Tag Archives: Pesach

Why Do We Not Recite the Full Hallel on the Seventh Day of Passover?

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(This post is mostly based on Rav Dovid Hofstedter’s essay “Az Yashir” in his book Dorash David on Moadim. And this is just one of the many possible answers to this question.)

The Hallel (lit. praise) is a series of chapters (113-118)  in Psalms that is recited during all Jewish festivals (Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot), Chanukah and Rosh Chodesh. There are two kinds of Hallel: the full and the half. The Full Hallel (all of chapters 113-118) is said on the first night and day of Passover (first two outside Israel), Shavuot, all the seven days of Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah and all eight days of Chanukah. The Half Hallel (chapters 113-114; 115:12-18; 116:12-19; 117-118) is said on all the other days of Passover and on every Rosh Chodesh.

So we see here that on Sukkot, the Full Hallel is recited on all days. Yet on Passover, it is only done on the first one (first two outside Israel), and not even on the seventh day (and eighth outside Israel) which is a Yom Tov. Why is this?

The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni) answers, quoting Proverbs, that we should not be happy at the the downfall of our enemies. Also, the Maharil (Rabbi Yaakov ben Moshe Moelin) writes: “We recite the full Hallel on the first two days of Passover, and subsequent [days] we say it with omissions…. For on the seventh day the Egyptians drowned, and Hashem said, ‘My creations are drowning in the sea, and you are singing a song before Me?'” He explains further that since we do not recite the full Hallel on the seventh day (which is a Yom Tov), we also do not recite it on Chol Hamoed.

But wait, did not the children of Israel sing a song, the Az Yashir, which mentions plenty of reference regarding the drowning of the Egyptians in the Sea of Reeds; and do we not recite this song daily in our morning prayers including the seventh day of Passover?

One explanation is because the song Az Yashir was essentially formed through the children of Israel’s achieving the highest level of faith and trust in G-d that resulted in them deserving to sing this song with ruach hakodesh (divine inspiration; similar to prophecy).

[It is also important to note the tense of the start of the song (Az Yashir Moshe…). We find that it is in the future tense. One interpretation says that at this time, Moses did not agree at first that the children of Israel sing it because at that time, they had not reached that highest level yet.]

Thus, this song is not just any kind of song. When the children of Israel sang it, they were past the reasoning that it was because G-d saved them or because the wicked are at long last being punished. They were only singing it solely for the purpose of describing G-d’s greatness. For this reason, it is acceptable for them to sing it and for us to recite it daily.

So why the Az Yashir and not the Hallel? Are they not both done through ruach hakodesh? Yes, they are. But our Sages decreed that the Hallel should not be said in its entirety on the day the Egyptians died as a reminder for all generations that Moses did not agree at first for the song to be sung since the children of Israel did not reach yet the level that would warrant the seeming “rejoicing” despite the suffering of another of G-d’s creations. Ultimately, we are being taught that the only justifiable expression of praise and gratitude to G-d is when it is solely for the sanctification of His Name.

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Passover, the Time of Our Freedom

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Later tonight is the first night of the Festival of Passover. It is probably the most exhausting of all Jewish holidays primarily because of the added dietary restrictions (no chametz or leavened foodstuff) to the already complex kosher laws. Interestingly (or should I say ironically?), it is also and more notably known as the Time of Our Freedom (Zman Cheiruteinu). In a historical and/or literal sense, it is the celebration of the Jewish people’s actual freedom from Egyptian bondage some 3000 years ago as related in the Torah’s second book, Shemot (aka Exodus).

So what is interesting about that, you ask? It is what happens next after the Jewish people became “free.”

We all know that famous line “let my people go!” repeatedly told by Moses to Pharaoh. But that line is actually incomplete. And Moses was only relating a message from G-d. The full text says “let My people go that they may serve Me” (Shemot 7:26). This, I believe, is how the Torah defines freedom.

When we think about it, the freedom we perceive we have is really just an illusion. When it comes down to the bigger things, we are granted without any control at all. We neither have the freedom to choose our parents, nor our physical attributes, nor our mental capacity (among so many other things). We are not even free to choose to be born!

So does that mean we are not free to do anything? I think the only freedom we really have is in our moral choices. “Moral” may mean a lot of things to a lot of people. For me, it has to be a G-d-given and thus absolute morality.

This Passover, we Jews celebrate the opportunity G-d has given us to be free from all other things — from our inclinations and addictions, from our habits and attitudes, from our regrets and fears — so we may serve Him. Most people might say that rules and more rules are stifling; that having to follow 613 commandments is more slavery than freedom.  I say there is nothing more freeing than knowing what exactly it is you are supposed to do and that you find great meaning in accomplishing it.

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P.S. I have also taken the meaning of this Passover lesson to finally start this new writing project. I have had this wordpress account for a long time and have planned and written several unfinished drafts to put in it. But as you can see, I never got around to posting any of them. So today, on the eve of this amazing holiday, I choose to free myself from laziness, unproductive perfectionism and fear of rejection and criticism.