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Hallel on Pesach Night

  • Rav Michael Rosensweig


The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash


Hallel on Pesach Night


By Rav Michael Rosensweig




            The recitation of Hallel as part of the Seder structure is a phenomenon that is both intriguing and problematic. Several issues connected with this obligation require clarification.  First, it is important to establish the relationship between this Hallel and the obligation to recite Hallel every Yom Tov, including Pesach, as part of tefilla. Beyond the question of redundancy, there is the issue of inconsistency with the conditions that normally define this obligation.  Several halakhic authorities, for example, note that aside from Pesach, Hallel is not said at night, nor is it ever recited without standing.


            Two distinct lists enumerating the occasions when Hallel is said further contribute to the confusion surrounding the status of Hallel on the Seder night.  In Arakhin 10a, the following instances of reading Hallel are delineated:


For R. Yochanan said in the name of R. Shimon b. Yehotzadak: There are eighteen days on which an individual completes the Hallel: the eight days of the Feast [of Sukkot], the eight days of Chanuka, the first festival day of Pesach, and the festival day of Shavu'ot. In the exile, [an individual completes the Hallel] on twenty-one days…


Hallel on Pesach night is conspicuously missing from this list.


            In Massechet Soferim, however, another report expands the list of obligatory Hallels to include Pesach night. We are informed as follows (20:9):


And one must recite a blessing before [the reading], and read it with a melody. For R. Shimon b. Yehotzadak taught: There are eighteen days and one night on which an individual completes the Hallel: the eight days of the Feast [of Sukkot], the eight days of Chanuka, the festival day of Shavu'ot, and the first festival day of Pesach, and its night. In the exile, [an individual completes the Hallel] on twenty-one days and one night. The best manner of performing the mitzva is to read the Hallel on the two nights of the festival celebrated in the exile, to recite a blessing over it, and to read it with a melody, to fulfill that which is stated: "Let us exalt His name together." When he reads it in his home, he is not required to recite a blessing, for he already recited a blessing with the congregation.


            It is important not only to resolve the discrepancy between these lists, but to consider the possibility that they relate to different kinds of obligations.


            Moreover, the relationship between Hallel during the Seder and during the tefilla on the night of Pesach is ambiguous. Massekhet Soferim implies a dual, yet linked, obligation. This is reflected in the lack of an independent berakha.  Some interpretations of Yerushalmi Berakhot (1:5), however, view the readings of Hallel in the synagogue and at the Seder as mutually exclusive.[1] As is well known, there are many communities that do not include Hallel in the evening tefilla of Pesach at all. Other halakhists affirm both recitations, but distinguish between them by requiring separate berakhot for each.[2]  Thus, a full range of positions emerges, each requiring explanation. The special treatment accorded Hallel on this night according to Massekhet Soferim – "The best manner of performing the mitzvaand to read it with a melody, to fulfill that which is stated: 'Let us exalt His name together'" – also demands our attention.


            In addition to the precise relationship between the respective Hallels of the Seder and the synagogue, there is considerable discussion in the halakhic sources regarding the possible dual character of Hallel at the Seder itself. The fact that the normally integrated Hallel is divided into two distinct sections on this night engenders a halakhic difficulty, as one must contend with the problem of hefsek (interruption). This is particularly the case if there is only one blessing recited at the very beginning of the Hallel.  Moreover, according to one analysis, the Tosefta (Menachot 6:6) specifically targets the demand for an integrated, unfragmented Hallel, when it declares: "The blessing, the Hallel, and the praise are hindrances to one another."[3]  How, then, can the fragmentation be justified in the context of the Seder? The issue transcends the particular difficulty posed by hefsek, as it provokes a more fundamental question: even if the anomaly can be rationalized, why was this unusual Hallel intentionally designed in such an anomalous manner? In analyzing the purpose and form of this Hallel, we should also note that the two halves of Hallel during the Seder are integrated with two distinct cups of wine, the second and fourth of the four cups. This association suggests a representation of two different Hallels corresponding to the two cups.


            In brief, several basic issues emerge from a simple scrutiny of the halakhic sources and even from our own practice: Are there one, two, or three Hallels on this unusual night? What distinct motifs do they convey? What relationship exists between these and the routine Hallel that accompanies every Yom Tov?




            An examination of the Rishonim who deal with this topic reveals several points of debate as to whether the Hallel of the Seder conforms with the standard Hallel. Those who question and resolve the discrepancies that appear to distinguish this Hallel are obviously motivated by a desire to demonstrate its relatively conventional character, initial impressions notwithstanding. Others accent the idiosyncratic features of the Seder's Hallel that reflect its distinctive character.  Several issues exemplify these perspectives.


