Structure of the Haggadah
At first glance the Haggadah seems like a book with random bits of information about the Exodus, put together to form one piece of work. It is hard to see the order within the Haggadah, and, as a result, many people think there is no order. Given the fact that the Haggadah is the vehicle through which we fulfill the mitzvah of the retelling of the Exodus from Egypt, it is incumbent upon us to study the structure of this precious book.
The Malbim asks many questions on the order of the Haggadah and answers all of them by explaining that the layout of the Haggadah is based on one verse from the Torah: “V'higadita l'vincha ba'yom ha'hu leimor, ba'avur zeh asah Hashem li b'tzeiti m'Mitzrayim — And you shall relate to your child on that day, saying: It is because of this that Hashem acted for me when I came forth out of Egypt.” (Shemot 13:8) This verse is the source of our obligation to have a Seder. In fact, the name Haggadah is derived from the first word of this verse, “v’higadita.” The Malbim explains that the maggid part of the Haggadah can be split up into five parts, followed by Hallel, totaling six parts. These six parts perfectly parallel the six parts of the verse that is the source for telling over the story of the Exodus. The following is a summary of the words of the Malbim.
The first part of the Haggadah, starting from “avadim hayinu” (we were slaves) until the end of the section of the four sons, relates to the first of the verse, “V'higadita l'vincha — and you shall relate to your child”. These introductory paragraphs describe why we tell over the story, how important the mitzvah is and to whom it applies. This part concludes with the section about the four sons, which directly relates to the beginning of the verse “and you shall relate to your child.” The section of the four sons tells us exactly how to do that and what to answer to each son.
The second part of the Haggadah relates to the second part of the verse, “bayom hahu — on that day.” This part corresponds to the part of the Haggadah from “yachol merosh — one may think from the beginning,” and ends at “munachim lefanecha — are placed in front of you.” This one paragraph discusses exactly when “on that day” is.
The third part of the Haggadah relates to the third part of the verse, “leimor — to say.” This is the story of the Exodus from “mitchila ovdei avodah zarah — at first we were idol worshippers” until the end of “dayeinu — it would have been sufficient for us.” This is the bulk of the Haggadah because the word “leimor” relates to our obligation to say over the story of the Exodus.
The fourth part of the Haggadah parallels the fourth part of the verse, “ba’avur zeh — because of this.” This part starts from “Rabban Gamliel haya omer — Rabban Gamliel used to say” until “befarech — back-breaking labor.” This part of the Haggadah speaks about Pesach, matzah and marror. The reason why it parallels “ba’avur zeh — because of this” is because as we speak about the matzah and marror we raise them and say matza zo —thismatzah, and marror zo — this marror (we just, however, look at the shankbone without pointing to it because we do not want to imply that we sanctified it as a korban — see Mishnah Berurah 473:72). These parallel the language of the verse that says “because of this.” Because of this we eat this matzah, this marror, and when the Beit Hamikdash will be rebuilt — the korban Pesach.
The fifth part of the Haggadah parallels the fifth part of the verse, “asah Hashem li — Hashem did for me.” This parallels the part of the Haggadah that starts with “bekol dor vador — in every generation” and ends with “nishba la’avoteinu — was sworn to our fathers.” It discusses each individual’s obligation to regard himself as if he himself left Egypt. This clearly relates to the fifth part of the verse because in the verse it says Hashem did for me, even though the story took place over 3,300 years ago.
The sixth and final part of the part of the Haggadah, which starts with “lefichach anachnu chayavim — therefore we are obligated,” and ends with Hallel, parallels the sixth part of the verse, “betzeiti mi’Mitzrayim — when I came from Egypt”. This part includes the part of Hallel starting with “betzeit Yisrael,” paralleling the words of the verse “betzeiti mi’Mitzrayim.”
With the Malbim’s outlook we have a better understanding of the Haggadah. It is orderly and it addresses every part of the source verse for our obligation to have a Seder. We also see from the above that the main retelling of the story of the Exodus begins in the third part of the Haggadah. One common mistake that people make is that they spend much of the time during Seder night addressing and explaining the introductory parts of the Haggadah. Hours are spent analyzing the story of Rabbi Eliezer, the four sons, etc., leaving little or no time for expounding the verses that speak about the actual Exodus. As a result, many rush through these verses so they may eat the afikoman in time. While every part of the Haggadah has much depth behind it, on Seder night it is best to spend most of the time on the verses that discuss the Exodus, starting with “Arami oved avi” (see Siftei Chaim, Moadim vol. 2 p. 355). May we all merit fulfilling the mitzvot of Pesach properly, and thereby merit seeing the coming of Mashiach speedily in our days.