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The Importance of Hallel on Passover A Reflection on Pesachim 95

This piece was originally published as part of My Jewish Learning’s Daf Yomi page of the day Talmud project.

 

Today’s daf opens with a Mishnah. “MISHNA: What is the difference between the Paschal lamb offered on the first Pesaḥ and the Paschal lamb offered on the second Pesaḥ? On the first Pesaḥ, at the time of slaughtering the Paschal lamb, it is prohibited to own leavened bread due to the prohibitions: It shall not be seen, and: It shall not be found. And on the second Pesaḥ it is permissible for one to have both leavened bread and matza with him in the house. Another difference is that the Paschal lamb offered on the first Pesaḥ requires the recitation of hallel as it is eaten and the second does not require the recitation of hallel as it is eaten. However, they are the same in that the Paschal lambs sacrificed on both the first and second Pesaḥ require the recitation of hallel as they are prepared, i.e., as they are slaughtered, and they are both eaten roasted with matza and bitter herbs, and they override Shabbat in that they may be slaughtered, and their blood sprinkled even on Shabbat.”

This Mishnah outlines the differences between the Paskal offering that is brought for the first Pesach E.G., on the 14th of Nissan and the second Pesach a month later on the 14th of Iyyar. We’ve discussed Pesach Sheni or second Passover on previous dapim. Pesach Sheni is, today, a minor holiday but was initially instituted in the Book of Numbers as a means for men who were not ritually able to bring the Paskal sacrifice at its proper time the opportunity to do so. Today, some have the custom to eat matza in honor of the day and to refrain from saying Tachanun, which are supplicatory prayers found in the Shacharit (morning) and Mincha (afternoon) weekday services. There has also been a process of making the day more spiritually meaningful, by talking about the importance of second chances. Missing the opportunity to bring the Paskal sacrifice does not mean that a person cannot bring it a month later.

 

Amongst the similarities and differences between these two offerings the Mishnah outlines is that while both sacrifices require the recitation of Hallel—Psalms of praise—as they are being slaughtered, one only recites Hallel while eating if one brought the Paskal sacrifice in Nissan. To this day, we recite Hallel at the seder. Part of it is recited prior to the meal and the majority of it is recited after the Birkat HaMazon, blessing after the meal.

Hallel is one of my favorite Jewish liturgical and ritual moments. During this pandemic year, when communal singing became impossible and gathering at all incredibly hard, I have reminisced fondly about the many holidays I have spent in Jewish spaces that had a deep and abiding love for communal singing. Hallel was the absolute pinnacle of that. The root for the word Hallel relates to praise, though the Psalms that make up Hallel—Psalms 113-118—actually incapsulate a wide human emotional spectrum.

 

In previous years, I’d often quickly gloss over those parts of Hallel that hit a more somber tone. This year, however, they have come alive for me in a very deeply resonant way. Thinking about what it must have been like, experientially, to say Hallel as one was consuming their Paskal sacrifice, as part of the larger project of reliving the liberation that came through the Exodus from Egypt inspires me to enter the emotional complexity Hallel affords me in a more authentic way. Liberation came for B’nai Yisrael when we left Egypt, yes, but we also then had to learn how to be in the world as free people, receiving a covenant that bound us to The Divine and one another. No sooner do we leave Egypt, in fact, than we begin to lose faith that that choice was a wise one. The spiritual life is not merely about the joys and transcendent moments. For me, it is as much about the sorrows, sadness and rawness of being human. Perhaps that is why the rabbis instituted the recitation of Hallel twice for the first Pesach but only once for the 2nd. Those bringing the second Pesach already endured a sense of spiritual separation, making their praise even sweeter.






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