117b: The Haggada and the Blind
Last week we began a mishna and then jumped to the gemara. We first will have to complete the gemara on this section of the mishna, and only afterwards will we return to complete the mishna.
We are at the words, "Amar Rav Acha bar Yaacov," 10 lines from the bottom of the 116b.
Amar Rav Acha bar Yaacov
Rav Acha bar Yaacov said: A blind person is exempt from reciting the haggada.
Here it is written, "Because of THIS;" and there it is written, "THIS son of ours." Just as there it comes to exclude a blind person, so too here it comes to exclude a blind person.
A quick explanation of Rav Acha before we examine the gemara's discussion.
1. "Because of this" refers to the verse, "ba'avur zeh asa HaShem li..." - "Because of this God did for me when He took us out of Egypt." The verse is cited in the haggada and is understood to be referring to the mitzva of reciting the haggada.
2. "This son of ours" refers to a verse in the parsha of the rebellious son - "ben sorer umoreh." The parents are required, when bringing him before the court, to say, "This our son is deviant and rebellious."
3. The gemara in Sanhedrin (71b) derives from the expression "this our son" that blind parents are excluded from the law of the rebellious son, since they cannot state "THIS our son." The assumption is that "THIS" requires one to be able to point. The Rashbam (s.v. "prat") in our sugya explains, "Since it is written "THIS," it implies that they see - recognize him with vision of the eye."
4. Hence, Rav Acha claims that in order to say "Because of THIS" during the seder, one must be able to see. From this he concludes that the blind are exempt from reciting the haggada.
Now back to the gemara.
Is this true? Did not Mereimar say: I asked the rabbis of the house of Rav Yosef, who recited the haggada in the house of Rav Yosef, and they told me: Rav Yosef; Who recited the haggada in the house of Rav Sheshet, and they told me: Rav Sheshet?
[Rashbam: Rav Yosef and Rav Sheshet were blind].
Those rabbis maintained that matza was of rabbinic obligation today.
This implies that Rav Acha b. Yaacov maintained that matza is of Biblical obligation today.
But Rav Acha b. Yaacov is the one who said that matza is of rabbinic obligation today!?!
He holds that any rabbinic enactment is enacted analogously to the Biblical obligation.
Rav Yosef and Rav Sheshet also undoubtedly hold that any rabbinic enactment is enacted analogously to the Biblical obligation.
Rather - there, where it should have said "our son is," and it says "This son of ours is," we learn from that that the blind are excluded. But here, other than "because of this," what could it say? It is telling us "because of matza and maror."
This text is a good example of the back-and-forth nature of talmudic discussion. It is impossible to follow if you do not continually ascertain who is speaking. The discussion consists of a series of questions and answers, each question attacking the previous answer, until a conclusion is reached. Traditionally, children were taught to read a gemara like this by prefixing the expression "fregt di gemara" ("the gemara asks") and "enfert di gemara" (the gemara answers") to each line. If you recall that the gemara does not have punctuation either, so that the task includes determining where each line ends, you realize that it is not so simple a problem. Try it now, following the questions and answers.
I shall reprint the discussion, this time marking the questions as "Q" and the answers as "A," and adding some short comments (signed "-eb").
Q1. Is this true? Did not Mereimar say: I asked the rabbis of the house of Rav Yosef, who recited the haggada in the house of Rav Yosef, and they told me: Rav Yosef; Who recited the haggada in the house of Rav Sheshet, and they told me: Rav Sheshet?
Only one person recited the haggada, and the others fulfilled their obligation by listening. For this to work, the reciter must be as obligated as the listeners. If Rav Yosef and Rav Sheshet are exempt, they cannot recite the haggada for the others. - eb
A1. Those rabbis maintained that matza was of rabbinic obligation today.
Apparently, the argument is that the exemption, based on a verse, applies only to the Biblical level obligation. If the obligation is rabbinic, then the Rabbis obligate the blind equally with the seeing. -eb
Q2. This implies that Rav Acha b. Yaacov maintained that matza is of Biblical obligation today.
But Rav Acha b. Yaacov is the one who said that matza is of rabbinic obligation today!?!
Rav Acha was not merely expounding the verse, but giving a halakhic ruling. When he says that the blind are exempt, he means that they are practically exempt. Yet we know that he also maintains that matza is rabbinic today, and nonetheless he exempts the blind. So how did Rav Yosef and Rav Sheshet recite the haggada?
A2. He holds that any rabbinic enactment is enacted analogously to the Biblical obligation.
This is a halakhic principle that asserts that when a rabbinic enactment is made which expands or restores a Biblical obligation or prohibition (as is the case here, where matza is obligated in post-Temple times in imitation of the Biblical obligation that applied during the times of the Temple), it follows the same parameters as the original command on which it is based. Hence, if the blind are exempt from the Biblical obligation of the haggada, they should be exempt from the corresponding rabbinic one as well. -eb.
Q3. Rav Yosef and Rav Sheshet also undoubtedly hold that any rabbinic enactment is enacted analogously to the Biblical obligation.
The gemara is stating that this principle is incontrovertible. -eb.
A3. Rather - there, where it should have said "our son is," and it says "This son of ours is," we learn from that that the blind are excluded. But here, other than "because of this," what could it say? It is telling us "because of matza and maror."
In other words, Rav Yosef and Rav Sheshet disagree with the derivation of Rav Acha. The basis was the exemption of the blind from ben sorer umoreh. However, the cases are not analogous. The word "THIS" in that case is unnecessary; however, in the case of the haggada the word comes to tell us that matza and maror are the subjects of the "because of this" clause. As the Rashbam explains, "For this reason I eat matza and maror, in memory of what was done to me when I left Egypt." -eb.