            Shibbolei ha-Leket records the view that the apparently unusual introduction to this blessing-less Hallel – "Therefore, it is our duty to thank, praise, pay tribute, glorify, exalt, acclaim, bless, esteem, and honor the One who did all these miracles for our fathers and for us… And we, therefore, sing before Him a new song…" – is merely a substitute for the blessing, "to complete the Hallel." This view seeks to cast this Hallel in the universal mode. In sharp contrast, Shibbolei ha-Leket himself dismisses this view. He notes that the themes signified by this introduction do not correspond with the short blessing that normally introduces Hallel. Alternatively, he posits that this section really consists of an introduction to the entire Haggada, in lieu of an Al ha-Nissim-type declaration. Obviously, this identification has important implications of its own, as we shall see in the course of our analysis.


            Several debates revolve around the status and significance of the concluding passage of Hallel during the Seder. The Gemara records R. Yehuda's view that identifies Hallel's conclusion, "Yehalelukha Ha-Shem E-lokenu," as Birkat ha-Shir (Pesachim 118a).  Rashbam perceives this selection as consistent with the standard conclusion of Hallel. Tosafot, on the other hand, project two different views, each of which underscores the uniqueness of Hallel in the Seder.  One position establishes this section as a necessary conclusion to Hallel only on this night. The other opinion declares that the Birkat ha-Shir is standard, but it is necessary for the Gemara to emphasize that it is an important component even in this peculiar night-time Hallel. Thus, even as a standard component is affirmed, the unusual character of the performance is highlighted.[4]


            R. Yochanan argues that the proper text for Birkat ha-Shir is "Nishmat kol chai." Rashbam perceives this view, in contrast with that of R. Yehuda, as constituting an important qualitative departure from the conventional Hallel.  Shibbolei ha-Leket, on the other hand, depicts R. Yochanan's innovation in less dramatic, quantitative terms. He argues that a more compelling and dramatic redemption should evoke a more intensive rhapsodic praise. The other textual candidates for Birkat ha-Shir also cited in the Gemara suggest other important themes that may set the Hallel of the Seder apart from the regular Yom Tov Hallel, as we shall discuss later.


            Ramban and Ran cite the doctrines of some Geonim that both "Asher ge'alanu" and "Yehalelukha," the respective conclusions of the two halves of Hallel on this night, do not relate to the standard Hallel at all.[5] They link the primary function and theme of these blessings to the second and fourth cups respectively. On this basis, they justify the term Birkat ha-Shir and the double formulation of the Mishna, "Over the fourth cup, he concludes the Hallel and recites Birkat ha-Shir" (Pesachim 117b). In the process, they subordinate Hallel, or at least its concluding flourish, to the mitzva of the four cups, thereby differentiating it further from the standard Hallel.


In sharp contrast, Ramban vehemently rejects this approach, particularly with respect to Birkat ha-Shir, which he perceives as conforming fully with the norms of Hallel. Indeed, he argues that in this context we are exposed to Hallel par excellence.  Furthermore, he notes that the theme of redemption is conspicuously absent in the Birkat ha-Shir, making it an unlikely candidate for the function ascribed to it by the Geonim.  Underlying these various exchanges is one common theme: the attempt to define the function and status of the Hallel in the Seder vis-a-vis the standard Hallel.




            Though this theme involves several issues, it is most dramatically reflected in the debate regarding the need for one or more blessings for this singular Hallel.


            The primary source for investigating this problem is an extremely ambiguous passage in Yerushalmi Berakhot (1:5).  As the present context does not allow for a full analysis of the text and its various interpretations, a brief survey of the basic positions and their potential implications will have to suffice.


            Tosafot (Berakhot 14a, s.v. yamim) present two opinions. One view asserts the need for distinct blessings – "to read the Hallel" and "to complete the Hallel." Attributing the requirement for two blessings to the interruption of the meal appears to simply beg the question, since the decision to divide this Hallel would still demand explanation.  Thus, it is likely that the two blessings reflect independent motifs of Hallel.[6]


            The second position cited by Tosafot expresses the opposite view. No blessings are attached to this Hallel, but only because it is disrupted. According to this formulation, there are no grounds to suspect that this Hallel does not conform to the requirements of the standard Hallel. Even in its fragmented state, this Hallel fundamentally represents an integrated entity that, in principle, would have been introduced by the standard blessing if not for the technical consideration of hefsek.


