Pesachim 95

Hallel at the seder.

Today’s daf opens with a mishnah:

What is the difference between the paschal lamb offered on the first Passover and the paschal lamb offered on the second Passover? On the first Passover, it is prohibited to own leavened bread due to the prohibitions: “it shall not be seen” (Deuteronomy 16:4) and, “it shall not be found” (Exodus 12:19). On the second Passover, one may have both leavened bread and unleavened bread with him in the house.

Also, the first Passover requires the recitation of Hallel as it is eaten and the second does not require the recitation of Hallel as it is eaten.

But both first and second Passover require the recitation of Hallel as they are prepared (i.e., as they are slaughtered) and they are both eaten roasted with matzah and bitter herbs, and they override Shabbat.

This mishnah outlines the differences between the paschal offering that is brought on time for the first Passover, e.g. on the 14th of Nisan, and the second Passover (Pesach Sheni) observed a month later on the 14th of Iyyar for those who missed the first due to impurity or being too far from Jerusalem to complete the pilgrimage. The second Passover, we find, is not a full repetition of the first. Certain elements, like the requirement to remove all leaven, are omitted.

Today, Pesach Sheni is a minor holiday for some who have the custom to eat matzah and to refrain from saying Tachanun (supplicatory prayers found in the weekday services but omitted on festivals). Some make the day more spiritually meaningful by talking about the importance of second chances. 

A curious feature of this mishnah is that while both first and second paschal sacrifices require the recitation of Hallel — psalms of praise — as they are being slaughtered, one only recites Hallel while eating the first paschal sacrifice in Nisan. To this day, we recite Hallel at the seder. Part of it is recited prior to the meal and the majority of it is recited after Birkat HaMazon, the blessing after the meal.

Hallel is one of my favorite Jewish liturgical and ritual moments — the epitome of communal singing. Though root for the word “Hallel” means “to praise,” the psalms that make up Hallel (Psalms 113-118) actually encapsulate a wide emotional spectrum.

It is something to imagine what it must have been like, experientially, to say Hallel as one was consuming the paschal sacrifice, as part of the larger project of reliving the liberation that came through the Exodus from Egypt. The emotional complexity of Hallel fits the moment: liberation came for the children of Israel when we left Egypt, yes, but we also then had to learn how to be in the world as free people, receiving a covenant that bound us to God and one another. No sooner did we leave Egypt, in fact, than we began to lose faith that that choice was a wise one. Praise and joy alone don’t capture the complexity of emotion for that moment. 

The spiritual life is not merely about the joys and transcendent moments. For me, it is as much about the sorrows, sadness and rawness of being human. Perhaps that is why the rabbis instituted the recitation of Hallel twice for the first Passover but only once for the second. Those bringing the second Pesach already endured a sense of spiritual separation, making their praise even sweeter.

Read all of Pesachim 95 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on February 24th, 2021. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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