A Passover Essay: Rashi commentary on the Haggadah in the supercommentary of Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson

Monday, 22 March, 2021 - 9:59 pm

BL Add MS 14762 (1430-1470) V'arbeh.pngBackground to the Rebbe’s Rashi commentary on the Haggadah


The supercommentary of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, on the commentary of Rashi spans 1965 to 1989 and covered approximately 800 studies. The commentary was taught on every Shabbat when a farbrengen was held, resulting in the commentary being predominantly a commentary focused on the Pentateuch. The commentary, however, formally extended to two other areas: seven studies in Rashi on the Book of Esther, between 1965 and 1981, and, as we will discuss, three studies on the biblical passages recited in the Passover Haggadah. We will discuss how this third part of the Rebbe’s Rashi commentary developed, its duration, and a possible reason for its decline, followed by a presentation of the studies and where it fits in within the commentary as a whole.


The majority of the studies in Rashi took place on Shabbat, when it is customary to read the weekly Torah portion, as well as the custom in Jewish law to recite the Torah portion, each verse twice in the Hebrew and once the Targum. According to Jewish law, the Targum may be substituted by the commentary of Rashi.[1] This weekly Torah portion provided base material for the Rebbe’s supercommentary on Rashi on the Pentateuch. Similarly, the studies on Esther would take place on or in close proximity to Purim, when the Rebbe would hold a farbrengen. As the holiday of Purim contains a biblical text, the Book of Esther, accompanied by the commentary of Rashi, served as a suitable extension to the supercommentary.


The only other holiday that has a biblical text associated with it, accompanied by Rashi’s commentary, is the holiday of Pesach. This involves the text of the Haggadah with its many biblical passages about the Exodus. The Haggadah includes thirty-four verses from Genesis, Exodus and Deuteronomy and twelve verses from Joshua,[2] Ezekiel,[3] I Chronicles,[4] Joel,[5] Lamentations[6] and Psalms.[7] The chapters of Psalms 113 until 118 and chapter 136 is included, totalling 128 verses. This gives all-together 174 biblical verses, many of which, though fewer in the prophets and writings, have commentary of Rashi. In addition, there are parts of the text of the Haggadah that borrows phraseology from biblical texts, for example ‘you shall initiate him’ from Proverbs[8] and ‘wall (kir) of Your altar for acceptance’ from Leviticus.[9] While the verses in the Haggadah from the Pentateuch are suitable material for the Shabbat studies on Rashi, the comparison from how they are presented in their original location in the Torah, with the comment of Rashi ad locum, to how they are presented in the Haggadah - a Mishnaic period text - is of significance. In addition, the Haggadah provides an opportunity to study nine verses on the Nach (prophets and writings), that is not presented throughout the year, similar to the opportunity presented by the Book of Esther on Purim. The use of the Haggadah as a way to expand the commentary on Rashi is all the more pronounced in light of the fact that in Chabad tradition, aside from Esther on Purim and Lamentations on the Fast of Av, the five scrolls are not read in the synagogue during the festivals, including Ruth on Shavuot,[10] Song of Songs on Passover[11] and Ecclesiastes on Sukkot.[12] Before presenting the study of the Rebbe on Rashi on the Haggadah, we will first present a brief history of the development of a commentary on the Haggadah in Chabad in general.


History of commentary on the Haggadah


BL Or 1404 1350-1374 Brother.pngThe history of a running commentary on the Haggadah in Chabad seems to have first been recorded to have occurred by the fifth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Dovber Schneerson (1860-1920), known by his acronym Rashab, as told by his son, Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneerson (1880-1950), known as the Rayatz, in 1936,[13] and repeated in 1941,[14] that the first Seder night of Passover was short with little commentary, so the afikoman can be eaten before midnight, as required in Jewish law.[15] On the second night, however, the Seder would begin at 9pm or 9.30pm[16] and finish around 3-4 in the morning. Rabbi Shalom Dovber would then visit the synagogue to further elaborate on the Haggadah and return home only after dawn.[17] The details of the commentary were not recorded however. In the Rebbe’s private diary from 1931, when he visited his father in-law for Passover in Riga, he records that on the second night of Pesach at the Seder, the Rebbe gave explanations on the Haggadah.[18] In 1937-9, we have details of commentary from the first and second Seder nights.[19] Details of discussions during the Seder, though not a commentary per se, is recorded from 1940-2.[20] Commentary resumed with much elaboration on first and second Seder night in 1943 and 1944. In 1945, there is only record of the first night Seder commentary. In 1946, the Rebbe published a commentary on the Haggadah, Haggadah shel Pesach im ta’amim minhagim u’bi-urim, consisting of an analytical study of the Haggadah of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi. Included in the commentary are forty-nine comments about the customs and teachings of his father-in-law, the Rayatz, many of which are taken from what he observed when visiting his father-in-law in Riga and later in New York, and the commentary delivered at the Seder nights during the above years, as per this tradition.[21]


