correct form of the Bracha for this Mitzva? "Baruch Atah...L'kadesh Shmo B'rabim" (Blessed are You...Who has commanded us 'to sanctify' His Name in public), or "...Al Kiddush Shmo B'rabim" (...Who has commanded us 'concerning the sanctification' of His Name in public).

The Rabbi was asked, and he answered: For a Mitzva that one can do on someone else's behalf, one says "Al." But for a Mitzva that one can only do oneself, like putting on Tefillin one says "L" - "L'haniach Tefillin." Since giving up one's life is not something that one can do on someone else's behalf, the correct form of the Bracha is "L'Kadesh Shmo B'rabim."

When a person looks death in the face and is concerned as to the exactitude of the Bracha he will make as he exits this world -- this is someone who can never be enslaved. Once Hashem redeemed us from Egypt, our oppressors may dominate our bodies, but our souls can never again be enslaved.

Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair

The Four Sons

The author of the Haggada hints at the danger of a lack of education by his unique order of the Torah's four sons. He feared a degeneration from monotheism to self worship (a form of idol worship), the opposite path from that traversed by our ancestors. A wise child who asks questions demonstrating a basic knowledge of Judaism and is not answered properly may be so bitter that even if he himself is observant, his child will move away from Torah and Mitzvos. This wayward second generation will refuse to educate the third one. This Jewishly-simple third generation will never understand the parents' rejection of Judaism. He will be curious, but not overly interested in his heritage. He will produce a fourth generation which feels that the Torah could not possibly be intellectually satisfying. He is therefore so far removed from Torah that he has no interest in participating actively, nor does he know how to begin investigating. If he does not unearth the depth of Torah, the fifth generation will not even attend a Pesach Seder.

Rabbi Milevsky

The Wicked Son

What does he say?
"What does this drudgery mean to you!"

The wicked son's question is a quote from the Torah: "When your children will say to you...what does this drudgery mean to you!" The key to his wickedness lies in the word "say." He doesn't ask a question at all; rather, he "says." Therefore...

You should take the shine out of his teeth and say, "It's for this that Hashem did for me when I left Egypt." "For me and not for him."

The word "him" is in the third person. Since the wicked son's question is rhetorical, it gets no direct response. To whom, then, is the father speaking? To the son who "doesn't know how to ask a question." He, like the wicked son, asks no questions. Therefore, he is in danger of developing into a "wicked son" himself. The father looks at this son and warns him, "for me and not for him...Don't let his sarcastic smirk fool you ... Had he been in Egypt, he would have assimilated into Egyptian society, and would not have been redeemed."

Rabbi Gavriel Rubin

...And the One Who Does Not Know How to Ask

The Chida -- Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai -- in his commentary "Simchat HaRegel" on the Haggadah, explains that there are three ways one can fulfill the Mitzva of the telling of "Yetzias Mitzrayim. Ideally, the story should be told in the form of question and answer. The Talmud derives this from the Torah's description of Matza as "Lechem Oni" -- the bread over which a person answers.

The second level is to tell the story even if nobody asks. This is derived from the verse "and you shall tell your son on that day..." You should tell him, even if he doesn't' ask. Thus, the procedure of question and answer is preferable, but not absolutely necessary. (This is a rare example of L'chatchila and B'dieved in a Torah Mitzva.)

The third level is this: Even if a person is alone, he must speak about the going out of Mitzrayim. This is what Rabban Gamliel teaches when he says that one must "say" three particular statements as the bare minimum to fulfill the Mitzva. Thus, there are three possible levels on which to perform the Mitzva of "Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim."

The Chida adds: When introducing the fourth son The Haggadah uses the word "and." This teaches us that even if someone has other sons that fit into the first three categories, he should also pay attention to the one who does not know how to ask. This is an important lesson for those who are tempted to make the Haggadah an intellectual display which goes over the head of the youngest or least knowledgeable.

Rabbi Ephraim Yawitz

And it is This...

"...which has stood for our fathers and for us; for in each and every generation they stand against us to destroy us, and Hakadosh Baruch Hu rescues us from their hand."

