Magid: Avadim Hayinu, Dayenu, and Hallel

June 29, 2006

The Haggadah’s narrative of “Avadim Hayinu” states, “And had the Holy One not taken us out of Egypt, then we, our children and grandchildren would still be slaves to Pharaoh…” What does this mean? Even if the Exodus had not occurred, how can we attest that we surely would still be enslaved to Egyptian monarchy? There is no present Pharoate in Egypt, and the Egyptian rulership of today does not practice slavery. Thus, how can the Haggadah’s text assert that we today would be enslaved if not for the Exodus?

DayeinuPerhaps the answer is that Bnei Yisroel would not have attained the metaphysical, religious status of Bnei Chorin (free people) if not for Yetzias Mitzrayim; we would have remained stuck in the spiritual state of being enslaved to Pharaoh. The Exodus converted us from “avadim l’avadim” [“servants of servants”] to avadim LaMakom” [“servants of God”]. Rashi quotes Chazal that the beginning of Yetzias Mitzrayim marked the sealing of the bechora (birthright) which Yaakov purchased from Eisav. This means that Bnei Yisroel’s unique position of closeness to Hashem and leadership in His avodah was crafted by the Exodus. When God redeemed us, He elevated us and took us unto Himself as a groom relates to his bride at the time of Erusin (betrothal). This metamorphosis of our status to avadim LaMakom, marked by a unique, incomparable closeness and dedication to Hashem, endowed us with the metaphysical title of Bnei Chorin.

Prior to commencing the Seder meal, we recite the berachah of Ga’al Yisroel”, thanking God for “redeeming us and our ancestors from Mitzrayim…” Why do we thank Hashem for redeeming us? The answer is the same as above, for we thank Hashem for the geulah from Mitzrayim as it directly affects us today vis a vis our metaphysical status as Bnei Chorin.

Why do we recite Hallel at the Seder in two segments, dividing both parts of it by the meal? Hallel is never recited with interruption, and – even if the Hallel at the Seder is not a formal fulfillment of the normative mitzvah of Hallel – how come its recitation is entirely broken up and sidelined by the seudah?

The answer is that Pesach night has two motifs. (1) We thank Hashem for the historical redemption, and (2) we personally re-experience the redemption. This duality is expressed halachically in many places (see Talmud Pesachim 108a for the basis of this rule as it relates to the Four Cups), and it governs the entirety of the Seder. The section of Hallel which is recited prior to the Seder meal consists of verses of thanks to Hashem for previous miracles and salvation. The remainder of Hallel, which we recite after the seudah, is comprised of tefillos for future graciousness and redemption. Thus, the meal – which is the concrete manifestation of the present – is placed between both portions of Hallel, as we first thank God for prior kindness and geulah by reciting the beginning of Hallel, after which we eat the lavish seudah as a present, here-and-now expression of freedom, and we subsequently move into the future as we pray for eschatological times and Hashem’s salvation. The mitzvah to re-experience the geulah terminates at the endpoint of the first part of Hallel, and we view ourselves from that stage in terms of the present and future.

The dual quality of Pesach night may also alluded to in the berachah of “Ga’al Yisroel” (explained above). We thank Hashem for redeeming our ancestors and us; “our ancestors” refers to the historical theme of Pesach thanksgiving, while “us” alludes to the experiential motif.

After reciting Dayenu at the Seder, we read “Al Achas Kamah…”, which is a list of the praises featured in Dayenu set in paragraph form. Why do we need to repeat the ideas of Dayenu (in Al Achas Kamah)?

The answer is that Al Achas Kama introduces a new perspective to God’s miracles as depicted in Dayenu. Dayenu states that each miracle itself was sufficient to warrant praise to Hashem. Thus, each of the dozens of miracles for which we praise God at the Seder is given independent focus. Al Achas v’Kamah is teaching us that the miracles of Dayenu – when viewed as a pattern of divine providence – are cause for even greater praise to Hashem, as the qualitative sum of the miracles is far more significant than the total of each of them by itself. In Al Achas, we recognize God’s mastery of the world such that all of his works form one master plan, as we proclaim that each of His acts of kindness to us is part of a larger picture to grant us ultimate goodness. This is the meaning of “Al achas kama v’kamah tovah…” – “How much more so must we be cumulatively thankful…”