When the Rebbe assumed the leadership in 1951, after the passing of the Rayatz, the tradition of elaborating on the Haggadah continued. In 1951, on the second night of Pesach, after the Rebbe finished his Seder, he accompanied his mother home, and then returned to his study, after which he came out, Haggadah in hand, into the nearby study hall and began elaborating on the Haggadah. The reason he gave for this was since the custom of his father-in-law, the Rayatz, was to start the Seder at 9pm and continue until a few hours after midnight. Although, the Rebbe’s actual Seder did not take so long, perhaps due to his elderly mother attending, he desired to follow the custom of having a lengthy Seder on the second night by returning to the study hall with the Chassidim and elaborate on the Haggadah. In 1952, on the first night, after the Rebbe finished his Seder and retired to his study, the Yeshiva students continued dancing, upon which the Rebbe came out, entered the nearby study hall with Haggadah in hand, sat in his seat and after instructing to sing some niggunim, he began discussing ideas in the Haggadah. A further sicha elaborating in the Haggadah took place the second night.[22] During this year, while the custom resumed, the Rebbe suggested that he thought there should be a change in perspective to the Seder night as a whole. The Rayatz, he said, would not show joy at the Seder and on many occasions would even cry from sadness.[23] The Rayatz also testified that his father, Rabbi Shalom Dovber, would always express sadness by sighing deeply at certain parts of the Haggadah.[24] The Rebbe said that this sadness perplexed him and that based on the Arizal one should recite the Haggadah with joy. The Rebbe encouraged joy, with singing and dancing on the Seder night and even participated in this himself.[25]


In 1953, the custom to elaborate on the Haggadah only on the second night – and not the first night - though independent of the actual Seder - was re-established. The Rebbe elaborated on the Haggadah, and paused to point out that this farbrengen, on the second night of Pesach, is based on the custom of the Rayatz, who would elaborate on ideas in the Haggadah on the second night of Pesach. In 1954, on the first night, a short informal talk was delivered after the Seder to the assembled crowd of students at the doorway to his study. On the second night, after the completion of the Seder, the Rebbe held a farbrengen and elaborated on the Haggadah. The farbrengen began by stating that the custom of the Rayatz was to elaborate and explain a number of ideas in the Haggadah at the second Seder, citing the Talmud in tractate Shabbat,[26] referring to the preciousness of teachings heard from one’s teacher: ‘Fine wool is precious to those who wear it.’ While the Rebbe adjusted the custom, whereby the farbrengen on the second night of Pesach would take place after the completion of the Seder, he argued that, since it’s on the same night, it is consistent with the custom.[27] The separating of the commentary on the Haggadah on the second night of Pesach from the actual Seder seems to have given the custom a firmer foundation, continuity and more focus. This custom continued for the next twenty years until 1970, when the Rebbetzin Nechama Dinah, the wife of the Rayatz passed away on 7 January (10 Tevet), 1971. Since the Rayatz passed away on 10 Shevat, 1950, a Pesach Seder, as other festival meals, continued to be held in the same manner as when the Rayatz was living - in his apartment above the synagogue. After Rebbetzin Nechama Dinah passed away, however, these meals discontinued - as did the farbrengens that were usually held, following these meals, at the synagogue below.[28] Despite this, a further occasion occurred in 1972, when a farbrengen took place on the first and second day of Pesach, instead of night, elaborating on the Haggadah. The fabrengen on Pesach in subsequent years was moved to the second half of Pesach, when a Chassidic course was delivered, but did not consist of studies in the Haggadah, effectively bringing this tradition to a close.


A possible reason for this change in this long-standing custom may have been, in addition to the practical, also theological. This is suggested by two statements the Rebbe made regarding the commentary on the Haggadah: a. the choosing of the sections of the Haggadah to study each year by the Rayatz and also by extension himself was not random, due to material available, but of significance to a particular given year.[29] This suggests a reason for stopping the custom all-together must have been for a reason, besides the practical. b. this decision may have been due to the fact that the tradition of elaborating on the Haggadah was limited only to the first part of the Haggadah, but not the second part of the Haggadah - from the Hallel until the end.[30] A reason for this may have been since the first half refers to the Exodus, while the second half refers to the future redemption that will become known in the future.[31] This may have been a reason that the Rebbe began to focus on the final days of Passover, instead of the first, due to its connection with the future redemption[32] – a major emphasis that began in 1970.[33]



Commentary on Rashi on the Haggadah – four studies


BLMS Add 27210 (1320-1330) Golden k'ri.pngThis serves as an introduction to highlight a unique aspect of the Rebbe’s commentary on the Haggadah on Pesach between 1965 and 1970, before the tradition of this commentary came to a close. As mentioned, the custom to elaborate on the Haggadah on the second night of Passover, occurred between 1951-1970. Five of these years, 1965-1970, overlapped with the development of a further commentary of the Rebbe that developed on Rashi’s commentary on the Torah, after the passing of his mother, Rebbetzin Chana in 1965. This allowed for a new element to the commentary on the Haggadah to be introduced: studies on Rashi on biblical verses in the Haggadah that contained commentary of Rashi.


In 1965, on the second night of Pesach, the Rebbe incorporated a study on Rashi with the following introductory statement that it is ‘in connection with the custom this year to explain the commentary of Rashi on the Torah, that includes also Rashi’s commentary on Nach, which is also based on the plain meaning of the biblical text (p’shat) - unlike Rashi’s commentary on the Mishna and Talmud, that is not limited to p’shat, as part of halacha and midrash. Similarly, in 1967, on the second night of Pesach, a study on Rashi was incorporated, and began with the introductory statement: ‘as is customary from time to time to explain a comment of Rashi on the Torah, but the opportunity does not arise to explain a comment of Rashi on Nach. In this case, there is a verse in the Haggadah that has a comment of Rashi.’ A final study on Rashi relating to the Haggadah took place in 1968.


