Thursday, April 9, 2015

Pesach: Why No Full Hallel on the Holiday that Celebrates Song?

Rav Turetsky

We experienced the incredible miracle of Keriat Yam Suf on the 7th day of Pesach. We broke from our former masters and further established ourselves as free. Yet, the manner in which we celebrate this day is perplexing. From the choice of Haftarah and numerous other customs, it is clear that Shira (song) plays a major role in defining the essence of this day.[1] Indeed, the Jews' song at Yam Suf is so significant it is recorded in the Torah and we incorporate it into our daily prayers. Yet, as has been noted, this is also the only Yom Tov in which there is no recitation of full Hallel.[2]

Why would it be that specifically on the holiday so focused on Shira that we do not recite Hallel, the quintessential Jewish form of song? 

One answer is cited by several Rishonim based on Chazal.[3] It is inappropriate to recite Hallel on a day in which so many Egyptians drowned. We are very happy and would like to sing Hallel, but our joy is tempered. Within this approach, Hallel does appear to fit with what the 7th day of Pesach is all about; we just can't recite it out of sensitivity to the Egyptians that lost their lives.

Perhaps one could suggest an additional answer. Rav Moshe Wolfson (Emunat Itecha 7th day of Pesach) has emphasized the spontaneous nature of the song the Jewish people sang at Yam Suf. This was not a pre-planned and organized song, but rather the Jews’ instinctive reaction to a miracle. Maybe that is another reason why Hallel isn't recited. It is a day of song, but not the kind of formalized obligatory singing Hallel usually represents.[4] Instead, the Shira we sing on the 7th day is one of spontaneous joy.

The 7th day of Pesach celebrates an incredible miracle. That we don't recite Hallel is important and reminds us of two ideas. One is that our own joy must be tempered with sensitivity towards the hardships of others. The other teaches us something important about Avodat Hashem generally. Judaism involves a lot of formal acts and requirements, and they certainly have their place. The 7th day of Pesach underscores the need to also worship Hashem with spontaneity and excitement. Our instinctive reaction should be towards God and we He has done for us.

[1] See, for example, Rav Rosensweig's Torahweb article on the 7th day of Pesach -
[2] See Talmud Erchin 10.
[3] See, for example, Talmud Sanhedrin 39b and Shibolei HaLeket, Rosh Chodesh no. 174
[4] There is some discussion whether Hallel should be perceived as a formal obligation as opposed to more spontaneous song. That is beyond the scope of this brief Devar Torah.

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