            A third perspective, attributed to R. Tzemach Gaon, superficially approximates the view of Tosafot, but differs in one critical aspect.[7] He too rules that no blessing accompanies Hallel of the Seder because of the hefsek between the two sections. However, R. Tzemach's formulation conceives that the very fact that Hallel is partitioned is characteristic of its absolute uniqueness. In his view, the lack of a blessing is not due to the technical inability to link a blessing with the second half of a disrupted Hallel, but results from the fact that this Hallel has been demonstrated by virtue of its partition to constitute a totally different type of Hallel obligation, one that does not conform to the standard Hallel, and therefore does not generate the requirement of a preceding blessing.


While it is not evident if, according to R. Tzemach, the partitioned Hallel of the Seder consists of a single theme or two distinct themes, it is apparent that the fragmentation of the standard Hallel transforms its fundamental character. The unification and balance of diverse themes is evidently an important dimension of the essential make-up of the standard Hallel.[8] This concept is indicated not only by one interpretation of the Tosefta that demands the unification of various strands of Hallel – the blessing, the Hallel, and the praise – but by the very text of the blessing that conventionally introduces Hallel, "to complete the Hallel." Indeed, the Gemara (Arakhin 10b) formulates the obligation to recite Hallel by using the verb ligmor, "to complete."[9] Thus, while R. Tzemach's view coincides with Tosafot's second approach on a practical level, it actually approximates Tosafot's first perspective conceptually.


            A fourth formulation, also designed to justify the view that no blessing is recited, further explicates the uniqueness of Hallel in the context of the Seder. The position of R. Hai Gaon ambitiously, if ambiguously, seeks to crystallize the singular character of the Seder's Hallel by distinguishing between Hallel that is "read" and Hallel that is "sung." This distinction can be interpreted in various ways.[10] Several of the possible approaches to comprehending this distinction may also underlie the opinions of those who believe in the uniqueness of Hallel at the Seder.


            In contrast to the standard Hallel of all Yamim Tovim, which flows from and further accents the unique sanctity of the particular mo'ed as a special calendar day,[11] Hallel on Pesach, particularly at the Seder, relates specifically to the theme of redemption as a concrete event. The Maggid Mishneh (Hilkhot Chanuka 3:6), for example, understands that the Gemara's reference to Hallel's being recited on "every epoch" and "over every trouble that should befall us" reflects two independent factors obligating Hallel, one of which is by rabbinic law, while the other is by received tradition.[12]  Along these lines, it is possible to suggest that the Hallel of song represents the reaction to the experience of salvation from crisis, while the Hallel of reading relates to the calendar obligation of "every epoch." Possibly, the significance of Hallel this night during the tefilla (and by extension also at the Seder) is related to the event rather than the calendar day. Furthermore, there may be a special sanctity to the night of Pesach, by virtue of the events of that night, which does not have a parallel in other Yamim Tovim. In this sense, "ke-leil hitkadesh chag," "as in the night when a holy solemnity is kept" (Yeshaya 30:29), focuses exclusively on Pesach night. The different lists projected by Arakhin and Massekhet Soferim may be attributed to these different obligating factors of Hallel.[13]


            Perhaps there is an added Pesach dimension, as well.  Indeed, a personal sense of salvation, and therefore a dimension of personal thanksgiving, pervades this evening, and by extension this Hallel. At the very least, these elements flow from an evaluation of the past. Thus, the Hallel of reading is primarily an intellectual exercise that strives to formulate a proper response of appreciation to distant events and fosters contemplation of the significance of miracles and Divine intervention for Jewish life. A proper balance of themes and motifs and a proper ordering of various perspectives are critical to this enterprise. Hallel of song, in contrast, constitutes a spontaneous and emotional reaction to personal salvation. It is possible for this Hallel to be partitioned, since the delicate balance of an intellectually oriented appreciation is not attainable or necessarily desirable in this context. Focusing on different extremes is a more natural and appropriate response for an experiential Hallel.


            Based on the theme of "Each individual is obligated to think of himself (lir'ot) as one of those who came out of Egypt," or Rambam's even more experiential and demonstrative formulation – "to act out the experience (lehar'ot) as if he came out of Egypt," one might even perceive the obligation of thanksgiving by means of this Hallel in present terms.[14] As a personal experience and emotional reaction to the redemption from Egypt, Hallel on this night certainly consists of song, not the more intellectual and ritually-oriented reading. In any case, whether one focuses on the event of redemption, the special significance of Pesach night, or the personal response of thanksgiving (past or present), or the primacy of song, the uniqueness of Hallel on this night is compelling.