We would like to present these three studies and how they relate to the Rebbe’s overall methodology of his commentary on Rashi, in relation to Rashi’s exclusive adherence to p’shat.


1.     Celebration of Haman’s downfall on 16 Nissan - 1965


CCC165 V'arvei.pngThe first study reflects a comment of Rashi that contradicts the midrash. In the Book of Esther, it states that the king’s decree to have the Jews annihilated occurred on the 13th day of Nissan.[34] Mordechai heard[35] of the decree and informed Esther, who responded by instructing three days of fasting, before she would be able to approach the king without permission.[36] The next verse confirms:[37] ‘So Mordecai passed and did according to all that Esther had commanded him’ – the Jewish people fasted for three days. The Book of Esther then states: at the end of three days, Esther wore her royal robes and went to the king to invite him and Haman to a feast.[38] The following day, a second feast was held and Haman was hung on that day. The Midrash[39] (and Rashi on the Talmud) writes that the three days are counted: 13th, 14th and the first day of Passover, 15th of Nissan. The second feast and downfall of Haman then occurred on the second day of Passover, 16th Nissan.


Jewish law follows this midrashic opinion and codifies as follows:[40] ‘It is desirable to do something [special] during the [festive] meal on the second day of Pesach (16th of Nissan) to recall the feast of Esther that was held on this day, because on this day [as a result of that feast], Haman was hanged.’ Rashi on Esther, however, comments that the three days are counted differently: 14th, 15th and 16th of Nissan – and the downfall of Haman occurred on the 17th.[41] Accordingly, the argument about the significance of the 16th day of Nissan is whether the third day is from the couriers or the onset of fasting.


There are two ways to understand this dispute:


1. The dispute is pertaining to which event the counting of the three days begins. According to the Talmud, the counting is from when the couriers were sent to inform the provinces about the decree - the 13th day of Nissan. The chronology of the three days, then, is: 13th, 14th and 15th - when Esther approached the king and held the first feast, and the second day of Pesach, 16th Nissan, marks the day when the second feast was held and the downfall of Haman. According to Rashi, however, the counting of the three days refers to the fasting: 14, 15 and 16th of Nissan, diminishing the celebration of the second day of Pesach in connection with the downfall of Haman, as it occurred on the 17th.


2. The dispute is pertaining to when the fasting began, which is predicated on when Mordechai learnt of the decree. Rashi, following his own comment earlier in Esther, maintains that Mordechai learned of the decree in a dream.[42] This suggests he learnt of the decree the night after the 13th of Nissan (the date the decree was issued), thus the fasting began, the following day and continued for three days: 14th, 15th and 16th. The second feast and downfall of Haman then took place the following day - 17th of Nissan. The Midrash maintains that Mordecai knew about the plot to kill the Jews from Elijah the Prophet or with Holy Spirit (ru-ach ha-kodesh). The fasting then would have begun right away - on the 13th day of Nissan. Accordingly, the three-day fast took place: 13th, 14th and 15th Nissan, and downfall of Haman occurred on the 16th of Nissan – serving as the basis for the additional celebration of the second day of Pesach.[43]


This suggests, following Rashi, a rejection of the midrash regarding a. from which event the counting of the three days began (the fast); and b. how Mordechai knew of the decree (dream). In addition, this represents a case whereby not only does Rashi differ from the midrash but also from Rashi’s own commentary on the Talmud, that, as a legal work, needn’t follow p’shat - the literal reading of Scripture. Furthermore, this confirms the view that Rashi on the entire Torah, not only the Pentateuch, adheres to p’shat.


2.     And he multiplied his offspring and gave him Isaac – 1967


Etz Chaim fol. 251 Va'arbeh omitted .pngIn the Haggadah it cites from the book of Joshua (23:2-4):


At the beginning, our ancestors were worshippers of idols, but the lord has now advanced us to his service, as it is written, and Joshua said unto all the people, thus saith the lord G-d of Israel, your father dwelt on the other side of the flood, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nahor; and they served other Gods. And I took your father Abraham, from the other side of the flood, and I led him thro' all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his seed, and gave him Isaac, and I gave unto Isaac Jacob and Esau: and I gave unto Esau Mount Seir to possess it; but Jacob and his children went down into Egypt.


The inclusion of this text in the Haggadah is based on the opinion of Rav in the Talmud pertaining to what the answer to the four questions should consist of:[44]


It was taught in the mishna that the father begins his answer with disgrace and concludes with glory. The Talmud asks: What is the meaning of the term: With disgrace? Rav said that one should begin by saying: At first our forefathers were idol worshippers, before concluding with words of glory. And Shmuel said: The disgrace with which one should begin his answer is: We were slaves.


Contradiction – many or one?


A difficulty with this text Joshua, however is: first it states: ‘and multiplied his seed,’ and then the birth of just a single child: ‘and gave him Isaac.’ How is Abraham having a single son, Isaac, described as ‘multiplying his seed?’ There are three answers to this question: a. it refers to Ishmael, b. it refers to Isaac, c. it refers to his future progeny.[45]


The first is the classic answer offered over a four-hundred-year period: Abrabanel (1437-1508),[46] Rabbi Moses Alshich (1508-1593),[47] Rabbi Judah Loewe (1515-1609),[48] Rabbi David Altschuler of Prague (1687-1769),[49] Rabbi Elijah Gaon (1720-1797), and Rabbi Meir Leibush Wisser, known as the Malbim (1809-1879).


