Beit Midrash

  • Pesach
To dedicate this lesson
Chapter Sixteen-Part Three

The Mitzva of Reclining


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

10.The Mitzva of Reclining
The Sages ordained that one recline while eating matza and drinking wine at the Seder, because in every generation one must give the appearance of having just been freed from Egyptian bondage, as it is stated: "He rescued us from there" (Devarim 6:23). This reclining is called "hasava," and it was instituted so that a sense of liberation would be apparent in one’s behavior (MT, Laws of Ĥametz and Matza 7:6-7).
One who is burdened with a task usually sits upright so that he will be able to rise at once when the time comes for him to carry out his work. Even though sitting upright requires some effort on the part of the back muscles and creates a state of constant tension, the need to be ready for action requires this state of alertness. However, one who has no burdens can lean back and lie on his side restfully, allowing all of his back muscles to relax. This is how we eat on the Seder night, in the manner of the liberated.
In the past, people would sit on pillows and cushions, which meant that sitting erect indeed required effort. In such circumstances, hasava – the position between sitting and lying down, where the entire body reclines on a couch or on pillows and cushions – was very comfortable and demonstrated a sense of freedom. But today, people sit on chairs and are not accustomed to reclining on couches or eating while reclining to the side. In fact, if one were to eat while reclining on a couch these days, it would be more burdensome than comfortable. Therefore, according to Raavya and Raavan, two leading Rishonim, there is no mitzva to practice hasava nowadays. However, most Rishonim maintain that since the Sages mandated reclining at the Seder, their ordinance stands firm, and there continues to be a mitzva to eat matza and drink the four cups of wine while reclining (Rambam, Rosh, Tur, SA 472:2). Today we recline by leaning against the back left of our chairs.
The requirement of hasava applies when eating a kezayit of matza, a kezayit of korekh, a kezayit of afikoman, and while drinking the four cups of wine. It is commendable to recline during the rest of the meal as well, but if one finds this uncomfortable, there is no obligation (MT, Laws of Ĥametz and Matza 7:8). One need not recline while eating the maror (MB 475:14, based on Beit Yosef). One should not recline while reciting Birkat Ha-mazon, which must be recited with awe and reverence (SA 183:9). Likewise, it is customary to refrain from hasava while reading the Hagada, so that it is recited with full concentration and seriousness (MB 473:81, based on Shlah).
11.How to Recline
Nowadays, people are not used to reclining on couches while eating, and it is therefore necessary to explain how to perform hasava in a chair on the Seder night. Instead of sitting erect with one’s back against the seat back, one slides his bottom forward to the middle of the seat so that he may lean back against the chair back, and tilts to the left. If possible, one should use an upholstered chair with armrests, or try to use a pillow to make sitting more comfortable. Regardless, anyone who uses a chair with a backrest fulfills his obligation by reclining against the back of the chair and tilting to the left, for this too is an expression of freedom. After all, an office worker, for example, must sit erect in his chair in order to carry out his work, but one who has no burdens can stretch out, lean back, and rest in liberated manner.
The reason for reclining to the left is that it is easier to eat this way; with the left hand and back reclining against the chair, the right hand, which we generally use, remains free to hold the matza or wine. Additionally, some say that one who reclines to the right runs the risk of choking on his food and suffocating. Because of this risk, it was ruled that even a left-handed person must recline to the left and use his right hand on the Seder night. Be-di’avad, a right-handed person who mistakenly reclines to his right does not fulfill his obligation, but a left-handed person who reclines to the right does (SA 472:3, MB ad loc. 10-11).
If one is sitting in the company of his rabbi or a leading Torah sage, he must ask his permission before reclining, because hasava contains an expression of disrespect and irreverence toward the rabbi, and the mitzva to honor the Torah takes precedence over the mitzva of hasava. But if one receives permission from his rabbi, then hasava no longer constitutes a display of disrespect (SA 472: 5).
12.If One Forgets to Recline
If one eats a kezayit of matza without reclining, he does not fulfill his obligation, as he has not performed the mitzva as the Sages ordained it, and he must eat another kezayit while reclining. Even if one has already recited Birkat Ha-mazon, he must wash his hands again, recite ha-motzi, and eat a second kezayit while reclining. In this case, however, one does not recite the "al akhilat matza" blessing a second time, because, according to Raavya and Raavan, he already fulfilled the mitzva of eating matza with the kezayit he ate without hasava (SA 472:7, MB ad loc. 22).
If one forgets to recline for korekh, he need not eat it a second time, since some poskim rule that korekh does not require hasava because it contains maror. Le-khatĥila, we customarily recline for korekh, but if one forgets to do so, he may rely upon those who maintain that hasava is not necessary. If one eats the afikoman without reclining and he can easily eat another kezayit of afikoman while reclining, he should do so; but if eating another kezayit will be difficult for him, he may rely on Raavya and Raavan, who maintain that hasava is not necessary nowadays. 7
If one drinks one of the four cups without reclining, the poskim are divided over whether or not he must go back and drink it a second time. According to Shulĥan Arukh, he must indeed drink the cup again, this time reclining. According to Rema, though, this creates a problem, because by drinking again one appears to be adding to the number of cups ordained by the Sages. Therefore, if one drinks the second of the four cups without reclining, he must drink it again with hasava, because the second cup precedes the meal, and since it is permissible to drink wine during the meal, one who drinks at this point does not appear to be adding to the required four cups. But if one forgot to recline while drinking the first, third, or fourth cup, he may not go back and drink it a second time, because by doing so he would appear to be adding to the mitzva. He may rely on Raavya and Raavan who maintain that nowadays, when even important people are not accustomed to reclining, one need not perform hasava on the Seder night (SA 472:7, MB 21 ad loc.).
