hallel music notes sheet music singing

Table of Contents

  • Hallel
    • In a Nutshell
    • Deep Dive
    • Further Thoughts
    • Questions to Think About (and Ask) at your Seder
    • Experiencing the Seder
    • A Story for the Night of Stories
  • Nirtzah
    • In a Nutshell
    • Deep Dive
    • Further Thoughts
    • Questions to Think About (and Ask) at your Seder
    • Experiencing the Seder
    • A Story for the Night of Stories
  • Chad Gadya
    • In a Nutshell
    • Deep Dive
    • Further Thoughts
    • Questions to Think About (and Ask) at your Seder
    • Experiencing the Seder
  • Educational Companion

Seder Night Companion

Seder night is a highlight of the Jewish calendar for parents and children alike. It is the night that revolves around children, and parents are reminded of the importance of their role as educators. (Thankfully the Haggadah gives them lots of tools and tips!)

Rabbi Sacks zt”l explains that on the eve of the original Pesach, at the very moment when a new chapter in the life of the Jewish people began, we found out what it means to be a Jew: “About to gain their freedom, the Israelites were told that they had to become a nation of educators” (Radical Then, Radical Now, p. 32). Being a Jew means being both a student and an educator, and Seder night is our opportunity to focus on both these roles.

This educational companion to Seder night will give you some ideas and thoughts on several of the core pages from the Haggadah and how Rabbi Sacks understands them. As well as educational insights, like all Ceremony & Celebration: Family Editions, this Pesach instalment also includes activities, stories, and reflection questions in each section, designed to engage all the participants around your Seder table, young and old alike.

You will notice many extracts from Rabbi Sacks’ writings, all sourced from The Jonathan Sacks Haggadah, published by Koren. This guide is designed to be used in conjunction with a Haggadah; it is not a replacement for one.


הַלֵּל

HALLEL

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IN A NUTSHELL

At this stage in the Seder, we have finished telling the story of the Exodus, and just like the Israelites 3,300 years ago, we feel an overwhelming need to thank and praise Hashem for bringing us out of Egypt. So we begin to say Hallel (which is split into two sections, half before the meal and half after). This is one of the transitional moments of the Haggadah, when we move from story to song, from prose to poetry, from recitation (Maggid) to praise (Hallel).

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Music POST version

DEEP DIVE

Song plays a vital part in Judaism. At the end of his life, Moshe gave the Israelites the 613th mitzvah – that in every generation we should write a new Sefer Torah. On that occasion he used an unusual word. He called the Torah a “song” (Deut. 31:19).

Words are the language of the mind. Music is the language of the soul. Whenever speech is invested with deep emotion it aspires to the condition of song. This is why we do not merely say our prayers; we sing them. We do not read the Torah; we chant it. We do not study Talmud; we intone it. Each kind of text, and each period of the Jewish year, has its own melody. We learned this from Moshe, who called the Torah a song, to teach us this important message: if we want to transmit Torah across the generations as a living faith, it must be not just a code of law, but also the song of the Jewish people.

Commentary on ‘Therefore it is Our Duty to Thank’
The Jonathan Sacks Haggada

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Reflect

How does music change the experience of our prayers and the way we praise God?

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FURTHER THOUGHTS

Hallel (Psalms 113–118) is the great song of deliverance that, according to the Talmud, was sung at all the great triumphs of Jewish history. In more recent years we have added two new occasions when we say Hallel: on Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, and Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day.

The late Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik asked an interesting question about the recitation of Hallel at the Seder table. The Talmud states that we do not say Hallel on Purim because “the reading of the Megillah is equivalent to saying Hallel” (Megillah 14a). Why do we not apply the same reasoning to Seder night? We have recited the Haggadah, the counterpart of the Megillah on Purim. Surely, then, the recital of Hallel is superfluous.

The answer I would give is that there are two different commands to say Hallel. The first is at the time of a miracle. The second is as a form of remembrance on the anniversary of the miracle. Thus, at the time of Chanukah the Maccabees said Hallel at the moment of victory. The next year they established it as an annual obligation. The two forms of Hallel arise from different psychological states. The first is expressive, the second evocative. The first gives voice to an emotion we already feel. The second creates that emotion by an act of memory, recalling an event that occurred in the past.

