A Time of Intimacy
Our daily prayers are often disturbed by the distractions and
interruptions of our everyday lives. Frequently, when we
stand up to converse with our Creator, we find our hearts
distanced from the words that our lips utter mechanically. As
we take three steps backwards to leave His Presence, we hope
that perhaps next time we will achieve that closeness that we
A little preparation beforehand always goes a long way to
make sure that our prayers are sincere. But there is one
night every year when we spend the entire evening preparing,
so that when we finally arrive at the moment of prayer, we
are ready to praise Hashem with the full force of heart,
soul, and body.
After reliving the slavery in Egypt, the miracles and the
redemption through the songs, stories and discussions of the
Seder, we are now ready for another mitzvah — singing
Hallel. All the usual inhibitions should have
vanished, and we should find ourselves in the perfect frame
of mind to open up our hearts to Hashem.
With or Without a Blessing?
The uniqueness of this Hallel finds expression in
halochoh. Even though we normally say a blessing
before Hallel, on Pesach night many Rishonim say that
we sing it without a blessing. The Hallel of the Seder
is supposed to be a spontaneous outburst from our souls, and
a pre-planned brochoh is just out of place (Rav Hai
Gaon as cited in the Ran, Pesochim 118a).
Other Rishonim argue that Hallel on Pesach night is
just like any Hallel said at other times of the year,
and a brochoh should definitely be recited beforehand.
They explain that the exuberance of this mitzvah is actually
a good reason why a blessing should be said. In the words of
the Ramban, "We certainly must recite a blessing for there is
no greater obligation relating to Hallel than the one
to recite a brochoh on Seder night at the
commemoration of our redemption from Egypt" (Ramban,
In practice, we follow the first opinion and no blessing is
said (Mishnah Berurah 480,1). A number of communities
have the custom to sing Hallel in shul on Seder night
in order to fulfill the words of King David, "We will exalt
His Name together" (Tehillim 34,4). Some of them
recite the blessing on this Hallel, releasing them
from any obligation to recite one later on during the
One of the reasons given for why a brochoh should not
be said before the Hallel of the Seder night is that
the recitation of this particular Hallel is
interrupted. Before the meal we sing the first two chapters,
and after its conclusion we sing the rest. Why is this prayer
of praise split into two, a practice which is generally
Shiroh to Hashem can only be said where there is wine.
Over the first of the four cups of wine we sing
Kiddush, and on the last two we sing Bircas
Hamozone and Hallel. One of the Rishonim explains
that the beginning of Hallel is sung before the meal
so that the second cup will also be drunk amidst singing
(Mordechai, end of Pesochim).
When thanking Hashem for the kindnesses He does for us, we
try to be as specific as possible. The opening section of
Hallel deals with the Jewish people's exodus from Egypt,
while the last sections deal with the future redemption. In
order to thank Hashem for the past redemption and praise Him
separately for the future one, Hallel is broken up
into two parts (Levush 486).
Have a Seat
"The servants of Hashem praise Him, those who stand in the
house of Hashem," (Tehillim 135:1-2). When
Hallel is sung in synagogue throughout the year, it
immediately follows the Shemoneh Esrei, which is said
while standing. We remain on our feet for Hallel as an
expression of the awe that we feel in His home, the
Hallel bears witness to all the miracles that Hashem
performed for us. Since testimony is not given sitting down,
we recite Hallel while standing. However, if one did
say Hallel sitting down he has still fulfilled his
obligation (Mishnah Berurah 422,28).
On Seder night, we once again deviate from the norm. Since
this Hallel is interrupted by the meal (during which
one remains seated), we sit for Hallel as well. This
change of practice is a further sign of the newly acquired
sense of freedom (Beis Yosef 422).
Looking for Three
It is always preferable to say Bircas Hamozone with at
least three men, in order to recite the zimun. On
Seder night, there is an additional mitzvah to have three men
present (Shulchan Oruch 479,1). What is the reason for
When the shaliach tzibbur repeats Shemoneh
Esrei before a congregation there is one brochoh
which he cannot say on behalf of others — Modim
(the blessing that thanks Hashem). Thanking Hashem must be
done sincerely, on an individual level. That is why our Sages
ruled that when the prayer leader repeats Shemoneh
Esrei, each individual must say for themselves the
Modim Derabbonon, an expression of thanks to Hashem
Hallel is the ultimate expression of gratitude to
Hashem. When at least three men recite it together, there is
a special mitzvah for the leader to say the four verses which
start with "Hodu." All the participants in the Seder
then recite the appropriate responses. In each response, the
next Hodu verse is added (Mishnah Berurah
479,9). This gives everyone the opportunity to express their
own personal thanks.
