Hebrew Bible

Biblical Origins of the Passover Seder

Having a sense for how the Haggadah came to be will give a richer, more thoughtful experience at the Seder table. After all, between the numerous different steps and readings from the Haggadah, it might start to feel completely random without knowing the origins. Even if you’ve been reading the Haggadah every Passover of your life, you will never be at a loss for new information, so it’s important to be an informed and curious participant. 

Is the Haggadah Part of the Bible?

Unlike Megilat Ester read on Purim, Megilat Rut read on Shavuot, or Iyov read on Yom Kippur, the Haggadah is not a book of Torah. Moreover, those are all read during services, but the Haggadah is read at home.  

Many of the sections and much of the language of the Haggadah comes straight from the Torah explicitly. For example, in one of the most famous sections, the Four Sons, while the framing device of four sons is a feature, the language of the questions is lifted verbatim from Exodus and Deuteronomy. 

Indeed, the section Maggid which is the primary section that recounts the story of the exile from Egypt is chalk full of verses from the Torah, hardly surprising. This contains whole passages from the Tanakh, but also from the Oral Torah discussing the history and laws of Pesach.

This makes the Passover Haggadah more like a siddur (prayer book) that the Sanhedrin assembled with passages from Tanakh, the Oral Torah, and original material that are designed to make sure people understand every part of the story.

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Is the Haggadah Mentioned in the Torah?

The Haggadah, which means ‘telling’ is a commandment in the Torah, developed in part from "You shall tell it to your child on that day" (Exodus 13:8) with respect to the events of leaving Egypt. Crack open any Haggadah though and you’ll see numerous other steps beyond simply reciting the story, and conversely many other parts of the Torah, like some events in Genesis, are also mentioned. Although the Torah does not refer to a Haggadah as such, the Haggadah satisfies a commandment laid out in the Torah. 

Likewise, the matzah and the wine are both Seder mitzvot (commandments), sourced differently. The mitzvah to eat matzah comes from “...you shall celebrate it as a festival for all time. Seven days you shall eat matzah…” (Exodus 12:14-15). Meanwhile, while the 4 cups of wine correspond to the four expressions of redemption mentioned in Exodus 6:6-7, it is only known that these are associated with wine from the Oral Torah, specifically, tractate Pesachim (10) in the Talmud Yerushalmi. Everything in the Seder will be sourced like one of these, like the section Barech commanded in the Torah, and the Seder Plate food items that are Rabbinic.

Finally, the korban Pesach (Passover offering) cannot be performed these days, despite the mitzvah of sacrificing the lamb in Exodus 12, as the Temple has been destroyed, but this will resume once it is rebuilt.

The Haggadah therefore is not one of the books of the Torah, but is still at its heart a part of the Torah, combining many different Passover-sources with original text. It compiles passages from the Torah, related commandments, and in its own way retells the Exodus story in a unique, multisensory way. 

Having learned more about the Haggadah, be sure you have exactly what you need for the most meaningful Passover Seder this year!

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