The Mitzva of Heseiba by Rabbi Howard Jachter  


            This week in anticipation of the Seder we will look at two important perspectives on the Mitzva of Heseiba, reclining during the Seder.  The first approach will be that of the Rav, and the second will be the Brisker Rav (the Rav's uncle, Rav Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik).  Both of these great rabbis present very important insights into this aspect of our Sedarim.


The Rav - The Definition of Heseiba

            The Rav (Siach Hagrid no.14) asserts that Heseiba means that one inclines to the left and leans on a bed or any other object.  However, if one merely reclines without leaning on something, he does not fulfill the Mitzva of Heseiba thereby.  Heseiba by definition means leaning upon some object.

            The Rav Cites Pesachim 108a as proof for this assertion.  The Gemara records Abaye's recollection of how as a Yeshiva student the students did not have beds to recline upon, but rather each student leaned on the thigh of the student to their left.  The Rav points out that the students did not merely lean to the left.  Instead, we find that they leaned on something i.e. their neighbor's thigh.  The Rav at his Seder used to adjust his chair to the left so that he would be inclining upon the back of his chair. 

            Rav Ephraim Greenblatt (a contemporary Posek whose hallmark is his שימוש, training study, with a wide range of great Rabbinic figures of the past five decades) told this author that he saw many Gedolim who performed Heseiba at the Seder by leaning upon a chair or a table.  Thus it appears there is anecdotal evidence that many great authorities concur with the Rav's contention.  The Rav believed that one should be very careful about this aspect of Heseiba.  It is appropriate to educate those present at one's Seder of this important point.


The Brisker Rav - Analysis of a Disagreement between the Rosh and the Rambam

            The Brisker Rav (in his commentary to the Rambam's Hilchot Chametz U'Matzah 7:7) presents an analysis of the nature of the Mitzva of Heseiba.  He presents two approaches to the Mitzva of Heseiba, that of the Rosh and the Rambam.


The Rosh - Heseiba Linked to the Mitzva of Matzah and the Four Cups of Wine

            The Rosh (Pesachim 10:20) asserts that if one fails to perform Heseiba while eating Matzah or drinking the first two of the four cups of wine, he must repeat these Mitzvot.  The Rosh cites the Talmud (Pesachim 108a) as proof for this assertion.  The Gemara states that if a waiter ate a כזית of Matzah while reclining, he fulfills his Mitzva.  The Rosh explains that this refers to the Mitzva of Heseiba.

            The Brisker Rav explains that the Rosh believes that Heseiba is not an independent Mitzva.  Rather it is a part of the Mitzva of Matzah and the four cups of wine.  Thus, if one has not eaten his Matzah will doing Heseiba, he has not fulfilled the Mitzva of Matzah.  This also explains why the Rosh doe not state that it is preferred to eat the entire meal while reclining.  For the Rosh, there is nothing accomplished by reclining at a time other than eating Matzah or drinking the four cups of wine.

The Rambam

            The Rambam (Hilchot Chametz U'Matzah 7:7), on the other hand, disagrees with the Rosh on both accounts.  The Rambam writes explicitly, that it is best to be engaged in Heseiba throughout the Seder meal.  The Rambam does not, however, mention that one does not fulfill the Mitzva of Matzah and the four cups of wine if he fails to recline.  The Brisker Rav explains that the Rambam views Heseiba as being an independent Mitzva separate from the Mitzva of Matzah and the four cups of wine.  According to the Rambam, when we eat Matzah and drink the four cups of wine we are required ()חייב to recline.  However, if one reclines when eating the meal he also fulfills the Mitzva of Heseiba (קיום מצוה).  In the Rambam's opinion there is not point in repeating the Mitzva of Matzah of the four cups of wine if one failed to recline during the performance of these Mitzvot.  Once one has fulfilled the Mitzva of Matzah, there is nothing accomplished if he repeats this Mitzva.

            The Brisker Rav suggests that the source of the Rambam is also the aforementioned waiter case.  The Rambam would explain that he fulfills the Mitzva of Heseiba if he eats a כזית of Matzah while reclining.  The Brisker Rav adds that the Gemara implies that inclining while eating Matzah is merely fulfilling the basic requirement of Heseiba.  The implication is that the ideal fulfillment of the Mitzva of Heseiba involves inclining not only while eating but also throughout the meal.


Shulchan Aruch

            The Mechaber (Orach Chaim 472:7) rules in accordance with the Rosh that one must repeat the Mitzva of Matzah and the first two of the four cups of wine if he failed to perform Heseiba.  The Rema, interestingly, cites the Rambam's opinion that it is best to recline throughout the Seder.  The Rema, it should be noted, does not appear to be disagreeing with the Mechaber.  There are two possible explanations of the fact that the Rema and seems to believe that both the Rosh's and Rambam's stringencies are normative Halacha.  One approach is that the Rema is ruling על צד היותר טוב, "playing it safe" by ruling in accordance with both the Rambam's and Rosh's חומרא.  However, it is also possible that the Rema believes that Heseiba has a dual nature (to use a "Gush term," שני אספקטים).  Namely, that on one hand it is a Mitzva to demonstrate our freedom independent of the Mitzva of Matzah and the four cups of wine.  However, Heseiba is also a part of the Mitzva of Matzah and the four cups of wine.

            The Rav (Shiurim L'Zecher Abe'e Mori Zal II:162) demonstrates that Matzah is not only a Mitzva of סיפור יציאת מצרים, telling the story of the exodus of Egypt.  It therefore makes sense that part of the Mitzva of Matzah involves reclining as free individuals during our consumption of Matzah.



The Opinion of the Raavya

            The Rema nevertheless rules that one need not repeat eating Matzah if he forgot to recline when consuming Matzah.  In such a situation, the Rema believes that we would rely on the Raavya's opinion that the Mitzva of Heseiba does not apply anymore.  The Raavya (Pesachim 525 and see Encyclopedia Talmudit 9:531 n.46 for a list of other Rishonim who subscribe to this view) asserts that the Mitzva of Heseiba applies only in a culture in which reclining demonstrates freedom.  Today, when people no longer recline in beds when eating, as was common in the Greco-Roman era, the Mitzva of Heseiba no longer applies.


Rejection of the Raavya

            The Haghot Maimoniot (to Rambam's Hilchot Chametz U'Matzva 7:7) already dismisses the Raavya's opinion as a דעת יחיד (a lone opinion rejected by the consensus of opinions among Rishonim).  The Aruch Hashulchan (O.C. 472:3) suggests that today Heseiba serves an additional purpose.  Today, it serves motivates children to ask why Pesach night is different that other nights, along with the other שינויים (behavior) changes we engage in at the Seder to arouse the child's interests.

            May we all merit making Aliya as soon as possible and help Medinat Yisrael develop intoימות המשיח .  לשנה הבאה בירושלים הבנוייה!

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