Shulĥan Arukh’s ruling that one must drink any of the four cups again with hasava, and Rema’s similar ruling about only the second cup, are le-khatĥila. If drinking again is difficult, one may rely on what he drank without hasava and need not drink again. 8
Women should preferably recline while eating matza and drinking the four cups of wine, but if they forgot, they need not eat or drink again. Important women who accidentally eat matza without reclining should eat it again while reclining. 9
13.May One Drink after the First Cup?
Technically, one who wishes to drink after the first of the four cups may do so, but one should preferably not drink between the first and second cups so that he does not become intoxicated to the point of being unable to read the Hagada with proper concentration. However, it is permissible to drink non-alcoholic beverages such as grape juice or any other juice (SA 473:3, MB 16 ad loc.).
If, while reciting the blessing over the wine, one had in mind to drink other beverages, he need not recite a berakha over them, because the berakha over wine covers all beverages. Even if he did not intend to drink other beverages, but they were on the table and there was a chance that he might want to drink them, he need not recite a berakha before drinking them, because the blessing over wine covers these too (see SHT 473:18). 10
A firstborn who fasted on Erev Pesaĥ, or someone so hungry that he finds it difficult to concentrate on reciting the Hagada, may eat foods such as eggs, fruits, potatoes, and kitniyot (for those who eat kitniyot on Pesaĥ) after kiddush. However, he should not eat too much, so that he saves his appetite for the matza. Furthermore, this is only permitted when there is great need. If one can restrain himself, it is best not to eat anything before the meal, because when one eats after kiddush, he runs into the problem of whether he has to recite a berakha aĥarona (and if one eats, he must recite a berakha aĥarona). 11
This eating and drinking is only permissible before one pours the second cup and begins reciting the Hagada. However, after beginning the Hagada, it is forbidden to interrupt by eating or drinking, for reciting the Hagada is like prayer, which cannot be interrupted (BHL 473:3, based on Ramban and Ran; however, it notes that Ha-ma'or and Tosafot permit).
^ 7.. The principle is that when in doubt about a Torah commandment one must be stringent, but when in doubt about a rabbinic enactment one may be lenient. Eating a kezayit of matza is a Torah obligation, and although reclining while eating is a rabbinic obligation, since it pertains to a Torah obligation we are stringent, and if one ate without reclining he must eat again and recline. Conversely, eating korekh and afikoman are rabbinic injunctions, and since according to Raavya and Raavan reclining while eating them is unnecessary, if one ate them without reclining, he would not have to eat again. However, since according to the overwhelming majority of poskim reclining is necessary when eating korekh and afikoman (and this is the halakha), and since it is an easy mitzva to redo, one should redo the mitzva.
Regarding korekh, Rokei’aĥ and Shibolei Ha-leket maintain that one need not recline while eating korekh since it contains maror. Manhig, though, says one should recline during korekh, and this is the view of most Rishonim as well as SA 475:1. However, if one ate korekh without reclining he still fulfills his obligation (Kaf Ha-ĥayim 475:36 in the name of Pri Ĥadash and SAH).
Regarding the afikoman , SA 477:1 states that one must recline while eating the afikoman. Pri Ĥadash, on the other hand, notes that Rambam and the Yerushalmi seem to imply that reclining while eating the afikoman is unnecessary. Based on this, MB 477:4 states that if one forgot to recline and eating another kezayit of afikoman would be difficult for him, he need not eat another afikoman. This is also the opinion of Kaf Ha-ĥayim 472:45 and 477:7. According to Ĥayei Adam 130:13, though, even if one was able to eat another afikoman, it is forbidden to eat the afikoman twice. MB 472:22 quotes this, which seemingly contradicts what he states in 477:4. Perhaps this can be reconciled: if one remembered immediately that he neglected to recline, he should continue eating another kezayit while reclining, but if he already finished eating, he should not go back and eat more, since this would be considered eating the afikoman twice. So states Hilkhot Ĥag Be-ĥag 22:5.
