Office of the Chief Rabbi

D’var Torah: The first days of Pesach

In his D’var Torah for the first two days of Pesach, the Chief Rabbi explores why Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel both agreed that Hallel should be split into two parts for Seder Night. For a full transcript, please see below.

In Shul every year on Pesach morning, I find that after saying ‘Good Yom Tov’, the first two questions that people pose to others are ‘How was your seder?’ and ‘At what time did it finish?’

There is a perception out there, that the longer your seder lasts, the frummer you are. Actually, that’s not necessarily the case. In the Mishna Masechet Pesachim there is a fascinating debate between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel, with regard to Hallel.  Beit Shammai tell us that before the meal, we recite the first paragraph of Hallel. Beit Hillel say that we must recite the first two paragraphs, and that’s what we do.

‘Isn’t it interesting that both Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel agree that we uncharacteristically split Hallel in two?’

You see the second paragraph starts with the words B’zeit Yisrael mi-Mitzrayim, referring to our exodus from Egypt, and that is the primary theme of Maggid, the central part of the seder before the meal. Isn’t it interesting that both Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel agree that we uncharacteristically split Hallel in two, and we don’t complete it before the meal. That is because they both agree that there are some hungry people around the table, usually children and to be honest sometimes adults, and we shouldn’t keep them waiting.

At the seder we need to empathise with those who are there; don’t drag it out so that it becomes too long, because you might lose the attention span of some of the participants. You could have a seder scenario through which, going into the early hours of the morning could afford you the opportunity to have an enthralling, inspirational seder experience by taking a long time to go into the inner depths of secrets of what is presented to us.

 ‘it’s quite possible that even with a short seder you have achieved the perfect Pesach experience’

In other contexts, doing that will actually be a punishment for those around the table, because sometimes, in an educational context, it’s brevity through which you can make the greatest mark and impact. As a result therefore, if your answer to the question ‘At what time did your seder end?’ is not 3 or 4am, give your answer with pride, because it’s quite possible that even with a short seder you have achieved the perfect Pesach experience. Chag Sameach.

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