Telling the story of a miracle, as we do on Purim, is equivalent to the second form of Hallel. It is an act of memory. On Pesach, however, we do not merely tell the story. We relive it. We eat the bread of oppression and the bitter herbs. We taste the wine of freedom. We recline as free people. “Generation by generation, each person must feel as if they themselves had come out of Egypt.” The Hallel we say on the Seder night is therefore of the first kind, not the second. It arises out of the emotions we feel having lived through the event again. It is a “new song.” This kind of Hallel is not cancelled by telling the story.

Commentary on Hallel
The Jonathan Sacks Haggada

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Reflect

What is the difference in emotion between the two types of Hallel? Do you connect emotionally to Hallel on Seder night being the first type?

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Questions to Think About (and Ask) at your Seder

  1. What do we have to praise and thank God for on Pesach?
  2. Is it better to use our own words to do this, or using the words of someone else (like by reciting King David’s Tehillim)?
  3. Do you connect more to words or song as a medium for expressing emotions?
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Experiencing the Seder

Ask the guests around your Seder table to share as many tunes for the different parts of Hallel as they know. Spend a moment reflecting (either privately or in a conversation with the Seder participants) how it feels to sing as opposed to saying or reading the words.

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A STORY FOR THE NIGHT OF STORIES

Following the splitting of the Reed Sea, when the Israelites were finally safe from the pursuing Egyptians, Miriam the Prophetess took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her song and dance with their own timbrels, in praise and thanks to Hashem.

The Rabbis in the Midrash ask why the women had musical instruments to hand (was this really a priority to take with them when they left Egypt in haste?) They answer their own question by praising their faith in Hashem. The women had deep faith that Hashem would perform miracles in the desert, to protect them and pave the way for their safe passage, and so they ensured they had instruments ready and dances prepared, so they could express their gratitude and praise Hashem.


נִרְצָה

NIRTZAH

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IN A NUTSHELL

Nirtzah means parting, and with this passage we reach the concluding section of the Haggadah. We pray that next year we may be able to celebrate it in a rebuilt Temple according to the original biblical rituals (which we can no longer fulfil). This passage is taken from a liturgical poem (kerova) composed by Rabbi Joseph Tov Elem in the eleventh century CE. Originally it was said in the synagogue on Shabbat haGadol, the Shabbat preceding Pesach, to conclude a detailing of the laws of Pesach, and it was transferred to the Haggadah in the fourteenth century.

Commentary on ‘The Pesach Service is Finished’
The Jonathan Sacks Haggada

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DEEP DIVE

As at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, so here – at the two supreme moments of the Jewish year – we pray Leshanah haba’a biYerushalayim habenuya, “Next year in Jerusalem rebuilt.” Nothing in the imaginative life of peoples throughout the world quite compares to the Jewish love for, and attachment to, Jerusalem. A Psalm records, in unforgettable words, the feelings of the Jewish exiles in Babylonia two and a half thousand years ago: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept as we remembered Zion… How can we sing the Lord’s song on foreign soil? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy” (Tehilim 137:1–6).

Wherever Jews were, they preserved the memory of Jerusalem. They prayed toward it. They spoke of it continually. At weddings they broke a glass in its memory. On Tisha B’Av they sat and mourned its destruction as if it were a recent tragedy. They longed for it with an everlasting love.

The French historian Chateaubriand, visiting Jerusalem in the early nineteenth century, was overcome with emotion as he saw for the first time the small Jewish community there, waiting patiently for the Messiah. “This people,” he wrote, “has seen Jerusalem destroyed seventeen times, yet there exists nothing in the world which can discourage it or prevent it from raising its eyes to Zion. He who beholds the Jews dispersed over the face of the earth, in keeping with the Word of God, lingers and marvels. But he will be struck with amazement, as at a miracle, who finds them still in Jerusalem and perceives even, who in law and justice are the masters of Judea, to exist as slaves and strangers in their own land; how despite all abuses they await the King who is to deliver them.” Noting how this “small nation” had survived while the great empires who sought its destruction had vanished, he added, “If there is anything among the nations of the world marked with the stamp of the miraculous, this, in our opinion, is that miracle.”

