Rabbi Bernard Fox
“Raban Gamliel said, “Anyone that does not discuss these three things does not fulfill one’s obligation. And these are the things: the Pesach sacrifice, Matzah, and Marror.” (Hagaddah of Pesach)
This selection from the Hagaddah is derived from the Talmud in Tractate Pesachim. Raban Gamliel explains that in order for a person to fulfill his obligation on the night of Pesach, he must discuss the mitzvot of the Pesach sacrifice, Matzah and Marror. There are two difficulties with Raban Gamliel’s law. Raban Gamliel does not specify the obligation that is fulfilled through this discussion. In other words, if a person does not discuss the mitzvot of Pesach, Matzah and Marror, what is the obligation that the person has failed to fulfill? Second, Raban Gamliel does not indicate the source for his law.
First, let us focus on the first question. What obligation has not been fulfilled if the Pesach, Matzah and Marror have not been discussed? Maimonides provides a simple answer to this question. Maimonides places Raban Gamliel’s law in the chapter of his code that discusses the laws regarding the mitzvah to discuss the redemption from Egypt on the fist night of Pesach. It is clear from the placement of Raban Gamliel’s law in this chapter that Maimonides maintains that the discussion of Pesach, Matzah and Marror is essential to the mitzvah of retelling the events of our redemption from Egypt. Furthermore, Maimonides explains that the discussion of these three topics – Pesach, Matzah and Marror – is referred to as Haggadah. This seems to confirm that the discussion is part of the mitzvah to retell the events of the redemption.
“And you shall say, ‘This is the Pesach sacrifice to Hashem who passed over the homes of Bnai Yisrael when He struck Egypt and our homes He saved.’ And the nation bowed and prostrated itself.” (Shemot 12:27)
Tosefot do not directly deal with our first question. Instead, they discuss our second question. What is the source for Raban Gamliel’s law? Tosefot explain that the source is the above passage. The passage indicates that there is an obligation to explain the significance of the Pesach sacrifice.
However, Tosefot realize that this answer creates a problem. The passage only specifies that the Pesach sacrifice must be discussed. Raban Gamliel extends this obligation to the Matzah and Marror. The pasuk makes no mention of Matzah and Marror. What is the source for the obligation to discuss these mitzvot? Tosefot offer a rather strange answer to this question.
“And you shall eat the flesh (of the Pesach) on this night roasted by fire and with Matzah and Marror you should eat it.” (Shemot 12:8)
Tosefot suggest that the obligation to discuss Matzah and Marror is derived from the above passage. According to Tosefot the pasuk equates or associates the Matzah and Marror with the Pesach. Tosefot explain that based on this association, the requirement to discuss the Pesach is extended to the Matzah and Marror.
Tosefot’s reasoning is not immediately obvious. The above passage tells us the Pesach must be eaten with Matzah and Marror. In other words, the obligation to eat the Pesach is not fulfilled in its entirety by eating the Pesach alone. Instead, in order to completely fulfill the mitzvah of eating the Pesach, it must be eaten with Matzah and Marror. Tosefot’s contention that the pasuk associates the Pesach with Matzah and Marror is certainly accurate. However, this association is insofar as the obligation to eat the Pesach. The passage does not discuss the obligation to speak about the Pesach. In no sense does the pasuk associate the Matzah and Marror with the Pesach in regards to the obligation to discuss the Pesach.
Rav Yitzchak Mirsky suggests that according to Tosefot, the obligation to discuss the Pesach sacrifice is part of the mitzvah to eat the Pesach. In other words, the eating of the Pesach must be preceded by a discussion of the significance of the mitzvah. Based on this insight, he explains Tosefot’s reasoning. Since the eating of the Matzah and Marror is part of the mitzvah of eating the Pesach – as indicated by our pasuk – the obligation to discuss the Pesach extends to the Matzah and Marror which is eaten with the Pesach.
So, although Tosefot do not directly discuss the mitzvah
that is not fulfilled if Pesach, Matzah and Marror are not discussed, their
position has emerged. This discussion
is needed in order to completely fulfill the mitzvah of eating the Pesach with
its Matzah and Marror.
Tosefot’s position presents an interesting problem. Generally, in performing a mitzvah we are not required to understand the purpose and full significance of the commandment. At most, we are obligated to be cognizant of the obligatory nature of the performance. But according to Tosefot, the mitzvah of eating the Pesach with its Matzah and Marror must be discussed and understood in order to be completely fulfilled. Why is the mitzvah of the Pesach different from other mitzvot?
“And you should tell to your son” One might think that the mitzvah can be fulfilled from the beginning of the month. The Torah tells us, “On that day.” If one was only told that the mitzvah must be fulfilled on that day, one might think that it can be fulfilled before nightfall. The Torah tells us “For the sake of this.” “For the sake of this” only applies at the time the Matzah and Marror are placed before you.” (Hagaddah of Pesach)
This section of the Hagaddah is derived from and paraphrases the Michilta. The section deals with the derivation for the proper time for the fulfillment of the mitzvah of recounting our redemption from Egypt. The Mechilta explains that the mitzvah can only be fulfilled on the night of the fifteenth of Nisan. This requirement is not explicitly stated in the Torah. Instead, it is derived from a passage that indicates the mitzvah can only be fulfilled at the time at of the mitzvot of Matzah and Marror. The mitzvot of Matzah and Marror are fulfilled on the fifteenth of Nisan after nightfall. Therefore, according to the Mechilta, the mitzvah of Sippur – the retelling of the redemption – is also relegated to the night of the fifteenth of Nisan.
The implications of this lesson from the Mechilta are very important. According to the Mechilta, the mitzvot of Matzah, Marror and Sippur are inextricably interrelated – to the extent that the mitzvah of Sippur can only be fulfilled at the time of the mitzvot of Matzah and Marror. What is the basis of this interrelationship? It seems clear from the Mechilta that the Torah designed the mitzvot of Matzah and Marror to be fulfilled in the context of Sippur. These mitzvot do not merely coexist on the night of the fifteenth. Together, they merge into a single entity.
This relationship is reflected in Maimonides’ treatment of these mitzvot. In his code, he discusses the mitzvah of Matzah, then the mitzvah of sippur. He then describes how these mitzvot are performed on the night of the fifteenth of Nisan. In other words, after discussing the various mitzvot performed on the night of the fifteenth, Maimonides provides a detailed description of the Seder.
From Maimonides’ treatment of these mitzvot and the Seder, it seems that the Seder is more than a set of instructions for the fulfillment of a set of unrelated mitzvot that happen to occur at the same time. Instead, the various mitzvot of the night merge into a single unified and coordinated entity – the Seder. In other words, the Seder is the halachic entity in which the various mitzvot of the night merge and become unified.
We can now more fully understand Tosefot’s reasoning. Why do the mitzvot of Pesach, Matzah and Marror require discussion, explanation and understanding? This is because the mitzvot are designed to occur in the context of the mitzvah of Sippur. Because of this context the mitzvot cannot be properly fulfilled without explanation and understanding.