By Rabbi Mansour (  Passover- Halachot of Maggid at the Seder

Reciting the Maggid section of the Haggada at the seder fulfills the Torah obligation to tell the story of Yetzi’at Mitzrayim (the Exodus), as the Torah writes, “Ve’higadeta Le’vincha Ba’yom Ha’hu” (“You shall tell your children on that day” – Shemot 13:8). The importance of this Mitzva is expressed in a passage in the Zohar which comments that anyone who tells the story of Yetzi’at Mitzrayim on the night of pesach with sincere joy will one day rejoice together with the Shechina (Divine Presence) in the next world. Moreover, God Himself experiences immense joy, as it were, upon hearing the Jewish people telling this story, and He summons the Heavenly angels to come and listen to the story. The angels assemble to hear the story of the Exodus and rejoice over the great wonders and miracles performed by the Almighty in redeeming Am Yisrael, and they give praise to God for His great nation on earth that so joyfully celebrates His redemption. The Zohar concludes that we thereby increase God’s power, so-to-speak, to deal kindly with Am Yisrael. (Hazon Ovadia page 56.)

As mentioned earlier, the Torah introduces this obligation by instructing, “You shall tell your children on that day…” Thus, the essential obligation is for parents to tell the story to their children. Ironically, in many families the precise opposite occurs: children are encouraged to share with their parents some ideas and insights that they learned about the Haggada. Although it is admirable for children to share their knowledge, it is the parents who bear the obligation to teach their children.

Furthermore, in many homes the children go to sleep immediately after asking the questions of the “Ma Nishtana.” It must be emphasized that the “Ma Nishtana” consists only of the questions; the parents must then provide the answer, clearly, patiently, and in accordance with each child’s level of understanding. The father must clearly explain to the child the paragraph of “Avadim Hayinu,” as well as the section of “pesach, Matza U’marror,” where the reasons for these three Mitzvot are explained. If a parent sees that the child is falling asleep or losing interest before he reaches the section of “pesach, Matza U’marror,” then he should quickly explain to him that section so that the child will hear the explanation of these Mitzvot.

The obligation to tell the story of Yetzi’at Mitzrayim requires doing just that: to talk about the events of Benei Yisrael’s subjugation, the plagues, the Exodus, and the splitting of the sea. One should focus on the Midrashim relevant to these events, and not on other topics upon which many people make the mistake of elaborating during the seder. One should not only focus his attention on singing “Dayeinu” or offering insights into the introductory sections of “Ma Nishtana,” the four sons, “Ve’hi She’ameda,” and so on. Nor is this the time for reconciling contradictory rulings of the Rambam or explaining complex, intricate passages in Masechet pesachim. The Mitzva of “Sippur Yetzi’at Mitzrayim” requires spending time at the seder discussing the events of the Exodus, and this should be the point of our focus at the seder. Indeed, the Haggada tells of the Rabbis in Bnei-Brak who spent the entire night telling about the Exodus; this shows that there is enough material relevant to Yetzi’at Mitzrayim itself to occupy a person for an entire night. Of course, one who so wishes is certainly encouraged to remain awake after the seder to discuss the many other aspects of pesach; the seder itself, however, should be devoted to the story of the Exodus.

It must also be emphasized that properly fulfilling this Mitzva requires preparation. Just as we prepare for the other Mitzvot of pesach by cleaning the home, purchasing wine and Matza, cleaning the Marror, and so on, so must we prepare for “Sippur Yetzi’at Mitzrayim” by studying commentaries on Maggid before the seder.

The Ritva (Rabbi Yom Tov Ashbili, Spain, 1250-1330) writes that one person may recite the Haggada on behalf of the others at the seder, who fulfill their obligation by carefully listening to the leader’s recitation. This ruling is based on the Halachic principle of “Shomei’a Ke’oneh,” which allows for fulfilling one’s obligation to recite a given text by listening to somebody else’s recitation. This was indeed the practice of the Gaon of Vilna (Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna, 1720-1797). Our practice, however, is for everybody to recite the Haggada in unison, with the leader offering explanations and insights at various points during the recitation. (Hazon Ovadia page 47.)

The obligation to read Maggid applies to both men and women. (Hazon Ovadia page 52.) Although the authorities debate the question of whether women are obligated on the level of Torah obligation or Rabbinic enactment, all agree that they, too, must recite or hear the Haggada.

One must ensure not to begin reading Maggid until nightfall on pesach eve, or 45 minutes after sundown (in the New York City area). If one began reading Maggid before nightfall, he must repeat it after that point. One must be particularly careful in this regard in years when Daylight Savings Time begins before pesach, in which case the seder begins quite late; one may nevertheless not begin reading the Haggada before nightfall. (Hazon Ovadia page 47.)

One should not lean or recline during the reading of Maggid. Instead, it should be read in an upright position, and with a sense of awe and reverence.

The reading of Maggid should be completed before Chatzot (midnight as defined by Halacha). This means that one should recite the concluding Beracha of “Asher Ge’alanu” before Chatzot. BeDiavad, if he finished after Chazot, he still may make the Beracha of “Asher Ge’alanu”. After the seder, one should continue learning and discussing the Exodus and the laws of pesach until he feels the need to go to sleep.