The author of the Haggadah tells us, “... מִצְוָה עָלֵינּו לְסַפֵּר בִּיצִיאַת מִצְרָיִם וְכָל הַמַּרְבֶּה לְסַפֵּר בִּיצִיאַת מִצְרַיִם הַרֵי זֶה מְשׁוּבָּח./… It is incumbent upon us to tell the story of the Exodus. Whoever tells the story of the Exodus at length is praiseworthy.” It’s only natural that a freed slave will tell over the story of his freedom and praise the one who set him free. The Gemara mentions this in the following dialog, “Rav Nachman asked his servant Daru, ‘What should a freed slave say to his master who freed him and gave him silver and gold?’ Daru answered, ‘The freed slave should thank and praise the master!” In fact, the Sfas Emes explains that the reason we do not say a brachah before this mitzvah is because we would do it even if it were not a mitzvah.
Besides this obvious point of praising the One who set us free, what significance is there in telling the story at length to the point where the author of the Haggadah relates the story of the five sages in Bnei Brak who spent the entire night telling the story of the Exodus? The Sfas Emes explains that telling the story, to some extent, activates the power of redemption for the nation as a whole and for the individuals who are telling the story in particular. Telling the story affects us.
When the author says that it is praiseworthy to tell the story at length, he does not mean that telling the story at length is a praiseworthy activity. Rather, he means that the activity of telling the story at length affects us, making us praiseworthy. Just as the Exodus itself was a preparation for receiving the Torah and the yoke of heaven a few months later, so too, telling the story of the Exodus affects so that we too, merit receiving the Torah and the yoke of heaven.
Conventionally, when the author of the Haggadah advises us to tell the story of the Exodus at length, he is referring to the requirement of telling the story on the first night of Pesach. However, in addition to this mitzvah, it is also a mitzvah to remember the Exodus every single day, “... לְמַעַן תִּזְכֹּר אֶת־יוֹם צֵאתְךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם כֹּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ/… so that you will remember the day of your departure from the land of Egypt all the days of your life.” The Sfas Emes teaches that the author’s advice to tell the story at length applies not only to the night of the Seder. It applies, as well, to the mitzvah of remembering the Exodus every single day.
In fact, it is not farfetched to say that the night the sages in Bnei Brak spent telling the story of the Exodus was not the first night of Pesach but rather some other night. Assuming that it was the first night of Pesach is difficult. Firstly, what is this story of the sages coming to teach us? Is it not obvious that these great sages would fulfill the mitzvah as best they could, spending the entire first night of Pesach fulfilling the mitzvah of telling the Exodus story and singing God’s praises? Would it not be superfluous to advise us to fulfill the mitzvah of lulav, for example, the way Rebbi Akiva did? The way the sages fulfilled this mitzvah, then, is certainly no proof that there is significance to telling the Exodus story at length over and above simply fulfilling the mitzvah to the best of our ability.
Secondly, if the sages’ discussion in Bnei Brak took place on the first night of Pesach, it may very well be teaching us something else entirely. It is likely that the sages would have started discussing the Exodus before fulfilling the mitzvos of eating matza and maror, as we do. Chazal teach us that a person who is busy with one mitzvah is absolved from performing a different mitzvah that may present itself at the same time. This principle would apply particularly when the mitzvah of telling the story of the Exodus conflicts with the mitzvos of eating matza and maror. The reason is that after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, since we do not bring a Pesach sacrifice, there are opinions that eating matzos and maror are rabbinical mitzvos, not biblical ones. The mitzvah of telling the story of the Exodus, on the other hand, is biblical even when there is no Pesach sacrifice.
It is very possible, therefore, that the sages forgot to eat matza and maror on the night of the Seder because they were intensely involved in fulfilling the biblical commandment of remembering the Exodus. In this case, there is certainly no proof that speaking of the Exodus at length is praiseworthy. We would learn instead, that the mitzvah of remembering the Exodus takes precedence over the mitzvos of eating matza and maror.
However, on nights other than the first night of Pesach we are required only to remember the Exodus, not necessarily to tell the story. As well, on other nights there are no additional mitzvos. If we say that the sages in Bnei Brak spent a different night expounding at length about the Exodus, this would constitute clear proof that there is special significance to spending lots of time telling the story of the Exodus. Remembering the Exodus through telling its story and cultivating a strong sense of gratitude to God for freeing us and bringing us close to Him, actually brings us close to Him and prepares us for receiving the Torah. May we merit it during these days prior to receiving the Torah.