Exactly what "This" refers to is not immediately clear. Is it the promise made to Abraham, mentioned previously? Or that "Hakadosh Baruch Hu always rescues us from their hand?"

Here is a third possibility -- a unique insight into the phenomenon of anti-Semitism: This, that "in each and every generation they stand against us to exterminate us" -- This is what has stood for us. Hard as we may try to forget our Jewishness and adopt the ways of our host nation, sooner or later they rise against us, remind us of our uniqueness, and awaken our commitment to Judaism.

Rabbi Shlomo Zweig, in the name of his father's father

And They Embittered Their Lives...

During a scholarly lecture, a simple person asked Rabbi Yonasan Eybeschitz the following: The Torah says, "and they embittered their lives," but the cantillation symbol that the cantor reads is a happy tune! The simplicity of his question amused the more erudite listeners.

"Excellent Question!" said Rabbi Yonasan. "Hashem told Abraham that his offspring would be in exile for 400 years. But in fact we were in Egypt for only 210 years. Why was this? Since the Egyptians "embittered their lives," Hashem had pity on us and shortened the exile by 190 years -- surely a cause for song!

"By the way," said Rabbi Yonason, to the astonishment of his listeners, "the cantillation symbol, 'Kadma V'Azla,' hints at this idea by its exact numerical value: 190.

Rabbi Yehoshua Karsh

Pesach, Matzah and Maror

Today, without the Temple we can not fulfill the Mitzvah of Korban Pesach, but we symbolically remind ourselves of it by roasting a bone for the Seder-plate. Also, without the Temple, the Mitzvah of maror is of Rabbinical status in our time. Of these three Mitzvos, only one is a Torah commandment today: Eating 2/3 of a machine shmura matzah, or 1/2 of a hand-made matzah.

The Festive Meal

One of the unique aspects of the Seder is that we interrupt the saying of the Hallel with a meal. Why is that? The Netziv explains as follows: The purpose of going out of Egypt was to receive the Torah. With the Torah we gain the ability to serve Hashem not only through "spiritual" means, such as Torah study and prayer, but through "physical" Mitzvos as well, such as marriage, enjoying Shabbos, eating matza, marror, and the Pesach offering. We eat in the middle of Hallel in order to praise Hashem for sanctifying and elevating our physical existence. Even "mundane" things like eating are elevated when we do them in the service of Hashem.

Rabbi Mordechai Perlman

Afikomen - Tzafon (Hidden)

The Afikomen is hidden away during Yachatz (division ceremony) at the beginning of the Seder. Many families have the custom to allow the children to steal the Afikomen. If we are trying to teach our children about Torah, how can we teach them to steal?! The Afikomen represents the future redemption which is hidden from us. Matzah, which must be eaten only after eating an appetizer to make us hungry, represents a passion for truth. Eliyahu HaNavi, whom we symbolically welcome with a fifth cup of wine on Seder-night, "will return the heart of the parents to the children and the children to the parents." The "gap" that prevents one generation from relating to a previous one is our biggest problem. When a generation takes the potential they have been given, and misappropriates it by not applying it to Torah which is the one thing that can help us bridge the gap between all past generations, they are stealing our future hope. We want our children to steal the Afikomen instead; they should crave the "quest" for Torah, represented by the matzah of the Afikomen, so that our final hidden redemption can be revealed.

Rabbi Milevsky


  1. In our lowliness, he remembered us...
  2. and redeemed us from our oppressors
  3. He gives food to all flesh...
  4. Praise G-d of the heavens!

These last four phrases of "Hallel HaGadol" can be seen as paralleling the four cups we drink tonight. Over the first cup we make kiddush and declare, "You chose us from all the nations." Why did G-d choose us? The Sages explain that Hashem chose the Jewish people because of their humility. "In our lowliness" -- in our humility, "He remembered us" and chose us. The second cup goes together with the Haggadah, where we tell how Hashem "redeemed us from our oppressors." Bircas Hamazon, where we recognize that "He gives food to all flesh" is said over the third cup. And with the fourth cup we sing Hallel..."Praise Hashem of the heavens!"

Rabbi Yehuda Samet

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