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The Shulchan Aruch (OC 472:2) rules like the Tur that one should have nice vessels at the seder.

The Gra s.k. 3 writes:

שזהו בכלל דרך חירות

This is included in the way of cheirus (freedom)

Whereas the Shulchan Aruch HaRav writes:

אע"פ שבכל השנה טוב למעט בכלים נאים זכר לחורבן מכל מקום בליל פסח טוב להרבות בכלים נאים כפי כחו אפילו הכלים שאין צריך לסעודה יסדרם יפה על השולחן לנוי זכר לחירות

Even though the rest of the year it is proper to limit ones nice vessels, in memory of the destruction of the Temple, nevertheless on the night of Pesach it is good to increase one's nice vessels, according to one's means. Even the vessels that have no purpose for the meal, arrange them nicely on the table for beauty, in memory of cheirus (freedom)

What is their machlokes? Is there one? They're formulating this halacha differently....(worth noting Rashi on the Mishnah says הסבה (leaning, the topic of Simman 472) is זכר לחירות).

Is it that the Gra means that we act free (since we are, as each Jew should view themselves as if they were freed from Egypt), and the Shulchan Aruch HaRav means that we aren't free, but they were, so we do it in memory of their cheirus. Or do they mean the same thing, or something entirely different.

Edit: I remembered what my basis for the question was. I saw the Dirshu Mishnah Berurah presented this as a machlokes. If they are correct, I would like to understand what they are arguing about. The following is what they wrote:

דרך חירות - וכן דעת הגר"א...שהוא דרך חירות ממש, ולא כמו שכתב השו"ע הרב שהוא זכר לחירות

(The Mishnah Berurah wrote) the way of freedom - the Gra wrote similarly...that it is literally the way of freedom (to have nice vessels), unlike the Shulchan Aruch HaRav who wrote that it is in memory of freedom.

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    I think you're reading too much into this. When the Alter Rebbe says "zecher lecheirus" he's not indicating we aren't free - just indicating we're specifically celebrating the freedom Bnei Yisroel got when they left Egypt. – ezra Mar 20 '18 at 3:46
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While I personally have my doubts that there is a difference between them, Itamar Adler outlines a potential difference in these two categories vis-a-vis the Mitzvah of Haseibah. According to him, "Zecher Lecheirus" is doing actions that help us relive specifically the freedom of our ancestors, and Derech Cheirus is something that we do now to feel free:

אם כן, ניתן לדבר על אחד משני יסודות במצוות הסיבה:

  1. זכר לחירות אבותינו, על ידי מעשה המשחזר את החוויה של אבותינו.

  2. דרך להרגשת החירות, על ידי מעשה שנועד ליצור אצל המיסב תחושה של בן-חורין.

Based on this, the Gra understands that we should use nice vessels so we feel free nowadays, whereas the Shulchan Aruch Harav holds that we are using them because our ancestors used nice vessels when they left Mitzrayim in order to show their freedom.

(I would suggest reading the article itself for the full effect.)

...And then I shock myself further by finding an article that discusses the Shulchan Aruch Harav's approach to the difference between the two terms. I would appreciate if someone could help me understand it, though.

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