The second answer that it refers to Isaac is from the Jerusalem Talmud:[50] the word ‘arbe’ – ‘I will multiply’ is written in the Torah without the Hebrew letter ‘hay’ at the end of the word, allowing for it to be derived from the Hebrew word: ‘riv,’ stating: ‘how many ‘m’rivim[51] did I cause Abraham to endure before I gave him seed.’ Rabbi David ben Naphtali Frankel (1704-1762), in his commentary on the Jerusalem Talmud,[52] comments that this refers to the ‘tests’ that G-d gave Abraham before giving him Isaac.[53] The reference to Isaac in the word ‘Arbeh’ is also suggested by Rabbi Isaac Luria, known as the Arizal (1534-1572), as gematria of the Hebrew word ‘arbeh’ (and multiplied his seed) is the same as Isaac: 208.[54]


Chabad history of the question - Isaac


To give context to our discussion about the Rebbe’s commentary on Rashi on this text, I would like to first outline the history of this question in Chabad Chassidic teaching. In 1939,[55] Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneerson, recalled on the second night of Passover, that his father, Rabbi Sholom Dovber, would read this verse each year and let out a deep sigh, posing the question: after 100 years of waiting for a child, all he received was a single child, Isaac?! Is this what was meant by: ‘his seed will be multiplied?’ In 1946, in the Rebbe’s published Haggadah - ‘Haggadah shel Pesach im ta’amim minhagim u’bi-urim’ - he cited the interpretation from the Jerusalem Talmud, that it refers to Isaac. In 1951, on the second night of Passover, this question was posed and the interpretation of the Jerusalem Talmud was presented. In addition, the Rebbe retold that the question was posed each year by Rabbi Sholom Dovber and left unresolved.[56]


In 1967, on the second night of Pesach, the question was raised once again, the quotation by the Rayatz of his father, Rabbi Sholom Dovber, was retold, resolving that ‘multiplied his seed’ refers to Isaac only. The argument presented was, since if it refers to Jacob and Esau, that would in any event be only two children, and similarly, if it refers to Jacob and his sons who came down to Egypt, it should have stated ‘seventy’ souls came down to Egypt, as in Deuteronomy 10:22. The Rebbe concluded that we are forced to say that ‘multiplied his seed’ refers to Isaac only - following the Arizal, that ‘arbeh’ (with the ‘hay’) has the same numerical value as Isaac.


In 1969, at the personal Seder of the Rebbe, someone posed this question once again. The Rebbe once again answered following the Arizal that ‘arbeh’ has the same numerical value as Isaac. Alternatively, he argued, the simple text of the Haggadah suggests that it refers to the continuation in the Haggadah from Deuteronomy 26:5: ‘and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a few, and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous.’ It is more delightful (ge-shmak), however, he concluded, to say that it refers just to Isaac.[57]


In 1970, the question, once again, was posed and the Rebbe answered, citing his own commentary on the Haggadah from 1946, following the Jerusalem Talmud, that it refers to Isaac. He further argued that ‘multiply’ refers to ‘qualitative,’ as opposed to ‘quantative,’ based on the idea found in Chassidic philosophy that greater ‘quality’ of the Divine radiance is conditional on less in ‘quantity.’[58]


A further reason for ‘arbeh’ referring Isaac only was explained in 1977, in a Chassidic discourse (ma’amar) that was edited and published in 1990, drawing on a teaching of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi[59] that Isaac represents the attribute of gevura (severity),[60] as opposed to Abraham, who represents chesed (kindness). The power of transformation of darkness to light, as in the case of a penitent, is powered by gevura, represented by Isaac, and releases a greater power of revelation than the downward revelation of the righteous, as represented by Abraham.[61] This additional power of revelation, as represented by Isaac, is indicated in the verse: ‘and multiplied his seed, and gave him Isaac.’


Rashi on Joshua – new reading of the Jerusalem Talmud


Screenshot 2021-03-15 at 11.53.11.pngDespite the rejection in Chabad teaching of the classical interpretation that ‘v’arbeh’ (and multiplied) refers to Ishmael - in favour of the mystical interpretation, after 1965, when the Rebbe began to develop his commentary on Rashi, a further interpretation was presented, based on the Rebbe’s methodology in understanding Rashi’s commentary, as adhering to p’shat, even when appearing to quote a midrashic or Talmudic text. Rashi comments on Joshua 23:3: ‘And multiplied his seed: The Hebrew ‘וְאַרְבֶּה’ is defective without the ‘hay’ – ‘וְאַרְבּ’ - from the root ריב(riv), to quarrel: How many quarrels (rivim) and tests (nisyonot) did I cause him to endure before I gave him seed.’


