The Halachos of The Pesach Seder part 1
Rabbi Yochanan Eskenaz
It is a mitzvah for each person to learn hilchos Pesach beginning 30 days before Pesach (Shulchan Aruch 429:1) [i.e. one should begin on Purim] (Mishneh Berurah 429:2). Furthermore, it is a mitzvah on Yom Tov itself to learn hilchos Pesach [hilchos chag b'chag] (Mishneh Berurah 429:1-2).
There are five mitzvos on the first night of Pesach: two mitzvos m'doraisa (Biblical commandments) and three mitzvos m'derabanan (Rabbinical commandment). The mitzvos m'doraisa are: eating a kzayis of matzah [Shemos 12:18] and sipur yetziyas mitzrayim (relating the story of the exodus from Egypt) [Shemos 13:8]. The mitzvos m'derabanan are: daled kosos (drinking four cups of wine), achilas maror (eating bitter herbs) and reciting Hallel.
Both men and women are obligated in all the mitzvos of the Seder (Shulchan Aruch 472:14). Even though it is a mitzvas asei she'hazman grama (time-bound positive commandment), women are still obligated because they were also included in the miracle (Mishneh Berurah 472:44). Therefore, unless a woman has to get up from the table, she should be present the entire time. At a minimum, she must be present for the essential parts of the Haggadah. This includes: Kiddush, the paragraph "Avadim ha'yeenu," and from "Rabban Gamliel omer" thru the drinking of the second cup of wine. Many have the custom that women should be present at the time of reciting the Ten Plagues, in order they should hear all the miracles that Hashem did for the Jewish people (Mishneh Berurah 473:64).
The Torah [Shemos 13:3] states "Remember this day that you left Egypt." A few p'sukim later [Shemos 13:8] the Torah says, "You shall relate to your son [the story of the exodus] on this day, because of this." The Rambam [Hil' Chometz U'matzah 7:1] explains, the words "because of this" imply that we are commanded to fulfill this mitzvah at a time when one is able to point to matzah and marror placed in front of him, which is at the Seder. The Rambam continues: "even someone who does not have children, and even great Talmidei Chachamim who know the story of the exodus, are required to say over the story Pesach night, and whoever elaborates in relating the story is praiseworthy." Ramban [Shemos 13:16] explains the reason why this mitzvah is so important [and why we have numerous commandments that are a remembrance to the exodus of Egypt] is because the story of yetziyas Mitzrayim testifies that in addition to Hashem creating the world, He also knows and is involved in running the world. Therefore, the story is one of the foundations of our belief.
A child who understands the story of yetziyas mitzrayim should be taught. This includes both boys and girls. Generally, children around five or six years old are capable of understanding (Aruch Hashulchan 472:15).
In order to fulfill this mitzvah, in addition to reciting the actual words of the Haggadah, one must also understand what he is saying. Therefore, if there is someone present who does not understand what is being said it should be translated and explained (Rama 473:6). Additionally, one has not fulfilled his obligation, until he has answered his children's questions of mah nishtana (Mishneh Berurah 472:50). Therefore, one should be careful not to send children to bed before you have properly answered them (Halachos of Pesach [Rabbi Shimon Eider, z"l] pg. 217).