            It is possible to take this a step further. There is abundant evidence that the Hallel of the Seder constitutes a fulfillment of the mitzva of retelling the story of the exodus from Egypt, and may be subordinate to it. As such, it is truly specialized and unique in a manner that transcends our previous analysis, justifying many of its anomalies.[15] Both Rambam (aseh no. 157) and Sefer ha-Chinukh (no. 21) formulate the obligation of Hallel in terms of retelling the story of the exodus from Egypt. Rambam informs us as follows:


In this injunction, we are commanded to recite the story of the exodus from Egypt, with all the eloquence at our command, on the eve of the fifteenth of Nisan. He is to be commended who expands this theme, enlarging on the iniquity of the Egyptians and the sufferings which they inflicted upon us, and on the way in which the Lord wrought his vengeance upon them, and offering Him thanks (exalted be He) for all the good that He has bestowed upon us.


            Interestingly, Ran quotes that R. Hai Gaon, in developing the distinction between Hallel of song and Hallel of reading, notes the suitability of the introduction of the Hallel during the Seder – "Therefore, it is our duty to thank."  This passage precisely links Hallel and the mitzva of retelling the story of the exodus from Egypt.[16] The idea also proposed by R. Hai, that Birkat ha-Shir and the "Asher ge'alanu" blessing are primarily blessings on the second and fourth cups, also integrates well into the overall scheme of Hallel as a dimension of the mitzva of retelling the story of the exodus from Egypt, which includes the four cups as a central component. Indeed, R. Hai comments that these two blessings alone really focus on the unique themes of the evening, since the first and third cups (Kiddush and Birkat ha-Mazon) have a more conventional function. That the concluding sections of both segments of Hallel on this evening accomplish this significant function is probably no coincidence if the Hallel itself is a vehicle for retelling the story of the exodus from Egypt.[17]


            The link between Hallel and retelling the story of the exodus from Egypt is reinforced by several other positions taken by various Rishonim. Rashi explains that matza is depicted as "bread over which many things are recited," because one recites the Haggada and Hallel over it.[18] The connection between matza and Hallel, as well as the association with the Haggada, points to a common theme. As previously alluded to, Shibbolei ha-Leket asserts that the introduction to Hallel, "Therefore, it is our duty," stands in place of Al ha-Nisim, and constitutes the blessing over the entire Haggada. In the same vein, he identifies the "Asher ge'alanu" blessing, the conclusion of the first part of Hallel, as a critical juncture in the Haggada itself, as it completes the cycle of "commencing with shame and concluding with praise."[19]




            If Hallel during the Seder functions as a vehicle of retelling the story of the exodus from Egypt, we might further amplify and appreciate its singular character both vis-a-vis the standard Hallel, and in terms of its fragmentation during the Seder itself.


            Retelling the story of the exodus from Egypt both sets the tone for and captures the unique essence of Pesach night's particular sanctity.[20] This orientation dictates that one refrain from excessive universalization and even intellectualization of the exodus experience, lest the unique aspects of that experience lose their centrality. Indeed, some characterize the saying of Ma Nishtana, which of course accents precisely the distinctive features of the night, as a central component of the Haggada.


            Applying this consideration to Hallel during the Seder illuminates the specific quality of this Hallel, and justifies its differentiation from the standard Hallel obligations. As we noted previously, the conventional Hallel is structured to encompass and balance a range of responses and motifs – past and present; universal and particular; praise and thanksgiving. Hallel of the Seder, cast in the mold of retelling the story of the exodus from Egypt, consciously eschews this approach. The partition of Hallel is perhaps designed to de-emphasize the universal message, at least initially, so that the exodus from Egypt can receive its proper attention as the exclusive focus of this part of the evening.


            Against this background, the debate between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai regarding the scope of the first Hallel takes on new significance. The Mishna (Pesachim 116b) records: "How far does one recite it? Beit Shammai maintain: Until 'As a joyous mother of children.' Beit Hillel say: Until 'the flint into a fountain of waters.'" The Talmud Yerushalmi (Pesachim 10:5) elaborates their positions as follows:


Beit Shammai said to them: Did Israel [already] leave Egypt that he should mention the exodus from Egypt? 

Beit Hillel said to them: Even if you wait until the cock's crowing, they would still not have reached half of the redemption. How then do we mention the redemption, when they were not yet redeemed? Surely they only left in the middle of the day, as it is stated: "And it came to pass on that selfsame day, etc." Rather, since he started the mitzva, we say to him, "Finish."