While Rashi is clearly citing the Jerusalem Talmud, he subtly alters its wording by adding ‘tests,’ in addition to ‘quarrels.’ As mentioned, Rabbi David ben Naphtali Frankel explains that the Jerusalem Talmud refers only to the tests that Abraham had to endure before Isaac was born. By adding ‘tests’ (nisyonot) separately, however, it suggests that the translation of ‘rivim’ should be translated ‘quarrels,’ as ‘nisyonot’ usually means ‘tests.’ This, then, suggests two concepts: the ‘quarrelling’ pertaining to Ishmael, who Sarah wanted to send away against Abraham’s wishes, and tests refers to Isaac. Accordingly, we re-instate the classic interpretation, with a slight variation, in the view of Rashi’s reading of the Jerusalem Talmud: ‘and multiplied his seed’ refers to Ishmael and Isaac, and ‘and gave him Isaac’ refers to Isaac only.


In conclusion, while appearing to quote a midrashic teaching from the Jerusalem Talmud, Rashi, in fact, moves away from the midrashic teaching, disagreeing with its undoing of the plain meaning of the biblical text – suggesting Abraham’s seed was not multiplied and refers only to (the testing of Abraham before) Isaac was born. Instead, Rashi re-wrote the midrashic teaching in his commentary to fit in with his adherence to the interpretation of p’shat, whereby the word ‘multiply’ – ‘v’arbe’ - refers to both, Ishmael and Ishmael, as Ishmael indeed had many children.[62] As mentioned in the case of Rashi’s commentary on Esther, this demonstrates also that Rashi’s adherence to p’shat in his commentary on Nach, is the same as on the Pentateuch.


3.     The order of four sons - 1968


Screenshot 2021-03-24 at 00.04.58.pngThe order of the four sons in the Haggadah is: the wise son, the wicked son, the simpleton and the one that does not know how to ask. This order is derived from the Jerusalem Talmud.[63] Two of the reasons given for this order include Rabbi David Abudarham, who explains it in order of wisdom. Rabbi Isaac Luria explains it in in the context of influence. To influence the wicked son, it is not sufficient to give him equal attention but requires a closer friendship to be forged to influence him for the good.


Rashi on Exodus,[64] however, lists the four sons in a different order: ‘The Torah spoke regarding four sons: the wicked one,[65] the one who does not understand to ask,[66] the one who asks [a] general [question], and the one who asks in a wise manner.’ Why does Rashi change from the view of the Talmud and the Haggadah?


The reason is due to a basic consideration: when you have four different questioners, who should one prioritise? As a matter of urgency, one should really prioritise the wicked, so he will not reject the law, but from an educational perspective, it’s wrong to reward insolent behaviour. For this reason, the simpleton comes first, since he asked a question and does not have the ability to explore the idea himself. This is then followed by the wicked son, so he should not reject the tradition, followed by the one who does not know how to ask, since he will otherwise sit idle. Finally, one should respond to the wise son, since he is not conceited, and seeks to deepen his knowledge. He will also meanwhile spend the time exploring the answer himself.[67] This order of the four sons in Rashi would represent a unique aspect of Rashi’s commentary concerned with guiding the education of children. 


4.     The simpleton - 1968


In the Midrash, Talmud and Haggadah, the four sons are all presented as asking questions about the Passover laws. In the commentary of Rashi, it divides the sons into two categories. The first comment refers to the ‘wicked son’ and the ‘one that does not know how to ask:’ On Exodus 13:5, Rashi comments:


this service: [that] of the Passover sacrifice (Mechilta, Pes. 96a, Mechilta d’Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai). Now was it not already stated above (12:25): “And it shall come to pass when you enter the land [that you should keep this service], etc.” Now why did [Scripture] repeat it? Because of the thing that was newly introduced in it. In the former chapter (12:26), it says: “And it will come to pass if your children say to you, ‘What is this service to you?’” [There,] Scripture refers to a wicked son, who excludes himself from the community [by saying “to you”], and here (verse 8), “And you shall tell your son,” refers to a son who does not know to ask. Scripture teaches you that you yourself should initiate the discourse for him (Mechilta 14) with words of the Aggadah, which draw his interest [lit., draw the heart]. — [from Mechilta 18:14]


In a second comment Rashi refers to the ‘simpleton’ or ‘stupid one’ (tipesh) and the ‘wise son.’ On Exodus 13:14, Rashi comments:


“What is this?”: This is [the question of] the simple child, [referred to in the Haggadah,] who does not know how to pose his question in depth, and asks a general question: “What is this?” Elsewhere it [Scripture] says: “What are the testimonies, the statutes, and the judgments, etc.?” (Deut. 6: 20). This is the question of the wise son. The Torah spoke regarding four sons: the wicked one (Exod. 12:26), the one who does not understand to ask (Exodus 13:8), the one who asks [a] general [question], and the one who asks in a wise manner. - [from Yerushalmi, Pesachim 10:4]


Why does Rashi divide the four sons into two categories, while the Talmud and the Haggadah combines them? Taking into consideration Rashi as a commentary committed to biblical interpretation on the level of p’shat, the categories of the four sons are very different. The first comment of Rashi relates to the ‘wicked son’ and the ‘one that does not know how to ask,’ as they are both asking questions in the context of the Passover laws. The Torah is saying that one must answer these two sons, because, otherwise, they will not keep the laws of Passover: the ‘wicked one’ rejects the laws and the ‘one that does not know how to ask’ has no knowledge at all. The other two sons, while they may have questions, the nature of their asking is more about the reasoning for the laws.