Next Year in Jerusalem
The Jonathan Sacks Haggada

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Reflect

Why do you think that both of these important days in the Jewish calendar (Yom Kippur and Seder night) finish with these words about Jerusalem?

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FURTHER THOUGHTS

Jerusalem is a place, but it is more than a place. It became a metaphor for the collective destination of the Jewish people. A city is what we build together, individually through our homes, collectively through our public spaces. So Jerusalem became a symbol of what Jews were summoned to build by creating a city of righteousness worthy of being a home for the Divine Presence. Its stones would be good deeds, and its mortar, relationships of generosity and trust. Its houses would be families; its defensive walls, schools and houses of study. Shabbat and the festivals would be its public parks and gardens. For Jews believed that, even in a violent and destructive world, heaven could be built on earth. It was their most daring vision. The architect of the city would be God. The builders would be ordinary men and women. It would be a Jewish city, but it would be open to all, and people from all faiths would be ordinary men and women. It would be a Jewish city, but it would be open to all, and people from all faiths would come and be moved by its beauty.

So Jerusalem, the “faithful city” (Yishayahu 1:27), became the destination of the Jewish journey, which began with Avraham and Sarah and will be complete only at the end of days. This is how the Prophet Yishayahu envisioned it, in words that for millennia have captured the human imagination:

In the last days

The mountain of the Lord’s Temple will be established

As chief among the mountains;

It will be raised above the hills,

And all the nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,

To the house of the God of Jacob.

He will teach us His ways, So that we may walk in His path.”

For the Torah shall come forth from Zion,

And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

He will judge between the nations

And settle disputes for many peoples.

They will beat their swords into plowshares

And their spears into pruning hooks.

Nation will not take up sword against nation,

Nor will they train for war anymore.

Yishayahu 2:2-4

These words, among the most influential ever written, sum up much of Jewish faith. They epitomise what it might be like to “perfect the world under the sovereignty of God” (Aleinu). And as they journeyed through the centuries and continents, Jews carried this vision with them, believing that their task was to be true to their faith, to be loyal to God, to exemplify His ways to humankind, and to build a world at peace with itself by learning and teaching how to respect the freedom and dignity of others.

An Afternoon in Jerusalem,
The Jonathan Sacks Haggada

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Reflect

What must the Jewish people do when they reach their final destination, Jerusalem?

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Questions to Think About (and Ask) at your Seder

  1. Do you think Jews in Israel should still say this at the end of their Seder?
  2. What does Jerusalem have to do with the Exodus story and Seder night?
  3. Has anyone around your Seder table celebrated Pesach in Israel? Was it special or different?
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Experiencing the Seder

Take a moment. Close your eyes and imagine what celebrating the Pesach Seder in Jerusalem would be like with a rebuilt Temple.

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A STORY FOR THE NIGHT OF STORIES

Rabbi Sacks once wrote about a very special Shabbat he had experienced with his family:

jerusalem stone shadows wall yerushalayim

It happened in Jerusalem, one Shabbat afternoon toward the end of the Gulf War. Our family had gone to the Holy City to find peace. Instead we found ourselves living in the midst of war. Within weeks of our arrival it became clear that the Middle East was yet again about to be engulfed in conflict. Yet as we stepped out into the Jerusalem sunlight that day, there was peace. The city breathed the stillness of Shabbat. The late afternoon sun was turning the houses of Jerusalem stone into burnished gold. As we looked across the valley to the walls of the Old City we could understand why, long ago, people had called this the city of peace and why, even when it lay in ruins, Jews were convinced that the Divine Presence had never left Jerusalem.

We had been invited by our neighbours to Se’udah Shelishit, the third Shabbat meal. When we arrived we discovered that they had also invited a group of Romanian Jews who had recently come to make their home in Israel. They had made the journey together, as a group, because they were a choir. In Romania they had sung the songs of Jewish hope and longing. Now, in Jerusalem, they began to sing again for us around the Shabbat table.

