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Hagadah – Ha Lachma Aniya (This Bread of Affliction/Poverty)

Hagadah – Ha Lachma Aniya (This Bread of Affliction/Poverty)

Normally the Pesach season is the most beloved (and hated) seasons of the year. Spring cleaning aside, (which should not be confused with cleaning for Pesach), there is a lot to prepare for, and plenty of hands-on fun. It is with the greatest of regret that this year I was not able to organize the annual matzah baking in my home town because of this terrible virus that is wreaking such havoc worldwide. May it be HaShem’s will that a cure and/or a vaccine should be found so that the world can get back to some semblance of normalcy.

In any case, one of the favorite pastimes of Am Yisroel (the nation of Israel) at this time of year is to get a new, and hopefully inspiring Haggadah to learn in preparation of the leil ha’seder (the Seder night). It is a wise and worthwhile endeavor, and one who does so is praiseworthy. Having said that, there are a few things that I feel are worthwhile to point out to make the seder work best, according to the words of our sages, ob”m. They point out that there are 2 underlying objectives in the organization that went into the creation of the Haggadah, which gave seder (=organization) to the leil ha’seder. These two things are: 1) Things that we do differently from other nights so that the children should ask; and 2) things that we do to help ensure that the children do not fall asleep.

  1. Up until mah nishtanah

As I have elaborated in a different blog, the real point of many of the things that we do up until mah nishtanah is all done so that we can skip mah nishtanah. The Torah makes a point that the story of the Exodus should be said in the wake of a question. As that is the case, we try and coax a question out of the children by changing things up. As a suggestion: use a banana for the karpas (which only needs to be something that you make a borei pri ha’adamah on). It’s probably one of the only things that got my children to ask a question (and I’ve tried several).

After mah nishtanah, once we have started the maggid section of the Haggadah, there is nothing else that is done to get the children to ask questions (other than the parents asking the children to prepare divrei Torah (words of Torah), which will usually start with a question).

  • Maggid

The ultimate focus of the night: to tell the tale of our Exodus out of Egypt. As with all goals, this one is no different than all others, except that it needs to take into account a wide range of people, with differing levels of comprehension (and attention spans). Having said that, our sages, ob”m, tell us two things that we need to keep in mind:

  1. The children need to hear this too
  2. It’s not meant to be a purely analytical experience

Let’s explain these two points.

  1. The children need to hear this too

As the Torah in three different places tells us that this is supposed to be told over to our children, we have to try and make sure that they are a part of the process. In other words, do what you can to make sure that they stay up.

Not all of us are natural-born story-tellers, not all of us are as experienced and magnetizing as we want to be. As that is the case, we need to insert some artificial “attention getters” into the story-telling to keep the kids (and many times the adults as well (There is a famous saying. Something about “the difference between men and boys”…?) involved. For that many time-honored customs should be done:

  • Pass the nuts around.

Since ancient times the custom was to hand out kelayot v’egozim, (puffed wheat (not chometz, when done properly) and nuts) to keep the kids involved gastronomically. Today it is candies of different types. You can give them out if someone asks a good question (although I find that if this is the reason for doing it, it causes major disruption to the flow of the seder, as kids will give in a constant flow of nonsense questions to get candies; or, in my experience, give them out (or even throw them[1]) to inspire participation.

  • Grab the Afikoman

The language of the Gemara, in Tractate Pesachim 109a, is that the adults “grab the matzah one from the other.” Today’s custom is that we hide the afikomen and the kids go searching for it. Either way (or even both) is perfectly acceptable as long as the children remain involved in the story along the way.

  • Play-acting.

Many people like to act out, with their children, different parts of the seder. It is not something that our sages, ob”m, said one should do explicitly (except for one version of the language of the Rambam in the Laws of Pesach[2]), yet many do so to get the kids involved. It’s not a bad thing to do as long as the seder doesn’t get turned into a playground. There is a certain atmosphere that should be present at the seder. After all, this story is the lynch-pin of our entire observance of the Torah, and as such, it should not be turned into a theater.

On the other hand, some props are helpful, as are some short-acting scenes to set the tone. I use plastic wild-animals and rubber grasshoppers as part of my telling of the ten plagues. I have friends who have a tricked-out pitcher, that can pour either water or a red-colored liquid (that they call “blood”) for the plague of blood. My brother-in-law prints out, or searches to buy, pictures of different things that can represent the plagues. Anything that sparks the imagination.

It is towards this end that the Magid section of the Haggadah begins with the mysterious (as no one seems to know where and when it was written) “Ha lachma ani’yah” (this is the bread of affliction/poverty) “that our forefathers ate in Egypt.” The way that it is written is implying that this is a piece of living history, I’m showing it to you – children and adults alike – because in the stories that are going to be said over it (as the matzah is uncovered virtually the entire Magid) are going to seep into it, and when we eat it, we will be ingesting the story in our kishkes (our intestines).

Having said that – keep it short. Which brings us to the next point.

  • It’s not meant to be a purely analytical experience

The reality is that the seder almost always starts late. Even after arriving home after shul (may it be HaShem’s will that we can go back to doing this again speedily!) until everyone gets settled and whatnot, it takes a while. There is – l’chatchilah – a time-frame in which we have to get things done (the afikomen should be eaten no later than chatzos (midnight) which will be at (this year 5780) 12:40 am); and also, there is an atmosphere that we are supposed to be creating during the seder. Due to all of the above, and because we need the kids to be involved, don’t make this into an analytical analysis of the Haggadah. It misses the point. Virtually all of the great Rishonim say that there should be a decent pace to the Magid section of the Haggadah so that the kids are awake for it. Technically, even if they fall asleep after the Magid section and didn’t eat the matzah – it’s fine. As children, they are not responsible to keep the mitzvos. But the Magid section is different, as it contains within it the spark of real emunah in HaShem. The exodus really did happen, as described in the Torah. This is fundamental which is best implanted at a very young age.

So, DON’T spend the time analyzing every little tittle of the Haggadah, saying mussar v’aadim, or telling over stories of the great tzaddikim as it misses the entire point. Use them sparingly, to keep the attention of those present. After all, the mitzvah of the night isn’t solely for the sake of the children, it is also for the sake of every single adult present.

As that is the case DO spend time (as succinctly as possible) making sure that the reading of the Haggadah doesn’t remain just that, a book reading that no-one understands, and therefore they want to do as quickly as possible to get to the main event. The food.

This is the most important mitzvah of the night. Everything that you have done in preparation for the festival was mainly for the sake of this evening. As that is the case, make sure that as a result of all of your hard work and preparation, you don’t miss the fulcrum of the day in all of the hustle and bustle.

[1] Which is permitted, halachically, unless they become inedible when they fall on the floor.

[2] I refer to where the Rambam writes (Laws of Chometz and Matzah 7:6) “In each and every generation a person must show himself (l’har’ot) as if he came out of Egypt”. In most versions of the Mishna it says lir’ot, which means “to see oneself”, meaning that it’s an internal picture, not an external one.

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