THIS SITE IS NO LONGER SUPPORTED            בית מדרש הוירטואלי עבר דירה
PLEASE FIND US AT OUR NEW TORAT HAR ETZION WEBSITE                                  
     English shiurim @          לשיעורים בעברית @

Hallel (2)

  • Rav David Brofsky




Last week, we began our discussion of “Hallel” and noted the debate among Chazal, the Rishonim and Acharonim concerning the origins of this prayer. We also demonstrated that Hallel might play different functions on different occasions. For example, on Yom Tov Hallel may serve as an expression of simchat yom tov, while on other occasions it may also be a response to divine salvation. On Rosh Chodesh, we recite an abridged version Hallel, which, according to the Ra’avad, is intended to publicize the day. On Sukkot, as we concluded last week, Hallel may integrate with the taking of the lulav as an expression of praise to God.


Another relevant source to that discussion is a rhetorical question posed by the gemara (Pesachim 117b) in supporting the view that Moshe instituted the recitation of Hallel: “Is it possible that Israel slaughters the korban pesach and takes the lulav without saying the song [Hallel]?” This remark appears to point to the integration of Hallel with the mitzva of korban pesach, similar to our discussion of the function of Hallel on Sukkot.


This week, we will continue our study of Hallel, focusing on the Hallel recitation on Chanukah and Pesach.


Hallel on Chanukah:


As mentioned last week, the gemara (Arakhin 10a) enumerates 18 days (21 outside of Israel) on which we recite the complete Hallel, and then questions the unique designation of these occasions in this regard, and the exclusion of Rosh Chodesh and even Shabbat from the Hallel obligation:


“…As Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon Ben Yehotzadak: There are eighteen days on which an individual must recite the entire Hallel - the eight days of Sukkot, the eight days of Chanukah, the first Yom Tov of Pesach and the Yom Tov of Shavuot... On Shabbat, which is distinct in its sacrifices, let us recite [Hallel]? It is not called 'mo'ed' ['festival']. On Rosh Chodesh, which is called 'mo'ed,' let us recite [Hallel]? It is not sanctified with regard to the performance of melakha [activity forbidden on Shabbat and Yom Tov], as it says, 'There shall be singing for you as on a night when a festival is hallowed' - a night hallowed as a festival requires singing; one which is not hallowed as a festival does not require singing …”


The gemara seems to indicate that in order for a day to obligate the recitation of Hallel, it must be distinguished by a unique korban, be called a ‘mo’ed,’ and be prohibited in melakha. Of course, this definition includes Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot, but most certainly does not include Chanukah.  The gemara raises this question and responds, “because of the miracle.” The obligation to recognize the miracle of Chanukah generates the requirement to recite Hallel, despite the absence of issur melakha.  Indeed, as we declare during the “Ha-neirot Halalu” prayer after candle lighting, the days of Chanukah were established “in order to thank and praise (God) for the miracles…”


The gemara thus distinguishes between two types of Hallel: Hallel which is recited on the festivals, and Hallel which is recited in response to a miracle.  As we noted last week, the gemara (Pesachim 117a) also seems to draw this distinction:


"Who recited this Hallel? The prophets among them instituted that Israel should recite it for every season [on every special occasion], and for every crisis that might come upon them - when they are redeemed from it, they recite it over their redemption…”


Interestingly, both the Maggid Mishna (Hilkhot Chanukah 3:6) and the Chatam Sofer (Y.D. 233 and O.C. 191 and 208) suggest that the obligation to recite Hallel on Chanukah may actually apply at a higher level than the obligation to recite Hallel on the festivals. Based on the aforementioned passage in Pesachim, the Maggid Mishna suggests that the obligation to recite Hallel in response to divine salvation originates "mi-divrei kabbala." The Chatam Sofer goes so far as to suggest that while Hallel on the festivals may be a rabbinic obligation, the Hallel of Chanukka may apply mi-de-orayta – on the level of Biblical obligation!  These sources clearly distinguish between the ordinary recitation of Hallel on the festivals and the Hallel recited in response to a miraculous salvation, the second of which might entail a greater level of obligation than the first.


Interestingly enough, both the proponents and opponents of reciting Hallel on Yom Ha'atzmaut base their respective positions upon this passage in Masekhet Pesachim. Needless to say, comprehensive treatment of this question lies beyond the scope of our discussion.  Nevertheless, let us briefly address the basic question as to which kind of "crisis" and “redemption” warrants the recitation of Hallel, as established by the Gemara.


The Behag (Hilkhot Lulav, pg. 35) comments on this gemara:


"When our Rabbis remarked that there are eighteen occasions during the year on which the individual Jew recites Hallel, they did not mean to imply that it must be recited in private; rather … whenever we speak of the entire house of Israel as opposed to the ‘individual Jew,’ they are not restricted to the eighteen occasions in the year, and may recite Hallel whenever they are delivered from trouble…”


Similarly, Rabbenu Tam (cited in Tosefot, Masekhet Sukka 44b( writes:


"Hallel was introduced to be recited only on those occasions when all of Israel has been saved by a miracle; then a new festival is introduced and Hallel is recited together with its blessing - but this is only if the miracle happens to all of Israel…”


These Rishonim clearly limit this gemara to cases in which ALL of Israel was saved, such as during the Chanukah miracle. This gives rise to the question of how we view the miraculous events of 1948 (or even 1967), and whether they can be said to have affected "all of Israel" in the same manner as the Chanukah miracle.