            Both Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel demand that the Hallel prior to the meal relate directly and exclusively to the experience of the exodus from Egypt. The extent to which there should be a temporal correspondence between the actual events and their commemoration and reenactment is a matter of dispute between them. Thus, Beit Shammai argue that only the first chapter of Hallel is appropriate, as it refers obliquely to the liberation of the Jews from bondage "Give praise, O servants of God," and not the servants of Pharaoh – which had already occurred by the beginning of the evening. Since the exodus did not take place until the next day, the emotional-spiritual response to that miracle is not yet appropriate. Beit Hillel, on the other hand, suggest a more flexible commemoration, inasmuch as the destiny of the people of Israel had already begun to unfold. They refuse to lock the commemoration into so strict a timetable, since the entire drama of the exodus from Egypt constitutes a single process.[21] In any case, even Beit Hillel concede that the first segment of Hallel functions as a specific means of celebrating the event of the exodus from Egypt. This presents a striking contrast to the standard, unfragmented Hallel, in which the exodus from Egypt is merely one motif, and in which it is nothing more than an example of the kind of miracle that generates the obligation of thanksgiving.


            The Mishna registers a further point of contention between R. Tarfon and R. Akiva:


R. Tarfon used to say, "who redeemed us and redeemed our fathers from Egypt," but he did not conclude with a blessing.

R. Akiva said: "So may the Lord our God and the God of our fathers suffer us to reach other seasons and festivals which come towards us for peace, rejoicing in the rebuilding of Your city and glad in Your service, and there we will partake of the sacrifices and the Paschal offerings … Blessed are You, O Lord, who have redeemed Israel."


            In light of this analysis, one can now view the disagreement between R. Akiva and R. Tarfon in a manner that transcends the laws of blessings. R. Tarfon considers any references to the broader significance of the exodus from Egypt during this stage of commemoration to be a distraction that undermines the integrity of the mitzva of sippur yetziat Mitzrayim/Hallel. This mitzva obligates us to scrutinize every detail of that momentous event and to accent its uniqueness. R. Akiva moderates this view somewhat. As long as the focus remains on the particular event, examining the broader implications of that event is not inconsistent with this single-minded orientation. Indeed, if applications are developed not by watering down the uniqueness of the event to its lowest common denominator in order to more effectively universalize it, but instead by maintaining the spotlight on the singularity of the experience, such an effort immeasurably enhances our appreciation of, and identification with, the exodus from Egypt.


            Even within the position of R. Akiva, the propriety of references outside of Pesach proper is a matter of controversy. Shibbolei he-Leket cites one interpretation that identifies moadim u-regalim acherim ("other seasons and festivals") as future Pesachs. Another view acknowledges that the allusion is to other Yamim Tovim, but suggests that we are concerned that the observance of other holidays might impact upon the time-table of the future redemption. A third position accepts that other Yamim Tovim are the subject of the conclusion of this blessing.[22]




            An examination of the language used with respect to the first Hallel of the Seder further confirms the focus on a past event. The contrast not only to the standard Hallel, but to the second half of Hallel recited during the later part of the Seder structure, is striking. The Talmud Yerushalmi (Berakhot 1:5) indicates that the conclusion of the first section of Hallel, "Asher ge'alanu," signifies a past event, while the conclusion of the second segment of Hallel, "Yehalelukha," relates to the present and the future.[23] It is incumbent upon us to explain the sharp differences in focus and direction that apparently differentiate the two parts of Hallel.


            The Gemara in Pesachim (116a) indicates that the standard Hallel really begins from the section of "Lo lanu" ("Not to us"). This suggests that the second half of the Hallel may represent a transition from the retelling of the story of the exodus from Egypt to the standard Hallel, or at least from a particularistic to a universal perspective of the retelling of the story of the exodus. Indeed, the basic thrust of the second half of Hallel is general praise and thanksgiving, rather than the exodus specifically. In this context, even references to the exodus from Egypt can be viewed as nothing more than examples of broader manifestations. The present and future dominate these sections.


