5767 - #24


Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 490:4 states that on the intermediate days of Pesach and the last days of yom tov, the holy days, we only read the Chatzi Hallel, the abbreviated form of the Hallel  prayer and not its full version. T.B. Arachin 10b explains that this is because, unlike the festival of Succot when a specific and distinct number of sacrifices were offered each day of the holiday, each day of Pesach had the same order of sacrifices.1 Taz, Orach Chaim 490:3, though, presents the reason that is most well known for the recitation of only Chatzi Hallel on these days. We cannot do so on chol hamo’ed, the intermediate days of the festival, because we cannot do so on the seventh day of Pesach, the last day of yom tov as we cannot make the intermediate days better than the holy days. And we cannot say the full Hallel on the last day for, on this day in history, the Egyptians drowned in the sea. It is inappropriate to sing shira, songs of praise of God, when God’s creatures are drowning.2   

             This reason of the Taz is actually found in earlier sources and is based upon the famous midrash3 that when the Jews sang Az Yashir, the famous song of the people that followed the miracle of the splitting of the sea, the angels also wanted to join in and sing shira. God scolded them: “The works of My Hands are drowning in the sea and you wish to sing shira?” Beit Yosef, Orach Chaim 490, quoting Shibolei Haleket, adds the message of Mishlei 24:17 that we should not rejoice over the downfall of our enemies. As such, we do not say a full Hallel on the last days of Pesach in recognition of the destruction that was brought upon the Egyptians. Yet the Jewish nation at that time sang Az Yashir? And do we not say a full Hallel on the first days of Pesach even as the Egyptians were suffering through the plagues and their aftermath?

             An answer, that I once heard, explained that there is a difference between the one who experiences redemption and the onlooker to such an event. For the one who is saved, it is completely appropriate to sing shira and to thank God for his/her deliverance. As such, it was fully correct for the Jewish nation that experienced the redemptive consequence of the miracles at the sea to sings songs of praise to God. Onlookers to such an event, though, must be cognizant of the full consequences of what is happening and while also experiencing appropriate feelings of joy for the redemption of the righteous must also acknowledge the sadness in the destruction of human lives even as justice demands this destruction. As such, it was inappropriate for the angels, as onlookers, to sing songs of praise. This speaker continued that so it is with our present generations. We are but historical onlookers to these events and, although we rejoice over the redemption of Egypt, we must also, just like the angels, limit our songs of praise in recognition of the pain of the Egyptians. We do not do so, though, on the first days for the call of the first days is not just to be simply onlookers but to actually experience the Exodus. As such, just as it was appropriate for the nation to sing Az Yashir, it is appropriate for us to sing the full Hallel on the first days of Pesach.

             While finding merit in these thoughts, questions still remain. The fact is that the nation did not sing shira at the time of the Exodus but only at the true conclusion of the redemptive process with the events at the Reed Sea. It seems strange that we now only say full Hallel in commemoration of an event for which the people of the time did not say shira and are restrained from saying shira in commemoration of the event for which they did say shira? In addition, in describing our obligation to personally feel the redemption, the Haggada declares that if the nation of Israel was not released from Egypt, we would still, today, be bound to Pharaoh. We thus are also personally redeemed through these events. And does this not include the miracles of the sea? Are we not also more than mere onlookers? The Haggada also declares that the miracles at the Reed Sea were even greater that the miracles of the Exodus. Is it not also strange that we say full Hallel for the lesser miracles but only say Chatzi Hallel on the day that commemorates the great miracles at the Reed Sea?

             As the speaker explained, there is a difference between the onlooker and the one who directly experiences, and feels the consequences of, an event. There is also a difference between one’s initial reaction to an event and one’s reaction over time. T.B. Berachot 60a discusses the need to respond to events both in the short term and in the long term. Thus, if an event has a positive consequence in the short term, one must say the bracha of Hatov v’Hameitiv even though there will be negative consequences later in time. Each time period demands its own response based upon the evaluation of the specific time period. In a certain way, the speaker is introducing a similar concept indistinguishing between the response of the onlooker and the response of the one who directly experiences an event. One event may demand different responses given variant possible distinctions. The distinction between us and the nation at the Sea, though, may be more similar to the distinction voiced in the gemara in Berachot. The consequences of an event may not be the only fact that changes. The individuals involved may also go through transformations that demand new evaluations of the consequences.

             There are distinctions in how one may respond to freedom. The initial response may be elation and so the nation sang Az Yashir as they felt the immediate joy of the complete process of redemption – and so on the first days we are again experience the feeling of immediate elation. But there is a more somber response to freedom. There is the need to recognize the work that still needs to be done, the challenge to take freedom to its next step and then its next step. There is the need to recognize that freedom must lead to not just the destruction of evildoers but evil itself.3 It may be that by only saying Chatzi Hallel on the last days of Pesach we are recognizing that our response to freedom must also include responsibility to accept the challenge that freedom brings with it.

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht e-mail


1 The argument would seem to be that, since the sacrifices were similar each day, each day was not in its own right of special distinction and, as such, did not demand its own specific recitation of the full Hallel.

2 It can be argued that this reason may also be the reason for why there were no special sacrifices for this day; thus we do not have to project a continued argument between this reason and the reason presented in the gemara.

3 See T.B. Megilla 10b and T.B. Sanhedrin 39b.

4 See T.B. Berachot 10a.


Nishma, 2007

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