What Is The Passover Seder?
The Passover Seder is a Jewish commemorative feast that marks the start of the Jewish festival of Passover or Pesach in Hebrew.
When Is The Seder Held?
The Seder is always held on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan in the Hebrew/Jewish calendar "at evening" - meaning in fact the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan since the Jewish day begins either at sunset or nightfall depending on the authoritative rabbinical opinion one follows. In the Christian or Gregorian calendar, this date is a moving date and so the Seder may fall in either late March or April depending on the year.
Who Performs The Seder?
The Seder is performed either in a family household setting where the ritual has been and continues to be passed down through the generations or in a setting where an entire community is involved, known as a "Public Seder" or "Community Seder." These Seders are organized by schools, synagogues, and community centers for their members with some being open to the public. It is a Jewish tradition to invite strangers and the needy to the Seder because the festive nature of Passover / Pesach requires that we share our joy with others. In addition, the messages of the Passover story highlighted by the celebration of physical and political freedom apply not only to the Jewish people but to all humanity regardless of social or economic standing.
There are different ways of performing the Seder. In a family setting, there is one tradition of having either the youngest male or child read the text from the Haggadah, the 15-Step "instruction manual" for conducting the Seder. Another family tradition has all the participants read the Haggadah text together. Still another family tradition has each person around the Seder table take turns reading from the Haggadah. And still some families prefer to have a single Seder leader conduct the entire 15-Step process. The latter tradition is common in the case of Public Seders or Community Seders. Variations of the above styles are also done.
Where In The Bible Is The Story Of Passover?
The Passover story is told in the biblical Book of Exodus or Shemot in Hebrew and the reason for holding a Seder is based on the biblical commandment from Exodus/Shemot (Exodus/Shemot 13:8) which states : "And you shall tell your son in that day, saying: 'It is because of that which the L-RD did for me when I came forth out of Egypt.'" or more explicitly, "This [Seder] is done because of that [the events of the 10th Plague] which the L-rd did for me when I came forth out of Egypt." From these statements, we derive the Seder's primary purpose which is to tell and re-tell the story of the physical and political liberation and freedom of the Hebrews from slavery in ancient Egypt.
How Is The Seder Conducted?
The Seder is traditionally a time when family and friends gather to read the text of the Haggadah, the 15-Step "instruction manual" for conducting the Seder. "Haggadah" means "telling" in Hebrew in reference to the telling of the Passover story which is contained in its text. The Haggadah's text is derived from the Talmud, specifically from the section or Tractate known as Pesachim (Pesachim 10) of the Mishnah (the first major work of Rabbinic Judaism), which is the principal work of the Talmud. In addition to the narrative of the Exodus from Egypt of the Hebrews, the Haggadah contains special rituals and blessings for the festival, commentaries by rabbinical authorities from the Talmud, known as midrashim (literally meaning "to investigate" or "study" in Hebrew, these are rabbinic interpretations and commentaries of biblical scripture in the form of a homily or sermon), and specific songs for the Passover / Pesach festival.
What Are The Customs Of The Seder?
Seder customs feature the blessing and drinking of four cups of wine, eating unleavened bread known as matzah or matzoh at different points in the 15-Step process of the Seder as well as describing, explaining, and eating the symbolic foods that are placed on the Passover Seder plate prior to the beginning of the Seder. With the exception of local customs/rituals that are added in at specific points in the Seder which vary between different Jewish communities, the 15-Step process for conducting the Seder is a highly structured series of rituals that are performed in a strict and identical order at Seders in all Jewish communities worldwide.
What Are The Themes Of The Seder?
The Seder initially focuses on the theme of slavery, then moves between slavery and freedom to demonstrate and remind us that just as G-d grants us our physical and political freedom, that freedom must be intellectually and emotionally recognized and understood as being precious and sacred to us for circumstances can cause us to easily slip back again to our former state of oppression. The Seder then moves to our present or contemporary state of gratitude to G-d for our redemption and freedoms and then finally turns toward the future when all humanity will attain their physical, political, social, religious, and spiritual freedom in Messianic Times, a time when social harmony, justice, and peace will reign forever. As one can see, the Seder climbs up 15 Steps, moving from a hopeless to a hopeful circumstance where one looks forward to an ideal world. To reach this state of perfection, the Seder's purpose is to remind, reinforce, and instill in all participants the idea that G-d is One, perfect, and rules the world and universe; the spiritual characteristic of G-d is inherent in Messianic Times. As such, our role in attaining this state of spiritual G-dliness or spiritual perfection found in Messianic Times is to develop our personality and character toward becoming more G-d-like by recognizing, intellectually and emotionally accepting, and actively reducing our shortcomings while reaching out to help others who are currently under oppression in its myriad forms. The Seder achieves these goals by symbolizing the lessons learned from the Exodus from Egypt, which led to the subsequent revelation and Redemption at Mount Sinai. This includes the "telling" of the Passover story to the Seder participants, especially to the children who are the future generation, and how the Exodus from Egypt and its symbols, songs, and messages links us with our past, present, and future by the participants' personalizing the Exodus from Egypt in the sense that they must see themselves as if they had personally experienced the Exodus from Egypt. Lively discussions and passionate exchanges of ideas concerning the Seder themes of personal, collective, political, social, religious, cultural, physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual freedoms also help add to the mood of viewing oneself as if one had personally made the Exodus from Egypt in addition to adding to the participants' intellectual and emotional stimulation, integration, remembrance, and awareness of these issues beyond the time of the Seder. By emotionally and intellectually reconnecting and internalizing our ancient history and values, we create a heightened awareness of the sanctity of personal and collective freedoms, family, and community and how they connect and unite us through every generation and provide us with the motivation to carry us forward toward creating the world we all desire and to a time when all humanity will have made the Exodus to total freedom which at that point will usher in Messianic Times.
