Pesach: The Case of the Mysterious Missing Bracha
One of the most noticeable dimensions of Judaism is the emphasis placed on reciting brachas (blessings). For almost every detail in our lives there is a corresponding bracha. The birth of a child, a Bris, a Pidyon Haben, under the Chuppah, and even at a funeral, there is always an accompanying bracha. A bracha is an integral part of every Shabbat and Yom Tov, when they begin and when they conclude. We recite brachas before everything we eat and afterwards as well. The concept of brochas is so important that Chazal teach (Brachot 35b) that one who derives benefit from the physical world without first making a brocha is considered to have stolen from Hashem. The Maharsha explains this is because “the entire world belongs to Hashem.” (Tehillim 24:1), and making a bracha is therefore a prerequisite (Rashi, ibid.). Brachas are so essential to our connection to Hashem that a person is obligated to make a minimum of one hundred brachas each day (Bamidbar Rabbah, Korach 18). Almost from the moment that we wake up until we go to sleep at night, we are occupied with brachas.
Yet, there is a moment in the year that lacks a bracha. Not just a “regular” moment, but one of the most uplifting and intensely spiritual moments of the entire year. At the beginning of Pesach, as we sit down to fulfill the sublime, once-in-a-year mitzvah of recounting the story of the Exodus from Egypt, it would seem to be essential to begin the Haggadah with a bracha. But there is not one. It seems incongruous that on one of the most elevated nights of the year, there is no bracha said over a mitzvah unique to Leil HaSeder. And, if that were not difficult enough to understand, some say that there actually is a bracha for the Haggadah — just not at the beginning, but rather only at the end of the Maggid section. Just before we make the bracha over the second cup of wine, we recite a paragraph that ends with the words, “Baruch Atah Hashem, Ga’al Yisrael — Blessed are You, Hashem, Who has redeemed Yisrael.” According to some halachic authorities, this is the bracha for the mitzvah of saying the Haggadah. But why would we be making a bracha at this point, of all places? As a rule, a bracha is recited immediately before doing the mitzvah. Yet, here, on Leil HaSeder, why would we wait to recite the bracha only much later.
Rabbi Uziel Milevsky explains that it is only at this point that we are actually capable of making a bracha for the mitzvah of the Haggadah. Up until this moment, we have been enslaved to Pharaoh. Not just physically enslaved, but mentally as well. A little over two centuries of servitude is sufficient to completely destroy a nation’s sense of self-worth. It is more than enough to leave a nation psychologically bound to their captors — even if they have left the geographic location of their slavery. So it is only now, at the end of Maggid, that we have finally succeeded in breaking the chains that bind us to Pharaoh. Not just the Pharaoh of ancient Egypt, but all the “Pharaohs” we have been subjected to over many generations. After watching the enormous might of the Egyptian army destroyed in front of their eyes, the Jewish nation finally understands, as clearly as can be, that it is Hashem Who runs the world. Hashem alone.
The Yesod v’Shoresh Ha’Avodah writes that when we reach this paragraph in the Haggadah, we should feel an immeasurable sense of gratitude to Hashem for His having redeemed us. And each of us should feel as if we are the personal beneficiaries of the redemption. As the Malbim explains, despite the fact that the bracha is phrased in the past tense, the seeds of all the future redemptions are contained within the Exodus from Egypt. The Malbim cites a verse to support this idea, when Hashem declared, “As in the days that you left the land of Egypt, I will show you wonders.” (Michah 7:15)
What a moment! It is perhaps the most climatic moment in the entire Haggadah. As we anticipate the Final Redemption, we are being promised that whatever was experienced at the Exodus will be experienced once more as we enter the Messianic era.
Please accept my bracha that we all will be blessed by Hashem with an uplifting and inspiring Seder night, one full of novel and thought-provoking ideas and replete with intellectual delicacies (and the edible kind, too!). And, as we each reach the bracha of Ga’al Yisrael, let us pause for a moment to comprehend the enormity of what we are saying. Then, with hearts overflowing with sincere longing to experience the Final Redemption, let us join together and enter into the spiritual realms that can be accessed only on the Seder night.