Returning to the point in A1 above - that if matza is rabbinic and not Biblical, a blind person may recite the haggada for others - I wish to quote a short comment from Rav Kahn's Pesachim shiur. The following section is "optional."
Rav Yair Kahn:
The option of fulfilling an obligation to recite a certain passage by listening (shome'ah ke-oneh), exists only if the level of obligation of the listener is not greater than that of the reciter. Therefore a suma (blind person) may recite the haggada on behalf of others only if he is Biblically obligated, or if the obligation of the listeners is rabbinic. According to our gemara, the possibility that the obligation of haggada in general is rabbinic, is based upon the opinion that there is no Biblical obligation of matza nowadays. Evidently, if matza in our time is a rabbinic mitzva, then sippur yetziat Mitzrayim is rabbinic as well. Thus, we may conclude that pesach, matza and maror are necessary conditions for the fulfillment of the mitzva of sippur yetziat Mitzrayim, and without them one does not fulfill one's requirement. (See Tosafot Megilla 19b s.v. Ve-Rebbi.) This would present irrefutable proof as to the relationship between sippur yetziat Mitzrayim and pesach, matza and maror.
However, we can interpret our sugya in another fashion. Perhaps there IS a Biblical obligation of sippur yetziat Mitzrayim, although there is no Biblical requirement for matza. Nevertheless, a suma is capable of reciting the haggada for others. This is possible if we explain that a suma is not totally exempt from sippur on the Biblical level. Rather, he is merely incapable of fulfilling the requirement implied by "zeh" (this), of relating the sippur to the matza. This requirement exists only when the matza obligation is Biblical. However, if matza were not Biblically required, the obligation of "zeh" would likewise be inapplicable. Therefore, a suma could legitimately recite the haggada for others, and enable them to fulfill their Biblical requirement.
One other interesting point. I quoted above the Rashbam in connection with Rav Yosef and Rav Sheshet - " Rav Yosef and Rav Sheshet were blind." The term for "blind" in the Rashbam is "meorei einayim," which literally means that they possessed "enlightened eyes." This is a close translation by the Rashbam of a common Aramaic name for a blind person - "sagi nahor," which means "full of light." The use of a euphemism for an unfortunate condition is deeply ingrained in Jewish speech, as this example indicates. But rather than calling the blind "vision-challenged," the Sages turned the term on its head, and called him "full of light." In fact, this phenomenon, of referring to a condition by its opposite, is called "lashon sagi nahor," sagi nahor language.
Let us now go back and finish the mishna. The mishna began with the statement of Rabban Gamliel, who required the recitation of the reason for three things, pesach, matza and maror. We read (last week) the three reasons, ending with maror. The mishna now continues (line 9 - "bechol dor vador").
In every generation, a man is obligated to see himself as though he had exited from Egypt, as is written, "You shall tell your son on that day, saying: Because of this, God did for me when I exited Egypt."
These words are familiar to us from the haggada. Remember, however, that the mishna is not presented as a haggada text but as a series of laws. Rabban Gamliel ruled that one must state three things on Pesach, and then spelled out those three things, so it is logical that the text of the mishna should itself be recited. There is however no indication in the text of the mishna that the sentence beginning "bechol dor vador" ("in every generation") is meant to be recited. Perhaps it is a law - the halakha requires you to feel this way. Nonetheless, we know that the text appears in the haggada as the continuation of the three reasons of Rabban Gamliel. There are two considerations which indicate that it is meant to be recited.
1. If not, it is not clear what the practical, halakhic import is of a requirement to "see yourself." How does one do this? It is most unusual to have a halakhic requirement to think, or feel, in a certain way.
2. The continuation of the mishna is clearly a recitation, based on its ceremonial language. Hence, it makes sense that we are in the middle of a required recitation.
Aside from being a recitation, what does this statement mean? Given the fact that we are nearing the eating of matza and maror (and in fact have begun preparing for that eating by the statement of Rabban Gamliel), it makes sense to conclude that this statement tells us something about the nature of the mitzva of maror and matza. Rav Soloveitchik claimed that the food-mitzvot of Pesach were not merely commemorative, but were experiential - we are recreating the experience of the exodus. This is especially true according to the text of the Rambam for this statement, reading "show oneself" in place of "see oneself" ("lihar'ot" instead of lir'ot"). On Pesach night, each one of us is reliving the exodus personally, and this is what lies behind the entire experience of the seder.
Let us finish the mishna.
Therefore, we are obligated to thank, glorify, praise, magnify, exalt, adore, bless, elevate, and honor the One Who has performed for our forefathers and ourselves all these miracles. He took us out from slavery to freedom, from sorrow to joy, from mourning to celebration, from darkness to a great light, and from subjugation to redemption. And we shall recite before him Halleluya.
Until where does he recite (the hallel)?
Beit Shammai say: Until "eim habanim semeicha."
Beit Hillel say: Until "chalamish l'maino mayim."
And he concludes with "geula" (redemption).
R. Tarfon says: "Who redeemed us and redeemed our fathers from Egypt," and he does not conclude.
R. Akiva says: "So too, HaShem our God and the God of our fathers, bring us to other celebrations and holidays which are coming in peace, celebrating the building of Your city, and rejoicing in Your service, and there will we eat from pesachim and sacrifices, etc." until "Blessed are You, Who redeemed Israel."
As Tosafot and the Rashbam point out, we follow the opinion of R. Akiva. The mishna itself is, I hope, clear, so we will end at this point. Next week, we will begin the gemara which discusses the source of the Hallel.