Monday, 10 April 2017

Meaning of Ve-Higadeta

From RRW

Guest Blogger: Mitchell First

                   Ve-Higadeta Le-Vincha (Ex. 13:8):  What is the Meaning of Ve-Higadeta?

                  Ve-higadeta le-vincha ba-yom ha-hu… (“you shall tell your son on that day”) is a key verse of the seder night. But what exactly does ve-higadeta mean?  I will now present several approaches. (Note: I usually save the likeliest approach for last!)
           Approach #1:  Explain the reason. This approach is taken by S.D. Luzzatto in his commentary on our verse. He cites Judges 14:19 where the phrase le-hagid is used in the context of explaining a riddle. (See also Daat Mikra to Exodus 13:8.)
          Approach #2: Demonstrate by action. Rav S.R. Hirsch (comm. to Deut. 26:3) writes that HGD means “making clear not by words but by deeds, actions...“ He uses the word “demonstrated.”   He says something similar, although less explicitly, in his commentary to Ex. 13:8.
         Approach #3 : Ve-higadeta is related to the Aramaic root NGD, which means “draw out.” The implication may be that the telling must be in a drawn out, long way. See, e.g., Siddur Otzar Ha-Tefillot, p. 951, commentary Maaseh Nissim, and Netziv to Deut. 32:7. Or the implication may be “moshkin libo shel adam” (draw out the heart of the listener; see the Arukh). Or the implication may be draw your child out so that he will ask a question. (Netziv to Ex. 13:8.)
         Approaches #4 and 5:  At Shabbat 87a, the Talmud interprets the word va-yaged of Ex. 19:9. Two opposite interpretations are offered, a “soft” interpretation and a “hard” interpretation. The “soft” intepretation: she-moskhin libo shel adam ke-aggadah. This interpretation is cited by Rashi at Ex. 13:8. The “hard” interpretation: matters that are as hard as gidin (=sinews, tendons). This interpretation is cited by Or Ha-Chayyim at Ex. 13:8. (See also the interesting approach of Kli Yakar.)
       Approach #6: Study. Reflections of the Rav, pp. 212-13 includes the following statement: “The word Haggadah connotes more than the act of ‘telling’ or ‘narrating.’ It suggests an elaborate form of study.”   This approach of Rav Soloveitchik is based on the Mekhilta to Ex. 19:3 (tedakdek imahem) and Rashi to this same verse.
       Approach #7: Tell A Story/Elaborate/Sippur.  The Radak, in his Sefer Ha-Shorashim (entry NGD), tells us that the implication of HGD is sippur. He is probably deriving this from the passage in the Haggadah: mitzvah aleinu le-sapper bi-yitziyat Mitzrayim. (Of course, why the author of this passage chose to use the word sippur is the million dollar question! Perhaps he was influenced by the use of the root at Ex. 10:2. This choice by the author of the Haggadah has had a tremendous influence in the way the mitzvah has been understood over the centuries.This Haggadah passage is the earliest source to use the verb sippur in connection with the mitzvah.
       Approach #8: Inform, Cause to Understand. At Hilkhot Chametz U-Matzah 7:2, Rambam writes: mitzvah le-hodia le-vanim...she-ne’emar ve-higadeta le-vincha.   (Of course, Rambam uses the word le-sapper as well nearby.) Le-hodia is from the root yod, dalet, ayin.
       After describing all the above approaches, it is finally time to reveal what the word ve-higadeta  means on its simplest level. Ve-higadeta comes from the verb le-hagid.  This word originated as le-hangid. The root here, and of all the HGD words in Tanakh, is N-G-D, neged, meaning “next to.” The H at the beginning reflects that the word is in the hiphil (=causative) stem. So le-ha(n)gid means to cause something to be next to someone else. See, e.g., Rav S. R. Hirsch to Gen 3:11 and Deut. 17:10, and the concordance of S. Mandelkern, entry NGD. The closest English equivalent would seem to be “to present.” Perhaps there was originally an implication of face to face conversation in HNGD. See, e.g., Gen. 49:1: he-asfu ve-agidah lakhem...
        I also believe that many of the sources cited above would agree with this “NGD-present” approach on a peshat level; they may have merely been trying to give an additional layer of meaning to the word.
        Long ago, I assumed that the term haggadah derives from the phrase ve-higadeta le-vincha. Indeed, this view is expressed in the 11th century by the Arukh. But although the standard printed text at Pes. 115b and 116a refers to the haggadah, there are some manuscripts that have ha-aggadah. Similarly, there are Rishonim that refer to what we recite at the seder as the aggadah. See, e.g., Haggadah Shel Pesach, Torat Hayyim, p. 12 (comm. of RABN), and Tosafot, Avodah Zarah 45a. So it is possible that aggadah was the original term for the material recited at the seder and haggadah was just a term that evolved later. Moreover, even if haggadah was the original term (or alternatively was a term that evolved later), it is very possible that the term was not derived from ve-higadeta le-vincha.  
       According to most scholars, the terms haggadah and aggadah have essentially the same meaning, with the latter being the Aramaic form of the former.                                                           
         I would like to share one more insight regarding a word of the seder. The meaning of the word hesebah is ingrained in all of us. Wake any of us up from our reclining position in the middle of the night and we will tell you that hesebah means “recline.”  But wait a minute. Everyone will agree that the root of this word is SBB, which has a meaning relating to “going around” and “circle.”  What is going on here? Why has the word hesebah been used since Mishnaic times to mean “recline”? We can only conjecture but surely the following was the process. When the ancients used to eat festive meals, they would position couches around a table. The word HSB originally meant “to cause couches to be placed around a table.” (It is the hiphil of SBB. See, e.g., Jastrow, p. 359.) But when they would eat in this manner, they would recline on these couches. So the word hesebah, which originally meant “to cause couches to be placed around a table” and probably took on the meaning of of “eating with couches around a table,” eventually took on the meaning of “reclining,” even when no couches were involved.

Mitchell First is a personal injury attorney and Jewish history scholar. His most recent book is Esther Unmasked: Solving Eleven Mysteries of the Jewish Holidays and Liturgy. He can be reached at He used to present face to face lectures. Now he enjoys reclining and writing for the Jewish Link, even though there is a question of whether he is complying with the term HNGD (“cause to be next to”).  Given that his picture and the paper are in the hands of the reader, there is room to be lenient.

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