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Our Better Halves

By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow

The second perek of Maseches Megillah starts by discussing the laws of someone who read the Megillah l’mafreiah. If someone read the Megillah out of order, he has not fulfilled his obligation. The Kotzker Rebbe offered a homiletic interpretation. Someone who reads the Megillah simply as a story from the past has not fulfilled his obligation. The reader must apply the lessons learned from the Megillah to the present. Divine Providence is constantly guiding current events, though it may not be readily apparent. A person who fails to see the application to his life has failed to fulfill the intent of the Megillah reading.

The Gemara proceeds to apply a similar law to Hallel. If someone reads Hallel out of order, he has not fulfilled his obligation. This certainly applies to one who reads the verses in any given paragraph out of order. Many Acharonim take this halachah further and are of the opinion that even if one reads the paragraphs of Hallel out of order he has not fulfilled his obligation. (MB 422:26).

The Chofetz Chaim finds it peculiar that the Shulchan Aruch chose to codify this law about the recitation of Hallel in the midst of other Rosh Chodesh laws. The recitation of Hallel on Rosh Chodesh is purely based on custom. On any day when the recitation of Hallel is mandated, full Hallel must be recited. A custom developed to recite Hallel on other days as well. To differentiate those days from the days when Hallel is mandated, verses are skipped. On Rosh Chodesh, for example, only half-Hallel is recited. Actually, half-Hallel is a misnomer; “85% Hallel would be more accurate. We simply skip 22 pesukim from the complete Hallel. When we recite half-Hallel, we don’t say the first 11 pesukim of chapters 115 and 116, but we do recite the remainder. The import of half-Hallel is that it is the Hallel that contains some half-chapters, not that it is half of the original Hallel.

The Chofetz Chaim wonders how the Shulchan Aruch could write that if someone recites Hallel out of order on Rosh Chodesh he has not fulfilled his obligation. There is no obligation to recite Hallel on Rosh Chodesh! The Shulchan Aruch writes that the Rambam and all the communities in Eretz Yisrael did not recite a berachah before or after the recitation of Hallel on Rosh Chodesh. The Shulchan Aruch must mean that the person who recites Hallel on Rosh Chodesh out of order has not fulfilled the custom. However the term the Shulchan Aruch employs of “lo yatza” generally refers to a bona fide obligation.

The Chofetz Chaim raises another point. Generally, if one skipped a verse in Hallel, he must return to the spot of his error and continue Hallel from there. He cannot simply say the skipped verse when he realizes his error. The Chofetz Chaim wonders how this could possibly apply to Hallel on Rosh Chodesh. On Rosh Chodesh, we intentionally skip verses. The common convention is to skip the first 11 pesukim of 115 and 116, but any verses can be skipped. If a person skipped any verse on Rosh Chodesh, he may continue his recitation. He need not return to correct his error. So how could the Shulchan Aruch imply that if one recited a verse out of order he has not fulfilled the custom? Even if one eliminated any verse entirely he has still fulfilled the custom!

The Chofetz Chaim suggests that perhaps it is true that any verse may be skipped without issue. The Shulchan Aruch is teaching us that if a person tries to correct his mistake by reciting the skipped verse wherever he happens to be up to, he has not fulfilled the custom of reciting Hallel on Rosh Chodesh. Saying a verse in the wrong place is much worse than simply skipping a verse. If he had just left well enough alone, and not recited the skipped verse, everything would have been fine. But reciting a verse in the wrong place is a violation of the need to recite Hallel in order.

Another time when we have a custom of reciting half-Hallel is on the last days of Pesach. Why wasn’t full Hallel mandated on those days? The reason offered in the Talmud (Arachin 10a–b) is that after the first day of Pesach, the Mussaf sacrifices are identical each day, whereas on Sukkos a unique Mussaf sacrifice is offered each day. The Mussaf sacrifices are indicative of the character of the yom tov. By mandating the same sacrifice for each day of Pesach, the Torah is teaching us that the character of each day remains the same throughout the yom tov. However, the varied sacrifices of Sukkos reveal to us that each day of the holiday is different from the others.

Therefore, in honor of the special meaning of each day of Sukkos, represented by different sacrifices, a complete Hallel is recited. The latter days of Pesach do not have this special characteristic; consequently, Hallel was not mandated (as explained by Rabbi Ari Z. Zivotofsky, Ph.D., in Jewish Action).

