Three Haggadah Insights by Rav Moshe Greenwald of Chust (1853 – 1910), author of the Arugat HaBosem
Why No Bracha on the Haggadah?
asks why we do not recite a bracha on the mitzvah of recounting the Exodus from Egypt on the night of Pesach as we do on the fulfillment of most other positive mitzvot. He answers that since this mitzvah has no specific quantity and it can be fulfilled with a few short words, the sages did not establish a bracha for it. Along a similar vein, the Rif explains
the mitzvah can be fulfilled with a mere mention of the Exodus such as we do when we recite the evening service (in the Shema and the blessing that follows it – Emet Ve’emunah). Thus, we cannot recite the bracha at the Seder. These answers are difficult to accept, however, since there are parts of the Haggadah which one must recite in order to fulfill the mitzvah of recounting the Exodus, such as the mention of Pesach, Matzah and Marror.
Rav Greenwald explains that the reason our sages established the saying of brachot before mitzvot is to ensure that we have the proper kavanah (concentration and devotion) and not simply do the mitzvah by rote. By reciting the bracha and praising G-d for sanctifying us with His mitzvot, we hopefully take it to our heart to do the mitzvah for the sake of our Creator. They only established this for mitzvot like Tefillin and Tzitzit where the action of the mitzvah is the goal of the mitzvah and the kavanah, which is considered the inner soul of that action, is essential for the proper fulfillment of the mitzvah.
In a case where the action of the mitzvah is not the ultimate goal, but, rather, there is something else which must follow that action in order to complete the mitzvah, they did establish a bracha. For example, the goal of giving tzedakah is not the act of giving but rather it is that the poor person should receive the money and benefit from it. In fact, the Midrash says that if a person loses a coin and a poor person finds it, the owner of the coin is rewarded for the mitzvah of tzedakah.
Our sages did not establish a bracha for this mitzvah since, even if the mitzvah is done without kavanah, the ultimate goal – that the poor person be helped – is accomplished.
This is possibly the reason why the sages did not establish a bracha on the mitzvah of saying the Haggadah. The purpose and goal of this mitzvah is to praise G-d for the miracles He wrought for us and to implant the belief in His wonders in the hearts of our descendants – that He revealed Himself to us and took us out of Egypt with His outstretched arm. As the verse says, “And you shall tell your son on that day.”
Thus, if a person successfully implants this belief in his descendants, he has fulfilled the mitzvah, even if he did not have kavanah when he told them the story. Therefore, the sages did not establish a bracha on this mitzvah.
הא לחמא עניא – This is the Bread of Poverty
The Matzah is called the bread of poverty because it allows us to realize just how impoverished we are. The Zohar
says that when the Jewish people are in exile, we do not receive our sustenance directly from G-d. Rather, it comes through the guardian angels of the nation in which we are exiled. In fact, the sustenance is first received by the host nation and we only receive the “leftovers.” This is why the verse says, “And the L-rd said, ‘So will the children of Israel eat their bread unclean among the nations where I shall drive them.'”
This means that our sustenance in exile is considered unclean because we receive it by way of the pagan nations. Unfortunately, many Jewish people are not aware of the sorry spiritual state we are in. This can be compared to the teaching of the Talmud
that a live person does not feel if his dead (gangrened) flesh is cut with a knife. Similarly, the Talmud
says that a poor person has become so accustomed to being hungry he doesn’t even realize he is hungry.
By eating matzah, which the Zohar calls a healing bread,
a person can be spiritually healed to the extent that he now realizes how spiritually impoverished he truly is. This is why the Haggadah states, “Whoever is hungry come and eat.” This means that whoever is hungry, i.e., spiritually deficient but is unaware of his deficiency, should come eat the matzah and he will then realize his spiritual poverty. As a result of this, we can be moved to do complete Teshuvah, and we will thus merit, with G-d’ help, to be in the (redeemed) Holy Land next year. As our sages say, “Teshuvah is great in that it hastens the redemption,”
as the verse says, “And a redeemer shall come to Zion and to those who repent of transgression in Jacob.”
אִלּוּ הֶאֱכִילָנוּ אֶת-הַמָּן וְלֹא נָתַן לָנוּ אֶת-הַשַׁבָּת, דַּיֵּנוּ- If G-d had given us the Manna to eat but had not given us the Shabbat, it would have been enough.
What is the connection between the manna and the Shabbat, and why would the manna have been enough even if not for the Shabbat?
In reference to the manna, the Torah says, “And He afflicted you and let you go hungry and then fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your forefathers know, so that He would make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but rather by whatever comes forth from the mouth of the Lord does man live… And you shall keep the commandments of the L-rd, your G-d, to go in His ways and to fear Him.”