Moreover, an examination of the conclusion of this Hallel, "Yehalelukha," reveals no references to redemption or the exodus from Egypt. If this section constitutes an obligation only on this night, as some Rishonim believe, its non-Pesach orientation is especially puzzling. Ramban's critique of the Geonic view that Birkat ha-Shir is primarily a blessing on the fourth cup of wine, on the basis that there is no reference to redemption, is particularly compelling. Why assign so much significance to something apparently unrelated to the specific celebration at hand? In a similar vein, we should attempt to comprehend some of the other choice candidates for Birkat ha-Shir.  R. Yochanan proposes "Nishmat kol chai"; R. Tarfon suggests the Great Hallel (Tehillim 136); others offer "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." Each of these accents not only universal, but daily motifs of thanksgiving that do not even accent the miraculous. What message is being transmitted by the selection of one of these as the final word of Hallel during the Seder?[24]




            Perhaps, however, the answer is to be found in the very contrast between the two stages. Hallel, indeed the Seder, was partitioned intentionally in order to accent two critical if opposite themes, and in a manner that would safeguard the integrity of each by not blurring their respective motifs. The proper progression insures that the retelling of the story of the exodus from Egypt attains its desired goal. Thus, the first part of the Seder spotlights the exodus from Egypt almost exclusively in an effort to pay full tribute to the magnitude of that event. A premature rush to subject it to parallels, or to attempt to extract its long-term implications for Jewish life, is deliberately frustrated, as it would have trivialized this singular occurrence and reduced its ultimate impact. Once an intensive reenactment and analysis of the exodus from Egypt has been achieved, the second part of Hallel legitimately shifts our attention to the significance of the event on our daily lives as individuals striving to develop a spiritual persona.


            At this second stage, the emphasis is no longer on retelling the story of the exodus from Egypt, but on enhancing the daily obligation of remembering the exodus by exploiting the unique opportunity afforded by the previous intensively particularistic retelling. The response to Ramban's critique of the Geonic view of Birkat ha-Shir, and the significance of the other suggestions in the Gemara in terms of what constitutes a proper Birkat ha-Shir, derive from this perspective. It is precisely their mundane and non-redemptive character that qualifies these various texts as the conclusion of the second Hallel.


            This second Hallel, though it has its roots in the past and is directed by the perspective gleaned from the first Hallel, looks to the present and future.  Ironically, it is Ramban, in various places in his commentary to the Torah, who projects the transcendent significance of the exodus from Egypt to daily life as the ultimate source for belief in Divine providence and intensive involvement in human affairs.[25]


            By the time we reach the later stages of the Seder, an important transition has been completed, as the primary preoccupation with Ma Nishtana gives way not only to a consideration of other miraculous manifestations, but to daily life and concern with even such mundane matters as livelihood,[26] as well as the ongoing struggle to attain spiritual growth.


            As the past, present and future converge with their respective integrity intact, Hallel concludes appropriately with a simple, yet comprehensive theme:


May all Your creatures praise You, O Lord our God, together with Your pious and righteous ones who do Your will; and may all Your people, the house of Israel, give joyful thanks, and bless, and praise… For it is good to give You thanks, and to Your name it is fitting to sing a melody, for from everlasting to everlasting You are God.






[1] See Tosafot, Berakhot 14a, s.v. Yamim.

[2] See Tosafot, op. cit. Rashba also disentangles them, but on the basis of the argument of lo pelug, rather than distinctive obligating factors.

We should also note that even if the two are interconnected, the link may be an artificial one.  It is possible that Hallel at the Seder simply assumes a double function, although each function is independent.

[3] This is the reading of Chiddushei ha-Griz al ha-Rambam, Hilkhot Chanuka 3:6. However, one could certainly take issue with this interpretation of the Tosefta. The various commentaries to the Tosefta itself offer alternatives, but this is not the place to discuss them.

[4] It remains to be seen whether the differences reflected in these sources reflect additional elements or an entirely different orientation toward the obligation. The impact of saying "Yehalelukha" on the argument over the need for a blessing prior to Hallel is itself a matter of interest. Rosh (Pesachim 10:32) argues that the conclusion of "Yehalelukha" implies that there is no prior blessing. Ran, however, comes to the exact opposite conclusion on the basis of a comparison with standard Hallel.

[5] Chiddushei ha-Ramban, Pesachim 117a.

[6]It remains to be determined if the uniqueness of this configuration is precisely in the separation of what is normally a fully integrated whole into independent motifs, or whether the partition of Hallel establishes two entirely different concepts of Hallel that cannot be apprehended by adding together the sum of its parts. It is also possible that one Hallel corresponds to the standard Hallel and the other half represents a special Seder obligation. It would then be necessary to identify each segment with its appropriate motif.

[7]See Ramban, Mordekhai and others. See also Chiddushei ha-Griz al ha-Rambam, op. cit.