What Does The Word Seder Mean?
The word Seder means "order" in Hebrew and refers to the 15- Step ordered process for conducting the Seder. It also refers to the unchanging, strict sequence of the 15 steps itself.
What Is The Order Of The Seder?
1. Kadeish [means "cup of sanctification", or "the blessing" in Aramaic; consists of the opening blessings - the blessing over the wine ("Kiddush" blessing), next is a blessing over the festival of Passover, and finally, there is the shehechayanu (or shehecheyanu) ("He Who has kept us in life" in Hebrew) blessing - and then the drinking of the first cup of wine]
2. Ur'chatz (means "and wash" in Hebrew; involves the washing of one's hands prior to eating, an ancient custom)
3. Karpas (means "greens" or "green vegetable" in Hebrew; as a Seder food it is symbolized by a green vegetable appetizer prior to the main meal; involves dipping the Karpas into either salt water or vinegar or lime juice or lemon juice to symbolize the tears the Hebrew shed as slaves in ancient Egypt.)
4. Yachatz (means "dividing" in Hebrew; involves dividing or breaking the middle matzah of three matzot or matzahs lying on top of one another into a larger half and a smaller half, with both halves being known as the "Afikoman" (meaning either "dessert" in Aramaic or derived from the Greek word "epikoman" meaning either "after-dish" or "dessert") whereupon the larger half is hidden away somewhere in the household for the children to find after the Seder meal for the purpose of keeping the interest of the children in the proceedings.)
5. Maggid (means either "preacher", "storyteller", "teller", or "itinerant speaker" in Hebrew; it involves describing the symbolism of matzah, calling for assistance to help all those who are still suffering spiritual and physical slavery, filling the second cup of wine, reciting the Four Questions, the telling or narration of the Passover story, the reciting and describing of the Ten Plagues, then reminding the participants of the miracles that G-d performed for the Hebrews in ancient Egypt and of the obligation to tell the Passover story, then reciting the story of the Four Children or Four Sons, then the singing of "Dayenu" which is a song of praise to G-d, then the recitation of the first two Psalms of Hallel for Passover (from the biblical Book of Tehillim/Psalms : Psalms 113 and 114) which are Psalms of gratitude to G-d, then finally, the blessing over the second cup of wine and then drinking the second cup of wine)
6. Rochtzah (means "washing" or "celebrant washes" in Hebrew; it involves the ritual washing of hands prior to eating unleavened bread/matzah)
7. Motzi (means "bring forth" or "bringing forth" in Hebrew, referring to G-d "bringing forth" bread from the earth; it involves reciting a blessing thanking G-d for "bringing forth" bread from the earth)
8. Matzah (a Hebrew word most popularly and generally believed to be derived from the Hebrew root word "matzatz" meaning either "to squeeze," "to suck out", or "to drain out," where the word matzah refers to loaves of bread that are pressed down, meaning they do not rise, which in turn means that matzah is unleavened bread. Matzah is also less popularly believed to be derived from the Hebrew root word "Natzah" or "Natsah" meaning either "to shoot away" or "to fly," indicating a rapid movement and therefore meaning that the word matzah is bread that was made or done swiftly or hastily, resulting in unleavened bread; the word matzah as well as this step refers to "unleavened bread" in Hebrew; involves reciting the blessing over eating matzah)
9. Maror [means "bitter herb" in Hebrew; involves reciting the blessing over eating the bitter herb. Since the biblical Book of Numbers - known in Hebrew as Bamidbar - states the commandment to eat the paschal lamb "with unleavened bread and bitter herbs" (Numbers/Bamidbar 9:11) where "bitter herbs" is in the plural form, some Jewish communities place a second bitter herb - known in Hebrew as "Chazeret" (meaning "bitter vegetable" in Hebrew) - or even a third bitter herb on the Seder plate.]