What does the Torah mean that the manna was a “test” to the Jewish people? It would seem that the manna should have been the very antitheses of a test! Since the Jewish people were completely dependent on G-d for the manna to fall every day for 40 years, they certainly should be more devoted to Him as a result! Also, how is the next verse about keeping the commandments relevant to the manna?
To understand this, Rav Greenwald explains the verse in the Psalms, “I considered my ways, and I returned my feet to Your testimonies.”
Why did King David have to consider his ways?
It is well known among businessmen that to be successful in business, it is essential to take an accounting of one’s business regularly. Otherwise, one may not even realize that one’s expenses may be outpacing his gains and he can lose everything. This is true regarding a businessman who uses his own money for his business, but is even more important for someone who needs to take loans to run his business. If the creditors do not see that his business is on firm footing, they will stop extending him credit.
If this is true regarding physical ventures, how much more does it apply to one’s spiritual affairs! Every person must consider his ways and pay attention to his actions and know which of them needs rectification, especially in light of the fact that G-d has extended us “credit” and is far kinder to us than we deserve. When doing this reckoning, it is essential not just to calculate the positive aspects but also the negative ones. In fact, there can be both positive and negative aspects of one and the same action. For example, the mitzvot of putting on Tzitzit and Tefillin, reading the Shema, and praying should involve remembering the mitzvot, subduing the mind and heart to G-d, accepting the yoke of Heaven, and fearing and loving G-d. But if one does these without kavana (concentration) or with impurity in his body (i.e., the need to go to the bathroom) or in his mind (having sinful thoughts while praying) these actions may, in fact, be considered sinful. In addition, certain sins may be so severe that they outweigh many mitzvot, for example, lashon hara, (slander) scoffing at holy matters, speaking business matters on Shabbat, and thinking sinful thoughts.
Sometimes making a reckoning is difficult as it is hard for a person to see his own faults. For this reason, G-d gave the first generation of Jews who left Egypt a method with which one could test his level of devotion to G-d. The Talmud
says that the manna tasted differently for each individual depending on their righteousness. In addition, the more righteous a person was, the less effort he had to put into gathering and preparing his manna. In this way, the manna acted as a system by which the Jewish people could analyze their conduct and realize their mistakes. If one day, the manna did not taste quite as good as it had the previous day, or if it fell a further distance from one’s home, one would know he had sinned in some way on the previous day. He could then work on identifying and correcting that sin.
This is why the Torah calls the manna a test, as each person could use it to test his spiritual level. And this is why the Torah encourages the observance of all of the mitzvot after mentioning the manna as this was something that the manna accomplished.
Although we no longer have the manna, we have another technique of testing our religious observance. It is the mitzvah of Shabbat. The degree of holiness we sense on Shabbat is commensurate with our level of general devotion to G-d. Our sages say that Shabbat is one sixtieth of our share in the World to Come.
So, if one senses the holiness of Shabbat in a powerful way, it is a sign that he has a great portion in the Next World. This is why we remember the Manna on Shabbat. Logically, it would seem that we should remember the Manna during the weekdays which is when it fell as opposed to on Shabbat, when it did not fall. But the two are connected in that they are both tests of our religious devotion.
This is why King David said, “I considered my ways, and I returned my feet to Your testimonies.” “Your testimonies” refers to the mitzvah of Shabbat which is a testimony that G-d created the world. King David said, when I want to consider and make a reckoning of my level of serving G-d, I pay attention to how much holiness I feel on Shabbat, as the verse says, “Shabbat is the sign between G-d and the Jewish people” by which “to know that I, G-d, have sanctified them.”
This is why the Haggadah says that if we had had the Manna but not the Shabbat, it would have been enough as for that generation, the Manna acted the way the Shabbat does for us – to give us feedback as to our true spiritual level.
Wishing you and all of Klal Yisrael a Shabbat Shalom and a kosher and happy Pesach!
From the Hagaddah, Hallel Nirtzah
Cited in the Avudraham. See also Responsa of the Rosh, Klal 24, siman 2
Sifri, Parshat Ki Tetzei, Siman 283
An additional reason as to why no bracha was established for the mitzvah of giving tzedakah is that this will delay the giving of the tzedakah. Especially if the person making the bracha first washes his hands and then recites the bracha with great intensity. While he is doing this, the poor person may literally expire from hunger. In fact, the Talmud recounts a story that Nachum Ish Gamzu once delayed feeding a poor man for several minutes and the poor man died while waiting for the food (Ta’anit, 21a). See Responsa of Arugat HaBosem (also by Rav Moshe Greenwald), O.C. 207.
Vol. 2, Parshat Terumah, page 152b
Vol. 2, Parshat Tetzaveh, 183b