Still, since the latter days of Pesach are still holidays, a custom developed to recite half-Hallel. As noted above, some Rishonim are of the opinion that one does not recite a berachah over half-Hallel since we generally do not recite a berachah over something that is purely based on a minhag.

When the Mishnah Berurah explains why only half-Hallel is recited on the last day of Pesach, he offers a totally different reason. His source is a Gemara in Megillah (10b) and a Midrash quoted by the Beis Yosef and Taz. The Gemara says that the angels wished to recite shirah while the Egyptians were drowning in the Yam Suf but Hashem stopped them. Hashem said, “My creations are drowning in the sea and you are reciting shirah?” Just as the angels did not recite shirah on the seventh day of Pesach (at night), we also do not recite Hallel on the seventh day.

The first obvious problem with this explanation is that it fails to explain why only half-Hallel is recited on chol ha’moed. The Egyptians drowned on the seventh day, not on chol ha’moed. Some Acharonim explain that it would be inappropriate to recite full Hallel on chol ha’moed and only half-Hallel on the seventh day, which is a full-fledged yom tov. That would seemingly lend more importance to chol ha’moed than to yom tov. Once we instituted that Hallel should not be recited on the seventh day, perforce Hallel had to be eliminated on chol ha’moed as well. As explained above, a custom nevertheless developed to recite half-Hallel on chol ha’moed as well as the final days of Pesach.

Why is there a need for an alternative explanation for the recitation of only half-Hallel in addition to the one already mentioned in Arachin? The Kollel Iyun HaDaf offered the following answer in their publication Thoughts on the Daily Daf on Arachin. There are two basic reasons for reciting Hallel. First, we recite Hallel on festival days in order to praise Hashem as we celebrate His festival. Second, we recite Hallel in order to commemorate a miraculous salvation from danger. The Gemara in Arachin is explaining why we do not recite the full Hallel on all of the days of Pesach because of the first reason, since each day is called a mo’ed. The reason offered is that the ensuing days of Pesach are not considered independent mo’adim, as we see from the fact that each day does not have its own unique korban (as does each day of Sukkos).

The Midrash, however, is addressing a different question: why do we not recite the complete Hallel on the last day of Pesach because of the miraculous salvation (Kriyas Yam Suf) that occurred on that day (the second reason)? The Midrash answers that since some of Hashem’s creations were destroyed by this miracle, it is not fitting to recite Hallel to commemorate such a salvation. This clearly answers our first question as well. The reason mentioned in the Midrash was only meant to explain why we don’t complete Hallel on the seventh day of Pesach, not chol ha’moed. The complete Hallel is not recited on chol ha’moed because there was no significant miracle that occurred on those days and their yom tov status does not require Hallel as explained in the Gemara in Arachin.

Some questions still remain. If we are not supposed to recite Hallel or shirah on the day that the Egyptians drowned, why did the B’nei Yisrael during the year of Yetzias Mitzrayim sing Az Yashir on the seventh day? (The Gemara in Pesachim states according to Rabbi Elazar that they recited Hallel as well!) Further, the Gemara states in Megillah (16a) that Mordechai kicked Haman as he was stepping on him to get onto the royal horse. Haman asked Mordechai, “Doesn’t your Torah say, ‘Don’t rejoice at the downfall of your enemy’?” Mordechai responded, “That is only for one’s Jewish enemies.” So why should we curtail our recital of Hallel at all because of the drowning of the gentile Egyptians?

We are forced to conclude that we should recite the full Hallel on the seventh day in commemoration of the great miracle Hashem performed for us. After Kriyas Yam Suf, the Jews recited shirah. This is because we as B’nei Yisrael have a special dispensation to rejoice at the downfall of our non-Jewish enemies. No such exception, however, is extended to the malachim, who are not members of the Jewish nation. The Egyptians were not their enemies per se. The angels therefore could not sing shirah, because Hashem’s creations were drowning. To commemorate the occurrence that the malachim did not sing shirah and to remind us of the accompanying moral lesson, we likewise do not recite full Hallel on the seventh day. We are not mourning the death of the Egyptians, who wanted to kill us; rather we are signifying that the malachim did not sing shirah and that Hashem shows compassion for all of His creations. ϖ

Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead and is a rebbi at Mesivta Kesser Yisroel of Willowbrook. He can be contacted at

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Posted by on July 31, 2014. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.