[8]The balance between the complementary, yet divergent, components of thanksgiving and praise, for example, is one critical aspect of this equation. The significance of other themes – universal and particular thanksgiving and appreciation ("Praise God, all you nations … for His love for us is great") – for instance, is also altered when isolated and unbalanced by certain other values. For an analysis of some of the components that generate the obligation of song and Hallel, see Emek Berakha, pp. 124-125.  This theme of balance as a critical component in Hallel requires elaboration that the present essay does not permit.

[9] This is also implied strongly in Rambam's formulation in Hilkhot Chanuka, where the condition of completing the Hallel also dictates whether a blessing will be recited. In other words, the quality of the obligation is directly linked to its scope or comprehensiveness.

[10] R. Velvel, op. cit., initially alludes to the function of Hallel as part of the procedure of the Paschal offering to explain R. Hai Gaon. This view echoes in Ramban's discussion of this issue, as well.  However, it appears that the Rishonim understood the theme of Hallel of song more expansively. Ultimately, R. Velvel also opts for a broader interpretation.

[11]The specific relationship between the theme of joy and the bringing of distinctive sacrifices needs clarification. A simple reading of the exchanges in Arakhin 10a-10b regarding Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur's exclusion from the list and Pesach's restriction to one day accents the issue. The discussion among the Rishonim – Ramban, Behag, Ramban, etc. – whether or not Hallel constitutes a biblical obligation and should be enumerated among the 613 mitzvot is relevant to establishing the precise criteria.

[12] R. Velvel develops this theme, as well. One should also note the famous view of Chatam Sofer that Hallel on Chanuka, as the only Hallel relating directly to a miracle, constitutes a biblical obligation, though Chanuka itself is only by rabbinic decree. Rashbam suggests that the reference to "every trouble that should befall us" relates to Chanuka.

[13] Several elements of this approach have strong roots in the positions of Ramban and Ran on this topic. They demand one blessing for both sections of Hallel, while minimizing the significance of the interruption. They perceive the content and theme of this Hallel to be routine. They dismiss the notion that the concluding passage of this Hallel implies its fundamental uniqueness. At the same time, they acknowledge that this Hallel is generated by and commemorates either the significance of the night, or the mitzva of the Paschal offering, or the redemption as an event, rather than just Pesach as a Yom Tov.  It is they who distinguish between the lists of Arakhin and Massekhet Soferim on this basis.

[14] The idea that one is supposed to project the experience of the exodus from Egypt into the present is, of course, a major theme of the entire Seder, as is well-documented. In addition to Rambam's formulation of "as if he came out of Egypt," Maharam Chalawa's comments on "va-anakhnu hotzi mi-sham," and Emek Berakha's explanation of the use of the terms "we, therefore, sing before Him a new song," further accent this theme. Rambam's use of "to act out the experience" (lehar'ot), instead of "to think of himself" (lir'ot), relates to the obligation to behave demonstratively in pursuing this goal. It may have a didactic rather than a substantive-experiential intent.

[15]  That Hallel is inserted into the mitzva of retelling the story of the exodus from Egypt is evident. That it is not just there as the most propitious time to accomplish the independent mitzva of Hallel, or as a result of the experiences generated by the retelling, but also as a vehicle of the narration itself, is the point being advanced here. A similar discussion regarding the mitzva of eating matza during the Seder should highlight the differences between these various options, but this is the subject for another shiur.

[16] Rambam's position is more complicated, as he conveys mixed signals on this matter. The Mishna (166b) connects R. Gamliel's famous statement, "Whoever has not mentioned these three things, etc." and the mitzva of retelling the story of the exodus from Egypt to the "Therefore" passage which then introduces Hallel. Rambam, however, subtly rewrites the Mishna. In Hilkhot Chametz u-Matza (7:6), he connects the "Therefore" of R. Gamliel to reclining and the obligation of the four cups, and omits Hallel altogether in that context.  Later (8:5), he introduces Hallel as an independent obligation with the disconnected word "And he says." It is almost as if Rambam intentionally sought to disentangle Hallel from the rest of the retelling of the story of the exodus. His substitution of reclining and the four cups, on the other hand, reflects the natural inclination to view "Therefore" as linked to the retelling of the story of the exodus. In his Haggada, Rambam quotes the Mishna as is.

[17] In this connection, it should be noted that Rambam and Ran cite two views of the two conclusions: "Yehalelukha" and "Asher ge'alanu" represent one theme, and thus, "Yehalelukha" is not a berakha ha-semukha le-chaverta (adjacent blessing) to its opening blessing, but to "Asher ge'alanu"; or whether they represent diverse themes, though neither is connected to its opening blessing either. If so, it is important to try to understand the different message conveyed by each.

