Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Pre-Pesach Stories Versus Testimonies: Both Count

One of my talmidim loves giving me a newly published sefer before each Yom Tov. For Pesach, he just gave me the new Chasam Sofer Haggadah by Rabbi Yisroel Besser. Last year, it was the Rav Chaim Kanievsky Haggadah, and the year prior, the Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman Haggadah. It’s easy to find new material for the Pesach Seder—each year many new Haggadahs come out. In fact, the Haggadah Shel Pesach has the most explanations of all Jewish texts.

Still, we’re retelling the same story each year. Why the need for so many new commentaries? One of the pivotal mitzvos of Seder night is Sipur yetzias Mitzrayim—telling the story of leaving Egypt. The section in the Haggadah of Maggid focuses on this mitzvah. Why does the Haggadah not call that section “Sipur”? What is the connotation of maggid—telling over something—as opposed to sipur?

There are two pesukim in the Torah that instruct us to retell the story of our journey from bondage to freedom. “Lema’an tesaper b’oznei vincha”—in order that you tell the story in the ears of your children. And “vehigadita lebincha”—and you shall tell your children. Here, both terms of sipur and maggid are used about retelling the story. What is the difference?

The Malbim explains that maggid means to tell something that is hidden to the person who needs to hear it. We see this in the pasuk about testimony—“v’im lo yagid”—if he doesn’t testify. When someone testifies, he is informing the court about information unknown to it, which the court needs to hear in order to deal with the case at hand. Similarly, Maggid in the Seder has us testify about what occurred in Mitzrayim and to disclose unknown details

Rav Avrohom Schorr explains this is perhaps why there are so many new commentaries printed each year about the Haggadah. To enhance the concept of “Maggid” in the Seder, providing new information or another perspective that wasn’t mentioned the prior year keeps the story fresh and exciting. Further, the Rambam tells us that the story of our redemption must be communicated to children according to their personalities, as the Haggadah discusses regarding the capabilities and outlooks of the Four Sons. It takes time and thought to creatively engage our children…and ourselves.

The aspect of sipur—retelling the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim—is also very important. Everyone loves a good story. Indeed, a good storyteller vividly brings out the details that helps the listener visualize and feel like he is actually experiencing the story, which is another specific mitzvah of Seder night!!

Rav Matisyahu Salomon adds that telling a story makes an impression on both the listener and the person telling the story. The pasuk that instructs us to tell the story concludes with the words “vidatem ki ani Hashem” and you (both the teller and listener) will know that I am Hashem. Both the elements of maggid and sipur are critical in communicating the story of our exodus from Egypt.

In a study at Princeton University, Israeli professor Uri Hasson found that when you listen to a well-told story, the parts of the brain that respond are the same as those that would respond if you were actually there. He connected people to an MRI machine while they listened to a story.

He found that if a storyteller describes an experience—like throwing a football, their motor cortex responds, specifically the part associated with hand and arm movement. The research found that this effect also happens to the person telling the story. So, as the story is being told, both the storyteller and the listener’s brains start lighting up in sync with one another! This is the powerful connection we feel when listening to a well-told story.

Maggid tells the story as a reality, disclosing new details about the past, while sipur makes it live and real so we can see ourselves in the story. To really fulfill the potential of this special night of Seder takes much thought and preparation. That’s part of why the Shabbos Hagadol drasha is normally given the Shabbos prior to Pesach. This year, we do this one week earlier, since Shabbos is Erev Pesach.

Let’s use this week to help make our Seder exciting and relevant to the children and participants of all ages! Personally, I like using props for the makkos (plagues). My favorite are the many “mini wild animals” I have, or the golden chariot I use for Pharaoh chasing the Jews. I even have a 5-foot skeleton in my closet that I don’t take out anymore, since it scared one of my daughters. New commentaries and explanations should be relatable to each child’s age and maturity. Consider having prizes and incentives for active participation as well. By making it exciting and actively listening when someone is talking, we make our Seder into a transformative experience for the whole family!