If there are less than three men present at the Seder, one
can technically fulfill this halochoh by visiting a
neighbor, even if one was not present at their meal. However,
since Hallel is recited immediately after Bircas
Hamozone, this would necessitate eating the
Afikoman (the final piece of matzo) in someone else's
home. Due to the various halachic difficulties that this
would entail, it is preferable to stay home for the
recitation of Hallel.
The Zohar recommends inviting needy guests to the
Pesach table. This will guarantee that one has three men with
whom to recite Hodu responsively, and at the same time
it actualizes the declaration from the Haggodoh, "Let
all who are hungry come and eat." All opinions agree that it
is not an obligation to have three men, and if they are not
present Hallel may still be recited.
The two verses starting with "Onoh Hashem" are also
said responsively and the host of the Seder may allow another
man present to lead their recitation (Mishna Berurah
Women and Hallel
The halochoh mentions another striking difference between the
Hallel said during the rest of the year and that of
Seder night. Women are generally not obligated to recite
Hallel on Yom Tov, as it is a time-bound mitzvah.
Pesach night is an exception to this rule, and women must say
Why are women obliged to fulfill this and other time-bound
mitzvos on Seder night?
Our Sages tell us that in the merit of the righteous women we
were redeemed from Egypt. Hallel on Seder night is a
jubilant expression of the deep gratitude we feel for the
unprecedented miracles of the Exodus. Since women played such
an important role and were included in the deliverance from
Egypt, they too say Hallel on Pesach night as we
relive the experience (Tosafos, Succa 38a).
Our Sages write that one of the reasons for drinking four
cups of wine at the Seder is in order to recite the
Haggodoh and Hallel over them. Since women are
obligated in Haggodoh and Hallel, they must
also drink the four cups of wine (Pesochim 108a).
One of the most challenging aspects of Seder night is
fulfilling all the pertinent mitzvos before chatzos
(halachic midnight), by which time the Afikoman must
be eaten. To make matters even more tricky, the Rema
recommends that Hallel be completed before then as
well (477,1). What is behind these time limits?
The Talmud cites a dispute regarding whether the final time
for eating the korbon Pesach is at midnight or dawn.
Since the Afikoman represents the korbon
Pesach, the same time framework applies. Most authorities
agree with the stringent opinion that the Afikoman
must be eaten by midnight.
Since Hallel was also sung while eating the korbon
Pesach, some Rishonim require us to finish
reciting it before midnight, as was done in those times (Ran,
Megilloh 21a). The Rema and other Ashkenazi
authorities agree with this ruling. Others note that
Hallel is a rabbinic mitzvah and can therefore be said
any time throughout the night, while the Afikoman is a
Torah mitzvah which must be fulfilled more stringently. This
is in line with Kabbalistic writings which say that
Hallel should preferably be said after midnight
(Zohar, Behaalosecha 149a).
Even those who rule that we should finish Hallel
before midnight, say that it is preferable but not an
absolute obligation. Therefore, if a person is able to finish
Hallel before chatzos without causing stress in
his household or rushing his Seder, he should try to do so.
If not, he may rely on the lenient opinions that rule that it
may be said throughout the night (Mishna Berurah 477,
The Fifth Cup
The exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt was our first
redemption from an exile among another nation. Since then the
exile redemption/cycle has repeated itself many, many times.
Each time, we hope that this will be the last time that we
will be subjugated by other nations, and that the final
redemption is at hand.
In order that this feeling should remain strong in our
hearts, many have taken on the custom to fill up an
additional fifth cup of wine in honor of the Prophet Eliyahu,
who will announce the arrival of the Moshiach. This last cup
is a powerful reminder that just as Hashem took us out from
Egypt, He will save us from our current tribulations, and
send Eliyahu to herald the final redemption (Mishna
The poskim say that the cup of Eliyahu should be
larger and more elegant than the other cups used during the
Seder (Siddur Yavetz). This sets the gesture apart
from the many mitzvos we perform that night, and ensures that
it will make a lasting impression on our hearts.
Having spent a memorable evening commemorating the great
exodus from Egypt we are moved to look forward to the future,
ultimate Redemption. May it come speedily in our days.