[18] Pesachim 36a, s.v. onin alav devarim harbe.

[19] It stands to reason that Shibbolei ha-Leket views the second section of the Hallel as unrelated to the retelling of the story of the exodus from Egypt. The content of these two Hallels suggest this possibility, since the first half focuses on the exodus. Only with respect to the first section of the Hallel does he stress the need to recite it "with song, with joy, and with melody." There are other indications of this, as well. Some Rishonim, including Maharam mi-Rotenberg (Hagahot Maimoniyot), insist that one should raise the wine cup already during the recitation of "Therefore" and maintain that pose until after the first half of the Hallel is completed. The principle that underlies this performance is that there is no song without wine. The theme of song symbolized by the holding of the wine cup only extends to the completion of the first section of Hallel. R. Hai, on the other hand, with his stress on the roles of Birkat ha-Shir, as well as "Asher ge'alanu," probably believes the entire Hallel consists of a kiyyum of sippur yetziat Mitzrayim.  Rashi's language (Pesachim 36a), "Gomrin et ha-Hallel," also reflects this view.  Other Rishonim stress only the first section of Hallel pertaining directly to the exodus as linked to lechem oni.

Ramban cites on view the Talmud Yerushalmi, according to which the blessing "ligmor et ha-Hallel" applies only to the first section of Hallel.  The second segment of Hallel is not preceded by a blessing at all, though it concludes with Birkat ha-Shir.  Perhaps this view conceives the first part of Hallel as standard Hallel, while the second section is uniquely related to the Seder.

[20] It can be demonstrated that the retelling of the story of the exodus from Egypt, in addition to constituting an independent mitzva, has a transforming effect on other independent mitzvot of this night, including matza, maror, Kiddush, and Birkat ha-Mazon. This is consistent with the parallel to Kiddush alluded to by Rambam in his introductory remarks to the Seder (Hilkhot Chametz 7:1).

[21] See Emek Berakha, p. 125, who explains the debate in a different manner. He relates it to the issue whether one may react with song once a miraculous event is destined to occur (on the basis of prophecy, or in this case, historical hindsight), or is the actual experience a critical prerequisite for this halakhic obligation. Alternatively, it is possible to see the debate as revolving around the degree to which the different phases of the liberation from Egypt are necessarily interconnected; or, whether the Seder is really a reenactment of the events or merely a commemoration.  Several other issues are related to these themes.

[22] It is possible that Rambam also minimizes R. Akiva's ruling. He seems to emphasize that this expanded reference to the celebration of other holidays is appropriate only in our time. Perhaps it is linked to our anguish at not presently having the capacity to celebrate Pesach or any Yom Tov properly in the absence of the Temple. Thus, this dimension, acutely felt on Pesach due to the role of the Paschal offering, etc., is applied to other Yamim Tovim, as well.

[23] Tosafot (Pesachim 116b s.v. ve-nomar) notes that the feminine usage – shira chadasha, used in the introduction to the first section of Hallel – refers to the past, while the masculine usage – shir chadash, found in R. Akiva's conclusion of the "Asher ge'alanu" blessing – relates to the aspiration for the ultimate redemption of the future.  This is consistent with the analysis presented above. See, also, the Gemara's distinction between "who redeemed Israel" and "who redeems Israel" (Pesachim 117b).

[24] Other anomalies abound, such as the very phenomenon of a Hallel (and retelling the story or remembering the exodus from Egypt) which may extend beyond midnight according to some halakhists, though retelling the story of the exodus from Egypt may be limited by that time frame. The halakha that one may not drink wine between the third and fourth cups, or after the fourth cup according to some Rishonim, because of concern for interference with the second Hallel and the late retelling of the story of the exodus also requires explanation. Why do these considerations not apply to the earlier retelling of the story of the exodus or Hallel?  While the Yerushalmi and some Rishonim relate to these questions, there remains an apparent pattern that points to a characteristic difference between the two Hallels and, for that matter, between the earlier and later retelling/remembrance of the exodus from Egypt. The implication is that freedom, the demonstrative theme associated with drinking the four cups, is inconsistent with these later manifestations, while it integrates well with the earlier performances.

[25] Ramban's explanation of the verse: "I am the Lord your God who took you out of the land of Egypt," and his celebrated formulation in the end of Parashat Bo regarding the frequent references to the exodus in connection with other mitzvot, exemplify this approach.

[26] According to the Gemara, therein lies the significance of the Great Hallel as a candidate for Birkat ha-Shir.


(Translation of Hebrew passages by Rav David Strauss)