The Meiri offers a slightly different interpretation of the gemara:


"Any person who was delivered from trouble is allowed to establish a custom for himself to recite Hallel on that day every year, but may not do so with a berakha. A similar ruling applies to a community (of the Jewish People). This is, in fact, the institution of the Prophets, i.e. to recite Hallel when delivered from trouble…”


According to the Meiri, even an individual person or community that experiences salvation should recite Hallel, but WITHOUT a beracha.


Accordingly, even among the recent authorities who advocated reciting Hallel on Yom Ha'atzmaut, we find differing opinions as to whether this recitation should include a berakha.


Interestingly enough, the Magen Avraham (686:4), cited by the Mishna Berura (686:8), allows establishing a personal or family "PURIM" in response to a miracle. Similarly, the Chayei Adam, in the final halakha of his sefer, recounts how he and his family were saved from a tragic fire, in response to which he accepted upon himself and his descendants the celebration of a “Purim” on the 15th of Kislev each year.


It is worth noting that the gemara (Sanhedrin 94a) strongly criticizes King Chizkiyahu for his failure to recite Hallel upon the miraculous defeat of the Assyrian king Sancheirev, claiming that this oversight undermined his eligibility to become the mashiach. Apparently, while one who recites Hallel each day is considered “blasphemous” (Shabbat 39a), one must also ensure not to overlook God’s miracles in this world.


In any case, it is clear that the Hallel recitation is at times required in response to a miracle, as on Chanukka, but the precise parameters of this obligation deserve further and more extensive treatment.


Hallel on Pesach:


The Hallel recited during the seder has puzzled the commentators for centuries, as it appears to violate numerous classic halachic norms: it is recited at night (the mishna [Megilla 20b] teaches that Hallel is recited only by DAY), it is interrupted by the meal, and it is not preceded by a berakha. What is the nature of this Hallel, and why does it not conform to the classic models of Hallel? While this question deserves a more extensive discussion in a separate context, we will attempt to address in general terms the character of this Hallel, particularly as it relates to our previous discussion.


Some Rishonim question why the gemara (Arakhin 10a) omits Hallel at the seder from its list of eighteen days on which the complete Hallel is recited.  The Ramban (Pesachim 117b) addresses this question and offers two explanations. First, he suggests that the gemara there does not refer to cases where Hallel is recited as part of the fulfillment of a separate MITZVA, and lists only the situations where a day itself requires Hallel. This explanation works off the assumption that the Hallel of leil ha-seder constitutes part of the mitzva of korban pesach.


The Ramban then offers a second answer, explaining that the gemara referred only to daytime recitations of Hallel, and not to situations of a nighttime recitation, such as the Hallel of leil ha-seder. Here, the Ramban points not to a different function served by this Hallel, but rather to a different timeframe.


Tosafot (Sukka 38a) seem to understand the Hallel recited on leil ha-seder differently. They suggest that women, who are ordinarily exempt from Hallel, should nevertheless be obligated with regard to the Hallel of leil ha-seder just as they are obligated in the ‘arba kosot’ to commemorate the miracle of the Exodus. In other words, according to Tosafot, Hallel of leil ha-seder relates neither to the DAY of Pesach nor to the MITZVOT of pesach and matza, but rather to the MIRACLE of the redemption from Egypt. 


The Rishonim also debate the question of whether one should recite a berakha before the Hallel at the seder. The Ramban (above) cites those who believe that a berakha should NOT be recited, and then emphatically defends the position of his teacher who requires reciting the berakha li-gmor et ha-Hallel” before reciting Hallel. Tosafot (Berakhot 14a) also seem to adopt this view.


Some disagree with this view due to the technical factor that the seder meal interrupts the Hallel recitation, thus rendering a berakha practically unfeasible (see Tosafot in Berakhot, cited above).  Others, however, draw a more fundamental distinction between this and standard Hallel recitations. Rav Hai Gaon, as cited by the Rishonim, distinguishes between Hallel of the eighteen days, upon which one is obligated to READ (korei) Hallel, and the Hallel of the seder, which one is obligated to SING (shira) in response to the miraculous events of yetziat Mitzrayim. (Rav Yitzhak Ze’ev Soloveitchik, in his Chiddushei Ha-Griz – Chanukah 3:4, elaborates upon this distinction.)


Hallel of “shira” is meant to be a spontaneous outburst of song expressing praise and gratitude to the Almighty for the redemption from Egypt. A berakha before such a Hallel is not only unnecessary, but also inappropriate, as it undermines and negates the very essence of this Hallel.


Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (Shiurim Le-Zekher Abba Mari, vol. 1) suggested that this “shir” characterizes the unique nature and goal of sippur yetziat mitzrayim. This mitzva involves more than a historical study intended to convey a message and possibly bring about a religious affirmation.  Rather, in the spirit of “each person is obligated to view himself (or 'demonstrate for himself') as if he himself left Egypt,” sippur yetziat mitzrayim is meant to bring about a religious experience of “therefore we are obligated to thank and to praise You”: the spontaneous outburst of Hallel.


If so, than this Hallel takes the Hallel of Chanukkah one step further: not only do we praise God for past redemptions, but we also feel an immediate need to praise God for our current redemption.


May we all merit such a powerful seder experience. 


Chag kasher VeSameach!

In our next shiur we will resume our study of hilkhot tefilla.