The second comment of Rashi that relates to the ‘simpleton’ and ‘wise son’ is actually relating to the verse that discusses the law of redemption of the firstborn, in the context of the the ‘simpleton’ and all the laws of the Torah in the context of the ‘wise son’ – not the laws of Passover at all. It is only after that we establish the Torah informs that even questions of the simpleton should be responded to, Rashi concludes that certainly, then, the wise son should be responded to. In this context, Rashi concludes that the Torah informs then that in fact all questions about the laws of the Torah in general should be responded to.[68] As explained, however, Rashi in his commentary on the Torah does not regard the four sons as a single unit in the context of Passover, following p’shat, thus ignores the midrashic interpretation of the scripture, as found in the Haggadah.




In conclusion, we demonstrated that a long-standing tradition had developed in Chabad history to utilise the second night of Pesach for elaborating the Haggadah, that would in the 19th century continue until dawn, and this continued in principle, though with variation, until 1970. As the last five years of this custom overlapped with the development of a new novel commentary by the Rebbe on Rashi, demonstrating Rashi’s adherence to p’shat, despite its effusive apparent citation of midrash, it allowed for the expanding of the commentary on Rashi to include also commentary on Rashi on the Haggadah and other verses relating to Passover. We demonstrated that, as on the Pentateuch, on the verses in the Haggadah and related verses, unlike the view of some scholars,[69] Rashi steadfastly adheres to his commitment to p’shat, as he writes on Genesis 3:8 – I have come only to explain p’shat, and that this applies not only to the Pentateuch but also to his commentary on Nach, thus rejecting midrashic commentary in some instances and critically altering the text in others – staying loyal to his commitment to following the simple meaning of scripture.[70]




[1] Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim 285:2.

[2] Joshua 24:2-4.

[3] Ezekiel 16:6-7.

[4] I Chronicles 21:16.

[5] Joel 3:3.

[6] Lamentations 3:66.

[7] Psalms 78:49. Psalms 79:6-7. Psalms 69:25.

[8] Proverbs 31:8: ‘Open your mouth for the dumb.’ Haggadah Shel Pesach im Likkutei Ta’amim U’minhagim, p. 18.

[9] Leviticus 1:15: ‘and its [the bird's] blood shall be pressed out upon the wall (kir ha’mizbe’ach) of the altar.’ Haggadah Shel Pesach im Likkutei Ta’amim U’minhagim, p. 33.

[10] Hamelech B’msibo 1:171, 2:131. Tikkun Leyl Shavuot Otzar Minhagei Chabad (Hechal Menachem), p. 266.

[11] Hamelech B’msibo 1:296-7,

[12] Hamelech B’msibo 2:131.

[13] Sefer Hasichot 5696, p. 129.

[14] Sefer Hasichot 5701, p. 93.

[15] Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim 477:6. The Rebbe added that this is particularly the case according to the opinion that says that also the second half of Hallel should be completed before midnight. Torat Menachem 11:187.

[16] In Sefer Hasichot 5696, p. 129 it says 9pm. In Sefer Hasichot 5701, p. 93, it says 9.30pm. It also adds the Rashab would tell stories, in addition to greatly elaborating with commentary on the Haggadah.

[17] Sefer Hasichot 5696, p. 129. In Hayom Yom, 15 Nissan, it records only that the Seder would finish at 3-4am: ‘At the first seder my father would be brief, in order to eat the afikoman before midnight. On the second night, however, he would expound at length; he began the seder before 9 p.m. and ended at about 3 or 4 in the morning, dwelling at length on the explanation of the Haggada.’ Sefer Hasichot 5701, p. 93.

[18] Sefer Hasichot 5691.

[19] Sefer Hasichot 5696-Choref 5700, p. 219-220, 223-226, 260-266, 319-321, 323-325.

[20] Sefer Hasichot Kayitz 5700, 5701-2, p. 86-91, 93-95.

