Insights on the Haggadah
The first of the four cups is during Kiddush. But why consider it one of the special cups at the Seder if we have to make Kiddush anyway because it is Yom Tov? The first cup corresponds to the first expression of redemption “V’hotzeiti” – “and I will take you out” – which the commentaries explain refers to the change of outlook required by the Jews in order to see themselves as unique and separate from the Egyptians. The text of Kiddush expresses this same idea. Therefore Kiddush is the perfect symbol of the first expression of redemption.
The Ben Ish Chai explains that the two times we dip at the Seder are to remind us of two other times we “dipped” in history. First, “and [Yosef’s] brothers slaughtered a goat and they dipped the coat in blood” (Gen 37:31)> Secondly, “You will take a bunch of hyssop and dip it into blood” (Ex 12:22), referring to the command to touch the doorposts with blood of the Korban Pesach. Since the exile began with a lack of unity and the hatred by the brothers toward Yosef, represented by the coat dipped in blood, it is appropriate that the redemption began by rectifying this hatred with a show of unity, represented by the Korban Pesach, and humility, represented by the lowly hyssop plant. We start the Seder by dipping into bitter saltwater (hatred of the brothers) and end the Seder dipping into sweet charoses (unity and humility.)
Retelling the Exodus from Egypt: The Torah commands us to remember the Exodus from Egypt every day, which we fulfill in the recitation of the Shema morning and evening. How is the Seder night different? Rab Chaim Brisker explained that on the Seder night we must:
Recount details of the Egypt experience.
Retell the story in a question and answer format. Discuss the mitzvos of the evening.
HaLachma Aniya: The Pesach Haggadah opens with an unusual paragraph, “Ha lachma aniya” – “This is the bread of affliction that our forefathers are in the land of Egypt.” Some commentators explain that matzah, the bread of affliction, was cheap and filling slave food, a negative implication. So why does the end of the Haggadah mention matzah as a symbol of freedom?
Perhaps “Lachma aniya” is better translated as “poor bread,” a simple bread of just flour and water. This is the bread we ate in Egypt, not as slaves, but as a nation prepared to catapult into freedom.
On the night before our ancestors’ exodus, they made a Seder. They ate the Korban Pesach, with matzah and maror, applied the blood to the doorposts and discussed redemption. Imagine the excitement and trepidation of that night, waiting anxiously for Hashem’s command to follow Him into the desert into eternal freedom as the promise to Avraham becomes a reality.
This is what we do at our own Seder. We eat matzah and discuss redemption. We relive the night of the Exodus as if we ourselves are on the brink of liberation. Ha lachma aniya sets the tone of the night, impressing upon us that just as our forefathers survived the exile and were brought to freedom with great miracles, may we also merit seeing great miracles leading to our redemption. If we really relive our ancestors’ feelings with faith, actions and anticipation, perhaps this will be the year of the final redemption.
The Four Sons: The Childa explains that the four sons represent the four exiles we have experienced:
The wise son represents the Babylonian exile, when we were exiled from the Land of Israel after the destruction of the first Temple. We left with prophets and scholars and a memory of our past greatness.
During the Persian exile we committed sins by attending the feast of Achashverosh and were considered like the wicked son.
In order to stand strong against the influence of the Greek exile we required terminus– a purity of heart– like the simple son.
In this lengthy exile of Edom, when we have been dispersed to all corners of the world and have no center from which emanates Torah knowledge, we are considered like the son who does not know how to ask.