Hagaddah on Shabbos HaGadol:  The Vilna Gaon versus The RaMah


By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5TJT.com

Although, most shuls held the Shabbos HaGadol drasha last Shabbos, there are other minhagim of Shabbos HaGadol that are done on this coming Shabbos.

Rabbi Moshe Isserles (1530-1572) in his glosses to the Shulchan Aruch (OC 430) writes: “And the Minhag is to recite the Hagaddah at Mincha of Shabbos HaGadol..”

The Vilna Gaon (1720-1797)  explains: From that time – Shabbos afternoon the redemption began through the taking of the Paschal lamb.. But this is not [to be done], for it says in the Mechilta end of Parshas Bo.. I would have thought from Rosh Chodesh but it says, “On that day..” I would have thought it could have been done even while it was daylight, but it says, “Ba’avur ze” – in the time when you have Matzah and Marror resting before you.


A number of commentators have asked on the Vilna Gaon that the Mechilta is discussing the timing of the obligation of reciting the Hagaddah.  Who cares if this custom mentioned in the Ramah does not conform to the exact method of fulfilling it?


Some commentators suggest that the Gra means that the recitation of the Hagaddah not during this time is a form of Bal Tosif – adding on to the Torah.

Others understand the Vilna Gaon’s comment as it being an inappropriate Minhag because it is not based on the actual method of fulfilling the obligation of reciting the Hagaddah.


Rabbi Boruch Frankel Teumim zt”l (1760-1828), the Sanzer Rebbe’s father-in-law, in a sefer published by the Chebiner Kollel that it could be that the Ramah would agree to the Vilna Gaon but holds that the prohibition would only be for “vehigadeta lebincha” when one recites it to his son at a different time. But if he is merely reciting it to himself – then there is no prohibition.

In other words, the Ramah would hold that it is so significantly different than the actual obligation – that there is no problem of adding onto the Torah.

The Gerrer Rebbe, Reb Pinchas Menachem Alter provides a different explanation citing Rabban Gamliel that whomsoever does not mention Pesach Matzah uMarror has not fulfilled the obligation.  Since this is not mentioned – the Vilna Gaon’s animadversions would be resolved.


Rav Meshulem Dovid Soloveitchik zt”l in Shiurei R’ Meshulem Dovid HaLevi Al HaTorah (vol. II p. 118) suggests the possibility that the Vilna Gaon is of the opinion that a Minhag has to be significantly similar to the actual Mitzvah in order to be a valid Minhag.  Since the mechilta’s words are that the hagaddah must be recited with the actual presence of Matzah and Marror, the Vilna Gaon dismisses it as being a valid Minhag.  The Ramah, on the other hand, might hold that it is just a practical Minhag to be a bit more familiar with the words of the Hagaddah.

Rav Shalom Povarsky zt”l (1935-2020) quoted the Brisker Rav, Rav Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik (1886-1959) that saying the Hagaddah is like reciting Kiddush.  Just as Kiddush must be recited over wine, so too must the Hagaddah be recited only when there is Matzah and Marror laying in front of you.  (Cited in Bikurei Simcha p. 70)

Rav Avrohom Gurvitz, a Talmid of Rav Shach zt”l and one of the most prominent Roshei Yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel today, writes in his Ohr Avrohom (p.318) that the fact that there is an entire Siman in Shulchan Aruch that is dedicated to telling us that the Shabbos before Pesach is called Shabbos HaGadol must have some halachic implication.  This perhaps is the rationale for the Gra’s position.

There is another possibility of understanding the debate.  The Vilna Gaon understands the custom as stemming from the fact that the Geulah started from the time that the Paschal lamb was taken.  But there is also the possibility that the custom is just to become familiar with the Hagaddah.  Indeed, this is the position of the Maharshal in his Teshuvos (#88).  The obligation would be no different than the obligation to become familiar with the Siddur as in Shulchan Aruch (OC Siman 100).

One might ask, if this is the case then why is it done at mincha time on the afternoon of Shabbos HaGadol?  Perhaps the Ramah’s understanding is that the custom is to review it then just because it is the only practical free moment that people have and not necessarily because of the reason that the Geulah began when the Paschal lamb was taken.

In conclusion, one does not go wrong by following one’s family Minhag.  Wishing everyone a chag kasher vesamayach filled with Dveikus and Emunah!


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  1. Perhaps the nicest explanation I’m aware of – the gemara says several times that many parts of the seder are there so that the kids will ask. Kids will see two different dippings, or two washings, or four cups, or heseibah, etc, and ask what’s going on, creating context for the parents to be msaper bitziyas mitzrayim. This can all happen best when the kids don’t already know everything!! So beginning the sipur earlier, explaining to them everything in the weeks or days before pesach, before the great leil haseder, really takes away from making the night one of genuine inquiry and curiosity. It’s almost like reading to the kids the last chapter in the book before even starting…. In some sense, everything the kids learn in school in the weeks before Pesach, really makes it impossible to have a genuine v’higadta experience.