[21] The customs observed and teachings from the Rayatz recorded in the Rebbe’s commentary are: 1. individually wrapped 10 pieces of bread for searching for chametz on the night before Passover; 2. Alter Rebbe searched the whole night for chametz after returning from Mezritch (5698); 3. Rashab’s instruction to Rayatz at the Seder to ‘be a mentsch (5702);’ 4. prepare the Seder plate before kiddush; 5. Alter’s Rebbe’s kiddush cup and silver seder plate on the seder table (5702); 6. Kiddush cup used last Shabbat before passing in Piena (11 Iyar, 5691); 7. Matza on cloth; 8. cloth between the matzot; 9. order of placing the matzotye-le-chyisrael, levi, kohen (5698); 10. remove the meat from the shank bone; 11. not to use kidah or cinnamon in charoset; 12. use marror and chazeret for both, marror and korech; 13.  don’t wear kittel; 14. no particular about direction of seating at the seder; 15. pour one’s own wine; 16. only look at the separate candles on Motzoei Shabbat when occurs on Yom Tov; 17. drink four cups of wine wholly and in one go; 18. no leaning for carpas; 19. not to place the left over carpas to the seder plate; 20. wrap the afikoman in a cloth; 21. break the afikomen into five pieces; 22. not to grab the afikoman (5698); 23. not to raise the seder plate; 24. how to pronounce ‘ha-ba’a’ in ‘hay lachma anya (5691);’ 25. the son asking ‘mah nishtana’ arouses the idea in the verse (Hosea 11:1): ‘When Israel was a young man, I loved him (5704);’ 26. version in some Haggadot: the son asks ‘mah (5703);’ 27. Mah nishtana in Yiddish, with opening and closing; 28. repeat mah nishtana after the children quietly; 29. reason for not reciting a blessing on the Haggadah (5697); 30. what (mah) does the wise son say: he expresses what (mah) he is; 31. cover the matza and then raise the cup; 32. clarification: the pouring of the wine (Divine wrath) is through the faculty of bina (understanding) – not the wrath is from bina; 33. not to interrupt the 14 verses of dayeinu; 34. Ba’al Shem Tov: Matza is bread of faith or healing - gives strength to knowledge (da-at) (11 Nissan 5709); 35. Alter Rebbe: matza on the first night – bread of faith; second night – bread of healing. Rabbi Dovber of Lubavitch: faith that brings healing, no sickness befalls – physically and spiritually; 36. not particular not to speak between matza and afikoman; 37. Korech: dip only the lettuce in charoset, not the matza; 38. no need to recline during the meal; 39. eat two ke’zeisim for afikomen; 40. not to drink after afikoman. 41. not particular to complete also the hallel before midnight; 42. Mayim Achronim in the Messianic era will be for permitted worldly pleasures (5702); 43. Customs of birchat hamazon (raising of the cup, answering amen in ya’ale ve’yavo, pronunciations, blessings for one’s parents even when parents not present); 44. Pour cup of Elijah after birchat hamazon – sometimes before (5703); 45. Rebbe would fill Elijah’s cup; 46. open all doors to the street for Elijah; sometimes the Rayatz would accompany family members to the door; recite shefoch at the door; 47. not to recite pizmonim (hymns); 48. after le-shana haba’a b-yerushalayim (next year in Jerusalem) pour wine from Elijah’s cup back, while singing Alter Rebbe’s nigun: ke-li ata; 49. omission of chasal siddur pesach (5703). Interestingly, omitted from the commentary is the custom not to be particular about eating the afikomen on the second Seder night before midnight and also the Lurianic custom to be joyous at the Seder – both of which the Rebbe addressed in relation to the observance or absence of Rayatz’s Seder. In addition to the above, a teaching from Rabbi Shalom Dovber about the meaning of ‘in His glory by himself,’ as referring to malchut (Kingship) of the ein sof; and of the Rebbe’s father why only u’rchatz, from the 15 simanim, has a vav – wisdom and understanding are 

[22] Torat Menachem 5:119.

[23] A possible reason for this sadness that most likely pre-dated the Holocaust was based on the attitude of his father, Rabbi Shalom Dovber, in relation to the Seder night, perhaps reflecting on his father’s instruction, as the Rayatz related on Pesach, 1942, that his father told him as a child to focus during the Seder on one’s moral being – zol zeyn a mentsch und der Aybishter vet helfen (Haggadah shel Pesach im ta’amim minhagim u’bi-urim p. 5).

[24] Sefer Hasichot 5699, p. 91. The sigh was related to the verse in the Haggadah from Joshua 24:2: ‘and multiplied his seed, and gave him Isaac.’ Rabbi Shalom Dovber sighed greatly from the fact that after a hundred years old, G-d gave Abraham an only son, and this is what it refers to ‘multiplied his seed.’ This is also mentioned by the Rebbe in 1951 (Torah Menachem 3:22), omitting the fact that Rabbi Shalom Dovber sighed and only says that Rabbi Shalom Dovber would ask: what does it mean by ‘multiplied’ when the verse continues that G-d gave Abraham only Isaac?

[25] Torat Menachem 3:9. Torat Menachem 5:119.

[26] Talmud Shabbat 10b.

[27] Torat Menachem 11:187.

[28] Conversation with Rabbi Shmuel Lew (17 March, 2021). The saying of a Chassidic discourse on the first night of Shavuot also stopped at this time. However, from 11 Nissan, 5731, farbrengens began to be held on 11 Nissan (the Rebbe’s birthday), Erev Shavuot, Erev Rosh Hashana and Erev Sukkot.

[29] Torat Menachem (5711) 3:17-18. It adds: for reasons beknown to them.

[30] Torat Menachem (5711) 3:17.

[31] Haggadah shel Pesach im ta’amim minhagim u’bi-urim, p 43 - pertaining to the reason why shefoch chamotcha (pour your wrath) is recited after the filling of the fourth cup of wine, following the view of the Jerusalem Talmud that the four cups correspond to the four cups of retribution and the fourth cup corresponds to the final redemption.

[32] The Haftarah on the final day of Passover is from Isaiah that discusses the future redemption.

[33] The completion of the ‘Moshiach Sefer Torah’ that began with the Rayatz was held on Friday, 10 Shvat 1970, which heralded the campaign to bring Moshiach that continued and intensified until the Rebbe’s passing in 1994.

[34] Esther 3:12: ‘And the king's scribes were summoned in the first month, on the thirteenth day thereof, and it was written according to everything that Haman had ordered to the king's satraps and to the governors who were over every province, and to the princes of every people, each province according to its script and each people according to its tongue; it was written in the name of King Ahasuerus, and it was sealed with the king's ring.’