Then a rather moving thing happened. As the sounds of the choir reverberated around the alleyways of our quiet corner of Jerusalem, people from the neighbouring houses began to appear, drawn by the music. One by one they slipped in through the open door and stood around as, hesitantly at first, then with growing confidence, they joined the singing. Here was an Israeli artist, there a new arrival from Russia, here an American investment banker, there a family from South Africa, and in the doorway a group of tourists who happened to be walking by and had stopped to see what was happening and then found themselves drawn in by the warm atmosphere. No one spoke; no one wanted to break the mood. We continued to sing the songs of Shabbat afternoon. As the sun began to set behind the hills, I could feel the Divine Presence among us, joining our words to those of a hundred generations of Jews, uniting them into a vast choral symphony, the love song of a people for God, and I sensed something of the mystery and majesty of the Jewish people, and I knew that it was this that I had come to Jerusalem to find.

We had come together, each of us as the result of a long journey, in some cases physical, in others spiritual, and in many, both. We each had stories to tell of how we came to be in Jerusalem that afternoon. But just as our individual voices had united to sing the words of our ancestors’ songs, so our stories were part of a larger story. Our personal routes were stages on the most remarkable journey ever undertaken by a people, spanning almost every country on the face of the earth, and four thousand years of time. If we had been able, then and there, to trace back the history of our parents and theirs across the generations, we would have been awestruck at its drama and scope. Was there anything that could remotely compare to the long Jewish journey to Jerusalem? Was this, I thought, not the most vivid testimony imaginable to the power and endurance of faith?

As the singing ended, and Shabbat drew to a close, I understood that to be a Jew is to join the journey of our people, the story of Pesach and the long walk across centuries and continents from exile to homecoming. There is no story like it, and the journey is not yet complete.


חַד גַּדְיָא

CHAD GADYA

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IN A NUTSHELL

This strange and haunting song seems simple on the surface but has hidden depths. Concluding one of Judaism’s most important evenings of the year with a children’s song tells us a lot about how important children are, especially on this night. The Jewish love of, and focus on, children means that we look forward to the future even more than we look back to the past. Just as we began the Seder with the questions of a child, so we end it with a nursery rhyme, reminding ourselves that what sustains a faith is not strength or power, but its ability to inspire successive generations of children to add their voices to their people’s song.

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DEEP DIVE

chad gadya goat kid haggada seder koren pesach

The theme of Chad Gadya is the destructive cycle of vengeance and retaliation. In one interpretation, the young goat represents Israel. The “father” who bought it for two coins is God, who redeemed Israel from Egypt through His two representatives, Moshe and Aharon. The cat is Assyria, which conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. The dog is Babylonia, which defeated the southern kingdom of Judah. The stick is Persia, which replaced Babylonia as the imperial power in the sixth century BCE. The fire is the Greeks, who defeated the Persians in the days of Alexander the Great. The water is Rome, which superseded ancient Greece. The ox is Islam, which defeated the Romans in Palestine in the seventh century. The slaughterer is Christianity – specifically the Crusaders, who fought Islam in Palestine and elsewhere, murdering Jews on the way. The Angel of Death is the Ottoman Empire, which controlled Palestine until the First World War. The song concludes with an expression of faith that “this too shall pass” and the Jewish people will return to their land. So it has been in our days.

One Little Goat,
The Jonathan Sacks Haggadah

This song, disarming in its simplicity, teaches the great truth of Jewish hope: that though many nations (symbolised by the cat, the dog, and so on) attacked Israel (the goat), each in turn has vanished into oblivion. At the end of days God will vanquish the Angel of Death and inaugurate a world of life and peace, the two great Jewish loves. Chad Gadya expresses the Jewish refusal to give up hope. Though history is full of man’s inhumanity to man – dog bites cat, stick hits dog – that is not the final verse. The Haggadah ends with the death of death in eternal life, a fitting end for the story of a people dedicated to Moshe’s great command, “Choose life” (Devarim 30:19).

Commentary on Chad Gadya,
The Jonathan Sacks Haggadah

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Reflect

Living at the turn of the 21st century, do you feel this song and the message behind it is still relevant to Jewish history?

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FURTHER THOUGHTS

So, having earlier expressed the Jewish hope, “Next year in Jerusalem,” we end our Seder night with the universal hope that the Angel of Death will one day be defeated by the long-overdue realisation that God is life; that worshipping God means sanctifying life; that God’s greatest command is “Choose life” (Devarim 30:19); that we bring God into the world by reciting a blessing over life.