^ 8.. Pesaĥim 108a expresses uncertainty about which of the four cups require reclining – the first two or the last two – and concludes that one must recline while drinking all four cups. Some Rishonim ask why the Gemara rules stringently, to recline during all cups, if the mitzva to drink the four cups is only rabbinic in origin, which should indicate a lenient ruling. Maharam Halawa, Tashbetz, and others answer that indeed the Gemara should have been lenient, but since there is no difficulty involved in reclining, it is best to recline while drinking all four cups. According to this answer, if one drank the cups without reclining, he need not drink again, since, in principle, the Gemara would have ruled leniently were this not such an easy mitzva. In contrast, Rosh says that if one drank any of the cups without reclining, he must drink again. This leads us to the conclusion that the reason we recline during all four cups is not because we are in doubt, but because the Sages in fact decreed that this should be so. This is the opinion of SA 742:7. In practice, since Raavya and Raavan maintain that there is no need to recline nowadays, and we are uncertain about whether or not one is required to drink again, one may be lenient. This is the opinion of Birkei Yosef 472:8 and Kaf Ha-ĥayim 472:42. Ĥazon Ovadia (§13), however, rules in accordance with SA that the leniency to not have to drink again only applies to someone who has difficulty doing so. In sum, Sephardim preferably follow SA that if one drank any of the cups without reclining, he has to drink again, and Ashkenazim follow Rema and only re-drink the second cup. However, if someone, whether Sephardic or Ashkenazic, wishes to be lenient, he may do so, since this is an uncertainty – and possibly a double uncertainty (sfek sfeika) regarding a rabbinic law.
^ 9.. Pesaĥim 108a states that a woman need not recline if she is in her husband’s presence, with the exception of an important woman ("isha ĥashuva"). SA 472:4 rules accordingly. (The rationale is that if reclining in the manner of free people does not reflect an inner sense of freedom, it has no purpose. This is similar to the logic behind a disciple not reclining in the presence of his rabbi.) There are different opinions about what defines an isha ĥashuva – that she is not subservient to her husband, that she is wealthy, that she is pedigreed, or that her husband does not mind if she reclines. Rema states that all women nowadays are considered ĥashuvot, but the custom is nevertheless that they do not recline, as per Raavya, who says that there is no longer a mitzva to recline. In practice, all women from all communities should try to recline, as Knesset Ha-gedola and Kaf Ha-ĥayim (ad loc. 28) state. Many Ashkenazic women in fact do so. But if a woman forgot to recline, she need not eat or drink again, since the mitzva of reclining is rabbinic, and there are several poskim who maintain that women are exempt, either because they are not ĥashuvot or because the view of Raavya is correct. Nonetheless, it seems that women who see themselves as important should recline while eating the Torah-mandated kezayit of matza and refrain from relying on the opinion of Raavya.
^ 10.. According to SAH 473:13 and MB 479:5, if one wants to drink "ĥamar medina" (the alcoholic non-wine beverage locally considered significant), if it requires a new berakha, the beverage is prohibited, since be-di’avad one can fulfill the mitzva by drinking ĥamar medina for all four cups. This is the proper custom. (Ĥemed Moshe forbids even other drinks if one must make a berakha on them. See Kaf Ha-ĥayim 473:40. It remains unclear whether this stringency applies to the Sephardic custom, according to which a berakha is not recited before every cup.)
^ 11.. One would presumably need to recite a berakha aĥarona. Since the food one eats before a meal is not considered part of the meal, he must recite a berakha after finishing the food before beginning the meal. This is the opinion of Ben Ish Ĥai (Naso 4), Kaf Ha-ĥayim 177:7, and Or Le-Tziyon 12:7. In principle, MB 176:2 also rules this way, but states that according to several poskim, if the food is of a type that is not covered by the berakha of ha-motzi, such as fruit, and the person intends to continue eating fruit during the meal, he should not make a berakha aĥarona, since the berakha that he made on the fruit will include the fruit he eats during the meal. Also, since Birkat Ha-mazon covers the fruit that he ate during the meal, it will also cover the fruit he ate before the meal. Consequently, an uncertain situation arises, since according to Rashbam the berakha on the karpas is also supposed to cover the maror. Therefore, SA states that one should specifically eat less than a kezayit of karpas so that he will not have to recite a berakha aĥarona. If one recited a berakha aĥarona over the food he ate after kiddush, that berakha would cover the karpas, and he would be required to make a new berakha on the maror. Perhaps he can have in mind to cover everything except the karpas with his berakha aĥarona, but this demands further investigation. Perhaps we may say that since he is eating after kiddush, the food is considered part of the meal and is covered by Birkat Ha-mazon. The only problem is that according to many poskim, including Ben Ish Ĥai and Kaf Ha-ĥayim cited above, Birkat Ha-mazon does not cover anything eaten before the meal. Moreover, even those who generally maintain that Birkat Ha-mazon covers food eaten before the meal, at the Seder there is a large break between the food eaten after kiddush and the meal, so it would seem that everyone would agree that in this case Birkat Ha-mazon does not cover anything eaten before the meal (Yeĥaveh Da’at 1:2). Indeed, Birkat Ha-mazon covers the wine that one drinks for the first cup, but this wine is different, because it is certainly connected to the meal, since the recitation of kiddush over this wine specifically allows one to partake in the meal. On the other hand, food that is eaten after kiddush might not be connected to the meal. In practice, one who eats after kiddush must recite a berakha aĥarona ("borei nefashot"), but should not recite a borei pri ha-adama on the maror. See R. Harari’s Mikra’ei Kodesh ch. 4, nn. 141 and 142.
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