I recently reworked and expanded an older piece on the structure of the Seder as a whole, and why it comes in fifteen steps grouped by the cups of wine into four. This section is also a rewrite, reflecting parallel changes to Maggid in particular.
Within our framework, Maggid is the substance of the second cup of the seder. It is the cognitive aspect of progressing from the limitations of our current reality to our ideal redeemed state.
Let’s begin with the relevant mishnayos, from Pesachim ch. 10:
ד מזגו לו כוס שני, וכאן הבן שואל. אם אין דעת בבן–אביו מלמדו, מה נשתנה הלילה הזה מכל הלילות: שבכל הלילות, אין אנו מטבלין אפילו פעם אחת; והלילה הזה, שתי פעמים. שבכל הלילות, אנו אוכלין חמץ ומצה; והלילה הזה, כולו מצה. שבכל הלילות, אנו אוכלין בשר צלי שלוק ומבושל; והלילה הזה, כולו צלי. לפי דעתו של בן, אביו מלמדו. מתחיל בגנות, ומסיים בשבח; ודורש מ”ארמי אובד אבי” (דברים כו,ה), עד שהוא גומר את כל הפרשה.
4: They pour him a second cup, and here the son asks question. If the son doesn’t know how, his father teaches him “Mah Nishtanah…” [the entire older version, as said when the pascal offering was part of the seder, is given]. According to the intellect of the son, that’s how the father teaches him.
We begin with the tragic, and end in praise.
And we expound [on the portion of the Torah] from “An Arami destroyed my father / My father was a lost Arami…” until he completes the section.ה רבן גמליאל אומר, כל שלא אמר שלושה דברים אלו בפסח, לא יצא ידי חובתו; ואלו הן–פסח, מצה, ומרורים. פסח, על שם שפסח המקום על בתי אבותינו במצריים; מרורים, על שם שמיררו המצריים את חיי אבותינו במצריים; מצה, על שם שנגאלו. בכל דור ודור, חייב אדם ל[ה]ראות את עצמו כאילו הוא יצא ממצריים; לפיכך אנחנו חייבין להודות להלל לשבח לפאר להדר לרומם לגדל לנצח למי שעשה לנו את כל הניסים האלו, והוציאנו מעבדות לחירות. ונאמר לפניו, הללו י-ה.
5: Rabban Gamliel says: anyone who doesn’t say these three things on Pesach didn’t fulfill his obligation. And they are: Pesach [offering], Matzah and Marror. Pesach in commemoration of… Merorim… Matzah…
In every generation a person must see himself [Rambam: show himself] as though he [personally] left Egypt. Therefore, we are obligated to give thank, laud, praise, give glory, show beauty, exalt, make great, eternalization to He Who did for us all these miracles, and took us from slavery to freedom.
And we say before him “Hallelukah…” [and so on with much of Hallel and a closing berakhah, the details of which is the topic of the next mishnah].
The mishnah spells out three requirements for Maggid.
1- Question and Answer
Ideally, the previous section of the seder was enough to cause spontaneous questions from the child. If not, the father teaches him Mah Nishatanah — or more or less, as per the child. (R’ Rich Wolpoe wondered aloud on Avodah about when Mah Nishtanah became something the child said rather than something the father said when the child had no real questions.)
The question’s answer must be phrased in a particular way — starting from the lowly, and ending in praise. In other words, highlighting that gap between the limitations of the real, and the ideal we strive for.
Rav and Shemu’el disagree as to how we view that gap.
Rav says that this is on a spiritual level, starting with Bitechilah ovdei avodah zarah — in the beginning, our ancestors were idolators.
Shemu’el says it on a physical level. Avadaim hayinu — we were slaves, but now we are free.
We can view the dispute this way: Do we attribute our spiritual redemption to Hashem? Or is redemption our own task, and Hashem’s role is to give us the tools to achieve it. Shemu’el focuses on the latter, and therefore to him yetzi’as Mitzrayim is about Hashem granting us the autonomy to pursue His goals.
We find the same dispute between them with respect to the final redemption. In Rav’s view, the messianic era will be heralded with a change in the natural order. The synagogues and batei medrash from around the world will fly up to Israel. (Although, anyone who visited the yeshivos of Ponovezh, Ramalys, Mir, etc… operating today in Israel could give a more natural explanation. In Shemu’el’s view, it is not a supernatural event. Rather, “ein bein olam hazah liymos hamashiach elah shib’ud malkhios bilvad — there is no difference between this world and the messianic era except subjugation to [foreign] kings alone”. (A position followed by the Rambam.)
And so, this requirement of Maggid involves the following elements:
1a-The Questions: Mah Nishtanah.
1b- Shemu’el’s Haggadah: Avadim Hayinu.
The completion of this first retelling ends by noting that this mitzvah is retelling the story of the Exodus, beyond the usual requirement to remember it “kol yimei chayecha — all the days of your life”.
This then invokes a discussion of the four sons, the seder in Benei Beraq, and “Yachol meiRosh Chodesh” about the uniqueness of the night, when the other commemorations exist. Notice that the arguments include various mishnayos and beraisos explaining the requirement for each of the elements we include in Maggid, explaining why Maggid does not end here and instead does include every understanding.
1c- Rav’s Haggadah: The spiritual redemption from Terach, Avraham’s father, the maker of idols. It ends with thanking Hashem that He hastened the redemption, using the earliest possible definition of the end of the exile promised in Avraham’s vision. Before we were spiritually reduced to Egypt’s level, back where the spiritual story began.
Notice the nature of these two addenda: After Shemu’el’s Haggadah, we have a long extension about how to respond. Hashem gives us physical freedom, and so we are called upon to use that to study, to teach our children. Rav’s Haggadah speaks to our spiritual redemption, but is followed by “Vehi She’omda“, how that spiritual journey has stood for us as an anchor of physical survival.
In contrast to the more natural question-and-answer retelling (sipur) that is at the center of the previous sections, the next thing the mishnah requires is expounding (derash) the words of Devarim, finding details about the Exodus lurking in each word of the section.We look for G-d’s “Hand” in all its nuances in the miracles of the plagues and the crossing of the sea.
3- Rabban Gamliel’s Haggadah: Identifying
Then we find Rabbi Gamliel’s requirement that Maggid can not be divorced from the food mitzvos of the evening, the substance of the third cup, when the night of the Exodus is relived. “A person must see or show himself as though he personally went out of Egypt.” Even the retelling must be subjective, in the first person. The exercise, while cognitive, can not remain abstract.
To the extent that the portion of Hallel found in Maggid derives from Rabban Gamliel’s portion of the hagadah. “Lefikhakh — therefore.” It is because the miracle is a personal one, that I too was redeemed when my ancestors were, that necessitates saying Hallel even at night.
The author of the Hagadah took all three elements of the mishnah, across multiple understandings of the essence of the night, and wove them together to make a single text that satisfies all the opinions. “And whomever says more, he is praiseworthy.”