I find it almost unbearably moving that a people that has known so much suffering can summon the moral courage to end this evening of Jewish history on a supreme note of hope, and write it into the hearts of its children in the form of a nursery rhyme, a song. For what we give our children on this night of nights is something more and greater than the bread of oppression and the taste of Jewish tears. It is a faith that in this world, with all its violence and cruelty, we can create moments of redemption, signals of transcendence, acts of transfiguring grace. No people has risked and suffered more for a more slender hope, but no hope has lifted a people higher and led it, time and again, to greatness. So we end the night with a prayer and a conviction. The prayer: “God of life, help us win a victory over the forces of death.” And the conviction? That by refusing to accept the world that is, together we can start to make the world that ought to be.”

One Little Goat,
The Jonathan Sacks Haggadah

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Reflect

What is the main focus at the end of the Haggadah, and how is it different from the beginning of the Haggadah?

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Questions to Think About (and Ask) at your Seder

  1. Why do you think we end the Seder with a song for children?
  2. How do you think the message of the song is connected to the Seder night?
  3. How does this song connect to our lives today?
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Experiencing the Seder

Ask every person at your Seder table in turn to share what their hopes for the next year are: hopes for themselves, for the Jewish people, and for the world.

EDUCATIONAL COMPANION

HALLEL

  1. It is hard to know where to start. But it is important to articulate all the things God did for the Israelites and how we benefit from these acts until this day. In the words of the Haggadah itself, “And if the Holy One, blessed be He, had not brought our fathers out of Egypt – then we, and our children, and the children of our children, would still be enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt.”
  2. If one is comfortable finding words that articulate genuine emotion, then there is room for that in our prayers. But for many this is a challenge, and so we fall back on the exquisite words of our greatest poets and spiritual leaders, to give us the words we need. Our challenge is then to channel our emotions into these words.
  3. For some, words capture the feelings and emotions that we need to express. But for others, only music can connect to our soul to do this sufficiently. While Rabbi Sacks was a masterful wordsmith and orator, he acknowledged that music has a spiritual power far beyond words

NIRTZAH

  1. They should (and do) because this section refers to a rebuilt Jerusalem in Messianic times when the Temple exists (allowing us to celebrate Pesach as originally described in the Torah) in a redeemed world of peace. This has clearly not been achieved yet, and so to pray for this at the end of the Seder night, even while sitting in the beautiful rebuilt modern city of Jerusalem, is appropriate.
  2. The Exodus is the beginning of a journey that we are still on. The destination of this journey is a rebuilt Jerusalem in a redeemed world of peace. We hope that this can be achieved in time for next year’s Seder.
  3. All the chaggim are special and unique in Israel. There is something very powerful about celebrating a Jewish festival in a Jewish state. It is also easier to remember that we are closer to the final destination of the Jewish journey now than at any point in history, when sitting in the ancient Jewish homeland, rebuilt in modern times.

CHAD GADYA

  1. The whole of the Seder is focused on children, and on transmitting our heritage to the next generation. This song (and the others at the conclusion of the Seder) are fun to sing, and also contain a strong educational message. A great way to end the Seder night journey.
  2. The message of Chad Gadya is that while it may seem during our history that there are powerful forces who will dominate and even destroy us, these forces come and go, and only God decides who survives in the long term. And if you consider Jewish history, it is clear that He has decided that the Jewish people have a destiny to fulfil, and therefore we have outlasted all these powerful nations who have tried to destroy us.
  3. Modern Jewish history reflects this same message. In the 20th century, an enemy of the Jewish people came closer than ever before to wiping them out, yet not only did the Jewish people survive, but in fact just three years later returned to their ancestral homeland, and re-established sovereignty there, and are now thriving like never before. We are part of a generation that is living the fulfilment of the message of this song.

Ceremony and Celebration Family Edition

The Ceremony & Celebration: Family Edition resources are designed for kids and students of all ages, to help them discover new insights within the Jewish festivals and to encourage dynamic discussion around your Yom Tov tables.