[35] Esther 4:1: ‘And Mordecai knew all that had transpired, and Mordecai rent his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and he went out into the midst of the city and cried [with] a loud and bitter cry.’

[36] Esther 4:16: ‘Go, assemble all the Jews who are present in Shushan and fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, day and night; also I and my maidens will fast in a like manner; then I will go to the king contrary to the law, and if I perish, I perish.’

[37] Esther 4:17.

[38] Esther 5:1: ‘Now it came to pass on the third day, that Esther clothed herself regally, and she stood in the inner court of the king's house, opposite the king's house, and the king was sitting on his royal throne in the royal palace, opposite the entrance of the house.’

[39] Pirkei de Rabbi Eliezer 50. Esther Rabbah 8:7: ‘And Esther said to respond to Mordechai: She said to him, "'Go and gather all of the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast for me - do not eat or drink for three days' - these are the 13th, 14th, and 15th of Nissan." See also Rashi on Talmud Megillah 16a.

[40] Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim 490:2.

[41] Rashi on Esther 4:17: ‘So Mordecai passed: i.e., he transgressed the law by fasting on the first festive day of Passover, for he fasted on the fourteenth, the fifteenth, and the sixteenth, since the letters were written on the thirteenth day.’

[42] Rashi on Esther 4:1: ‘The Master of Dreams told him that the celestial beings had concurred about it, because they had prostrated themselves to an image in the days of Nebuchadnezzar and because they had enjoyed Ahasuerus’s feast.’

[43] This has an implication for the statement in the Talmud (Megillah 6b) that the redemption of Purim and Passover are next to each other (mismach ge-ulah l’ge-ulah). Following the view of the Midrash this refers to both first days of Passover, while according to Rashi it would only refer to the 16th Nissan – the second day of Passover.

[44] Talmud Pesachim 116a.

[45] In the manuscripts of the Haggadah there are four versions: 1. In most of the manuscripts, it states ‘va’arbeh’ with the ‘hay.’ This can be found in the following Haggadot: OXCCC165 (V'arvei); MSA422 Kaufmann Haggadah Catalonia 14th c. (Va'arbei); BL MS Add MS 27556 (1200-1399); BL MS Or 2737 (1275-1324) 'Hispano-Moresque Haggadah;’ BL Add MS 14761 (1325-1350) ‘Barcelona Haggadah;’ MSBL Or 1404 (1350-1374) ‘The Brother Haggada;’ MS. Canonici Or. 49A (1375-1425). 2. In BL Add MS 14762 (1430-1470), it adds a commentary in an image in the shape of a dog, explaining that ‘I will multiply’ refers to the children of Keturah. 3. In BL MS Add MS 27210 (1320-1330) ‘Golden Haggadah,’ it has ‘V'arbeh’ without the ‘hay’ – following the k’tiv, with the k’ri – ‘hay’ - added in the margin. 4. In the Leipzig Etz Chaim manuscript, it has the words ‘va’arbeh et zar-o’ omitted.

[46] Zevach Pesach.

[47] Pirush Ha-alshich on the Haggadah.

[48] Pirush Maharal on the Haggadah.

[49] Metzudat David on Joshua 24:3.

[50] Jerusalem Talmud Pesachim 10:5; 70b.

[51] Karban Ha-edah commentary on Jerusalem Talmud Pesachim 10:5, by Rabbi David ben Naphtali Frankel (1704-1762). Ritva on Jerusalem Talmud.

[52] Karban Ha’edah on Jerusalem Talmud Pesachim 10:5; 70b.

[53] Ethics of Fathers 5:4.

[54] Mishnat Chassidim, Leyl Pesach 10:1. See Ohr Hatorah, Bo, p. 249.

[55] Sefer Hasichot 5696-Choref 5700, p. 323.

[56] Torat Menachem 3:22 (5711).

[57] Hamelech B’msibo 1:279-280.

[58] Hamelech B’msibo 2:107.

[59] Likkutei Torah, Bracha, p. 190.

[60] Gevura of atik (Ancient One). See ibid.

[61] Sefer ha-ma-amarim, melukat 4:58.

[62] As the commentaries point out, the verse is referring to the choosing of Abraham from Nahor and Isaac from Ishmael to be his offspring. See Zevach Pesach.

[63] Jerusalem Talmud Pesachim 10:4; 70b.

[64] Rashi on Exodus 13:14.

[65] Exodus 12:26.

[66] Exodus 13:8.

[67] Likkutei Sichot 27:185, f.23. Torat Menachem 52:253-257.

[68] Likkutei Sichot 27:185-188.

[69] Abraham Grossman in Rashi (Litmann Library) and Ivan G. Marcus in his article: Rashi’s choice: The Humash commentary as rewritten Midrash, f.3, argue that Rashi does not adhere consistently to his commitment to p’shat throughout his commentary.

[70] Other references to Rashi in farbrengens on Passover include: the continuation of a commentary on Parshat Tzav that continued throughout the month of Nissan in 1968 (Torat Menachem 52:252/ Likkutei Sichot 12:20), and in 1983 regarding the first comment of Rashi on Genesis 1:1, explaining the relevance of this teaching to a child studying the Torah in the tragic times of Rashi during the crusades that caused such destruction to French and German Jewry (Torat Menachem, Hitva’aduyot 5743, vol.3, p. 1337-1339). 



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