For many of us, our seder night experiences are very different from each other. Each family practices different customs, sings different tunes and reads through different amounts of the Haggadah.
Whether your seder table reads every line in both Hebrew and English or you just sing the classics and then close your book, there is one thing we can all agree on. The wait between sitting down at the seder table and starting the meal is excruciating.
Our rumbling stomachs are simply teased with the little tastes of matzah, maror and then the Hillel sandwich which we nibble on in anticipation of the meal.
During the Haggadah, we eat and speak about the matzah, maror and haroset separately, and then we combine them to eat the Hillel sandwich.
The necessity of these two different rituals stems from a Talmudic argument.
Rather, Rav Ashi said: This is what this tanna is teaching: I might have thought that one fulfills his obligation with them only if he wraps matzot and bitter herbs together and eats them in the manner that Hillel eats them. Therefore, the verse states: “They shall eat it with matzot and bitter herbs,” i.e., one fulfills his obligation even if he eats the matza by itself and the bitter herbs by themselves.
To summarise this argument, Hillel believes the matza, maror and korban Pesach should be eaten wrapped together in the form of a sandwich, his friends (chaveirav) believe it should be eaten separately and Rav Ashi claims one should ideally eat them together but has still fulfilled his obligation if he eats them separately.
Rabeinu Nissim comments on this debate by suggesting that this argument is about more than just the technical way one should eat on seder night. Rather, it is an argument about whether we understand the commandments to eat Pesach, matza and maror as three separate commandments or as one command which cannot be fulfilled if one of the other
elements of the command are missing.
The argument of Hillel and his peers cuts deep into the essence of this very important mitzvah. Are the symbolisms of matza, maror and Pesach meant to be understood and appreciated separately, each in its own right, or are we meant to combine the meaning of each to create a new entity that suggests something even deeper?
The author of the Haggadah chose to incorporate both opinions by going including these two rituals. The reasons we eat matza and maror are already expounded upon in the Haggadah during maggid, however, it does not explain the possible symbolism of the new entity created through the Hillel sandwich.
Perhaps, by combing these three elements, Hillel is suggesting that we should understand the Pesach story as more nuanced than our journey from bitter slavery (maror) to freedom (matza). Rather, at every point during Jewish history, we must understand that these two contradictory states of being exist. During the hardships of slavery and any time the Jewish
people have been oppressed, there has always been the hope of freedom and the promise of redemption.
During times in which we have experienced greater liberty and even sovereignty, there are still many people afflicted and suffering. This nuance is particularly relevant to the difficult world we live in today. While so many are suffering around the world, and perhaps in this respect we will relate better to maror than in previous years, hope for a better and safer
future seems near.