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What Is a Haggadah?

What Is a Haggadah?

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The Haggadah is the book that is used during the Seder on Passover eve (outside of Israel, we do Seders on the first two evenings of Passover, this year, April 10 and 11, 2017).

The word Haggadah meansIt guides participants through the ritual-rich Seder meal “telling,” as its primary purpose is to facilitate the retelling the story of the Exodus from Egypt. It also guides participants through the ritual-rich Seder meal, indicating when and how each rite is performed.

Read: What is a Seder?

It is said that the Haggadah is the most commonly printed Jewish book. Indeed, walk into your local Judaica store, and you’ll be greeted by dozens of Haggadahs, each offering unique commentary, illustrations and translations.

When picking a Haggadah, it is advisable that you choose one that features Hebrew texts alongside an accurate translation into the language of your choice. After all, its purpose is to help you tell the story of the Exodus.

You will want to have a Haggadah for every participant in your Seder so that everyone can follow along.

Print a Haggadah here

Purchase a Haggadah here

The Importance of Telling

The word “Haggadah” comes from the word, “vehigaadato,” “And you shall tell,” from the verse, “And you shall tell to your son on that day [the eve of Passover], ‘It is because of what the L‑rd did for me when I went free from Egypt.’”1

When the Jewish people were redeemed from slavery, Moses commanded the nation to remember that day, as it was the day G‑d took them out from the house of bondage and made them into a free people. He then instructed the Jewish people to recount the events of this day to their children, so that the story would be passed on from generation to generation.

In the words of the Talmud, “In every generation a person is obligated to view themselves as if they personally left Egypt.”2 In the Haggadah itself it says, “And even if we were all wise, all men of understanding, all elders, all knowledgeable of the Torah, it would be incumbent upon us to speak of the Exodus from Egypt.”3

Learn Haggadah insights here

Authorship

The core text of the Haggadah is found in the book of Deuteronomy, in the verses farmers would recite when thanking G‑d for taking their ancestors out of Egypt and bringing them to the Promised Land.

The Haggadah also contains the Hallel prayer, which contains selections from King David’s Psalms.

Many elements of the Haggadah are found in the Mishnah, which was finalized in the first century. The Talmud records a major disagreement between the sages Rav and Shmuel (approx. 230-250 CE) on how the Haggadah should be structured.4 In practice, it has become common to include the texts recorded by both rabbis in a formula that was crystallized by the late medieval period.

Content

The Haggadah follows a 15-step procedure. (The entire text of the Haggadah can be seen here.)

Kadesh – Sanctify the holy day over a cup of wine.

Urchatz – Wash hands without reciting the blessing.

Karpas – Dip a small piece of a vegetable in salt water.

Yachatz – Take the middle matzah and split it in half, setting aside the larger half to be used as the afikoman.

Maggid – Recite the story of the Exodus in great detail.

Rachtzah – Wash hands for the matzah.

Motzi Matzah – Recite the blessing over the matzah, and eat the required quantity of matzah.

Maror – Eat the bitter herbs after dipping them into charoseta sweet, sticky paste of nuts and fruits. (Click here to see delicious recipes for charoset.)

Korech – Eat a sandwitch of matzah and maror (again dipped in charoset).

Shulchan Orech – The meal begins.

Tzafun – The afikoman is now eaten.

BeirachBirkat Hamazon, the Grace After Meals, is now recited.

Hallel – Recite songs and praise to G‑d.

Nirtzah – The Seder is now concluded.

Read a step-by-step Seder guide here

Purpose

The Haggadah is more than a user’s guide throughout the Passover meal. It engages us in a dynamic experience, giving us the sense that it is we who left Egypt. The Haggadah explores our history, starting from the first Jew, Abraham, and leading us to the climactic Exodus from Egypt. It educates us and challenges us, beginning with the Four Questions, and continuing with The Four Sons.

On a deeper plane, it also tells the story of the Jewish people throughout the ages—how we’ve sufferedThe Haggadah is our secret to survival again and again, undergoing slavery and mass murder. But the Jewish spark within us has not been extinguished. Like the Jews that defeated the Egyptians and were redeemed from their rule, we too have been subjugated to persecution and slaughter, but in the famous words of Mark Twain, “All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains.” The Haggadah is our secret to survival, reminding us where we came from and who we are.

Footnotes
2.
Pesachim 116B.
3.
Although there is a general command to remember the Exodus from Egypt twice a day, there is a specific command to recall in detail the events that took place, and relive the experience for ourselves.
4.
Ibid., 116a.
Rabbi Dovie Schochet is a teacher at Hasmonean High School and freelance author. He currently resides in London with his wife and child.
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Peter Malaysia via jewishbayside.com April 9, 2017

An excellent presentation (English version) very easily followed Reply

Mendel Cohen New York March 23, 2017

Nirtzah isn't just about the Seder being concluded. We are asking Hashem to accept our seder favorably. Reply

Mendel Cohen New York March 23, 2017

By the Korech step, we don't dip them both. We only dip the marror. Reply

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