It is a rare and unique ritual in the Passover Seder to recite Hallel at night – at all other times of the year it is not something we ever do. What is more, we recite half of Hallel before the second cup of wine and the other half before the fourth cup of wine. The secret to understanding why we divide the recitation of Hallel is related to the significance of each of these cups.
The four cups of wine each represent different aspects of the festival – the first cup signifies leaving Mitzrayim, the second cup signifies collective salvation, the third cup signifies physical redemption, and the fourth cup signifies the ultimate redemption. So, in essence, the second cup celebrates our redemption from servitude and idolatry while the fourth cup is a hopeful sentiment of a total redemption for the world. Therefore, we recite the first half of Hallel in praise of memory and we recite the second half of Hallel in hope for a brighter future. And when looking at the content of Hallel, this becomes more clear.
Before the second cup of wine, the passages we recite include the following verses:
“raise the infirm from the dust, from the trash-heap elevate the destitute; seat them with nobles, with the nobles of God’s people.” Well, that sure sounds like the story of a people being brought from servitude to freedom, doesn’t it?
“with the going-out of Yisrael from Mitzrayim, the house of Yaakov from a foreign people…” It doesn’t get more explicit than that!
Before the fourth cup of wine, the passages we recite include the following verses:
“The dead do not praise Yah, not those who descend into silence…” The dead do not praise God, the the resurrected will!
“The pangs of death encircle me…but I will walk before Hashem in the lands of the living.” Yup, definitely resurrection.
“Precious in the eyes of Hashem is the death of God’s pious ones. Please, Hashem, since I am your servant, I am your servant the child of your maidservant, open my chains…My vows to Hashem I will repay with all of God’s people. In the courtyards of the House of Hashem inside Yerushalayim, Halleluyah.” Perhaps not the Temple of the past, but rather the Temple yet to be built!
“Praise Hashem, every nation; extol God, all peoples…” Sounds like Messianic times to me!
“Open for me the gates of righteousness, I will enter them and be grateful to Yah. This is the gate for Hashem, righteous ones enter it.” I think the theme is clear by this point…
“This is the day Hashem made! Let us celebrate and rejoice in it!”
“Please, God, save us! Please, God, give us success!”
“Give thanks to Hashem, God is good. God’s kindness is forever.”
“From always and forever you are God.” Quite clear.
The divided recitation of Hallel reminds us that Passover is not just about a shared collective memory, it is also a dedication to a shared collective future.