Shiur #11: Heseiba and Cherut (Part Two)

  • Rav Moshe Taragin
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Talmudic Methodology
Yeshivat Har Etzion



By Rav Moshe Taragin



            The previous shiur addressed the issue of heseiba which may not generate cherut.  Perhaps modern-day heseiba does not generate actual experience of freedom but – at least according to the Shulchan Arukh — it is still mandated. 


            We might explain this phenomenon of cherut-less heseiba in three ways.  Firstly, we may acknowledge the actual establishment of heseiba as a takkana (institution) of Chazal.  Once they institutionalize it as part of the evening ritual, it cannot be waived even if it no longer services cherut.  We do not have much record of an actual takkana; the mishna (10:1) merely states in passing that even a poor person must perform heseiba.  This mishna and the ensuing gemara detail the application of heseiba, but no gemara ever articulates, in so many words, that one is obligated to recline while eating at the Seder, which would have indicated an actual legislation. 


            A second solution may be to claim that even if our own natural eating habits do not favor heseiba as a comfortable position, we are still enjoined to sit that way and attune ourselves to latent cherut, which may no longer be common but is still accessible.  True, our natural behavior does not include heseiba; nevertheless, though it may demand greater imaginative effort to draw a sense of freedom from a reclined eating posture nowadays, we are still required to do so.


            Yet another approach would attribute heseiba to an entirely different source.  The beginning of Beshalach describes the initial departure from Egypt and the start of the desert journey.  The verse (Shemot 13:18) states: "Va-yasev Elokim et ha-am derekh ha-midbar Yam Suf," which literally means that G-d redirected (the same root and conjugation as heseiba) the people on a detour through the desert, in the direction of Yam Suf.  This more easterly route, as opposed to the straight northern route, was primarily intended to avoid the militant Pelishtim who threatened to launch a war which the people were not yet prepared for.  Chazal, however, discern in this pasuk an allusion to the royal treatment which our nation began to receive at that point.  On their road to selection at Sinai, the Chosen People benefited from divine escorts (the Pillar of Fire and Clouds of Glory) and Ha-kadosh Barukh Hu provided feasts, including meals eaten while reclining.  The reclining position is stunning evidence of the lightning-fast liberation that the Jews enjoyed after two centuries of bondage.  The Midrash (Shemot Rabba 20:18) concludes that, for this reason, we are instructed to perform heseiba as well. 


            This source for heseiba may justify its performance in a modern cherut-less context.  We do not - through our heseiba - seek to generate cherut.  However, we do commemorate the original experience of our ancestors with an experience that is historically evocative, albeit personally outdated.  Just as they reclined, we must, even if it does not trigger cherut. 


            The question of how to justify modern-day heseiba and the source and reason for heseiba may relate in a fascinating fashion to a separate structural question.  The Brisker Rav examines whether Chazal instituted heseiba as a style of eating or merely as an added element.  Namely, did they restructure the manner in which we are meant to eat, demanding not merely ingestion but reclining?  Or did they merely demand that IN ADDITION to eating and drinking we are instructed to recline? 


            Rav Velvel addresses several interesting consequences of this structural issue.  Both the Rambam and the Me'iri extend heseiba beyond the four kosot (cups) of wine and matza; the Rambam advocates heseiba for the entire meal, while the Me'iri extends it even further, suggesting it as the posture for the entire evening-even for the non-eating narrative sections of the haggada.  These expansions of heseiba clearly indicate that it was included as an add-on, rather than being inserted in an attempt to redefine the preferred manner of eating.  Had the latter been the case, it could not possibly extend beyond the halakhically ordained food, nor could it have applied to phases of the Seder which do not include eating. 


            Tosafot in Pesachim (108a) pose a question which the Brisker Rav associates with his query: if a person mistakenly eats matza or drinks a kos of wine without heseiba, would he at least have fulfilled the eating aspect of the mitzva (without succeeding at heseiba), or would he be forced to eat a second portion of matza or drink a second kos of wine?  Presumably, if heseiba were an add-on, its non-performance should not hamstring the base mitzva of matza or wine.  However, if Chazal restructured the mitzva of eating to include a certain posture, we may claim that in the absence of this newly required element, the act of eating itself remains deficient. 


            Perhaps the question of eating maror while reclining may be affected by the Brisker Rav's question.  The Gemara (108a) clearly states that maror does not require heseiba, since it is eaten in memory of suffering and should not be accompanied by symbols of freedom; would heseiba actually 'ruin' the experience of maror, perhaps requiring a second attempt at eating maror properly?  The Bet Yosef specifically claims that heseiba does not disqualify one's eating maror – implying that a legitimate question may have been raised regarding the detrimental impact of heseiba upon maror.  The Tur (O.C. 475) cites a question in the name of his brother, Rabbeinu Yechi'el: should Korekh, the matza-and-maror sandwich, be eaten while reclining?  As Korekh includes matza, which alone warrants heseiba, presumably the entire question is based upon the potential deleterious impact of heseiba upon maror.  Perhaps he is concerned that a reclining position may wreck the experience of maror. 


            The potential harmful impact of heseiba upon maror may indicate that heseiba forms an integral element of the act of eating.  Had it merely served as a subsidiary accompaniment, it would not hamper the basic act of eating maror.  Certainly, maror would not be disqualified by someone who listens to upbeat music while eating; even though he may compromise the spirit of the experience, the fundamental activity is unaffected.  However if heseiba reconfigures the type of eating, it may preclude the fulfillment of the mitzva of maror, which cannot be EATEN in an ecstatic fashion.


It is intriguing to consider the correlation between the source of heseiba and the Brisker Rav's question regarding its structural dynamic.  Assuming Chazal merely introduced heseiba to induce cherut, we can easily imagine its remaining external to the actual activity of EATING.  Chazal demanded that WHILE we EAT, we should indulge in postures which generate and reflect liberty.  Alternatively, we can easily envision a heseiba which becomes incorporated into the act of eating.  However, if heseiba were instituted in memory of the original festive meal which Ha-kadosh Barukh Hu afforded us, it would likely constitute an essential component of our eating.  Just as the original generation experienced a distinctly redemptive form of se'uda, so may we be instructed to recreate that form of eating.  Quite possibly, the question of source is related to the issue of function.