10. Koreich (means "wrap" or "wrapping" in Hebrew, connoting a form of sandwich; involves the creation and consumption of a specific type of sandwich that was eaten by the great Sage of late Second Temple times, Rabbi Hillel, in honor of him and the Second Temple)
11. Shulchan Orech (means either "Prepared Table" or "Set Table" in Hebrew; involves setting a table and preparing and placing a meal prior to the participants sitting down at the table as was done by wealthy and free people in biblical times since at Pesach / Passover, we are supposed to be akin to those who were wealthy and free people in biblical times)
12. Tzafun (means "hidden", or "hidden one" in Hebrew; involves locating the Afikoman and taking it out of its hiding place by the children who then bring it back to the Seder table whereupon the Afikoman is broken up into small pieces and eaten by the participants as the dessert, which is what the word Afikoman means in both Aramaic and Greek.)
13. Bareich [means either "He (G-d) Had Blessed", or "To Bless" in Hebrew; involves filling the third cup of wine and then reciting the "Birkat HaMazon" (meaning "Grace After Meals" in Hebrew) blessing, then reciting a blessing over the third cup of wine and then drinking it]
14. Hallel (means "Praise" in Hebrew; involves singing songs of praise to G-d in gratitude for the miracles performed for the Hebrews in the Passover story, and these songs are the final four songs of Hallel for Passover : Psalms 115-118. This step begins with filling a fifth cup of wine for Elijah the Prophet and then from the Haggadah, the significance and purpose of Elijah is described to the participants whereupon the door is opened to welcome Elijah into the household with the participants standing as it is Jewish tradition that Elijah visits every Seder worldwide on Passover Seder night. After a wish by the Seder leader that the spirit of Elijah, the love of G-d, and the inspiration to build a better world will enter into the hearts of all humanity, the door is closed and all participants sit down again at the Seder table. The fourth cup of wine is then filled and the Seder leader invites the participants to join in reciting the second part of Hallel for Passover, that is, Psalms 115-118. The blessing over the fourth cup of wine is then recited and the fourth cup is then drunk. The "Grace After Meals" blessing is then recited. Finally, all participants join in singing Passover songs from the Haggadah as well as songs about freedom and redemption from slavery in general. This concludes the 14th Step.)
15. Nirtzah (means "accepted", or "it should be accepted" in Hebrew; involves formally concluding the Passover / Pesach Seder with a declaration that we hope and feel in confidence that the Seder, which was conducted in detailed accordance with the Passover laws, will be well-received and accepted by G-d and that we hope - with G-ds' help - to next year be assembled in Jerusalem to join Moshiach (the "Messiah" in Hebrew) to welcome and usher in Messianic Times, a time of universal peace, justice, prosperity, and harmony for all humanity. In short, the Passover / Pesach Seder concludes on a high note for all humankind.)
Are There Non-Traditional Seders That Are Held?
Yes. Besides the traditional Seder that is held for family and friends in the family household, there are non-traditional Seders such as the Public Seder or Community Seder that is organized either by different Jewish organizations or by private individuals and held for businesspeople, visiting students, and Jewish travelers. In Israel, where permanent residents hold only one Seder, visiting students from outside the country are usually invited to attend a "second-day Seder" that is hosted either by private individuals or by outreach organizations. This type of Public or Community Seder usually hosts up to 100 students.
Other non-traditional Seders focus on a particular theme related to their philosophy or theology and adapt the messages and interpretations of the traditional Jewish Seder to fit their beliefs, supported by scriptural, theological, and/or philosophical readings. Examples of such non-traditional Seders include the Seders of Messianic-Jews, Christian Seders, Interfaith Seders, Women’s/feminist Seders, the Seders of Gays and lesbians, Vegetarians, Vegans, Jewish-Christian Seders, Black-Jewish Seders, Arab-Jewish Seders, and Labor Seders. Since the late 1990's, during the administration of President Bill Clinton, the staff in the White House held Passover Seders. On April 9, 2009, the first ever Seder known to be hosted and observed by a sitting President of the United States, Barack Obama, was held on the second evening of Passover.
The Passover Seder or Pesach Seder is the highlight of the Passover / Pesach festival. The following discussion describes in general the contemporary version of the Seder meal and how it is celebrated, along with the many symbolisms that are a part of each ordered ritual in the Seder meal. Note that there will be variations in customs when this festive meal is conducted in different countries; different Jewish communities within each country, be it Sephardic, Ashkenazic, Yemenite, Romaniote, Italki or Italian, or other Jewish community rites and their sub-types, and even variations from family to family within each community. To read about the historical origins of the Passover Seder meal from pre-Passover of Egypt times until Roman times in the region of Judea/Israel, when the modern version of this festive meal began to develop, head on over to our Passover Seder Meal History web page. To read about the development of the modern Seder meal with its 15 ordered Steps as described in the Passover Haggadah and outlined below in this web page, steer on over to the section in our Passover Haggadah web page that describes the Origin of the Passover Haggadah.
Note: Regarding all dates on this Passover Seder / Pesach Seder web page, see the footnote near the bottom of this web page.
Passover Seder Night or Nights: Can Jewish People Invite People Of Other Faiths To The Seder?
This is a question I get frequently, so I placed it first. First, a little biblical history. Originally, before the creation of the modern-day Seder meal that is conducted using the 15-step structured formula, the commemoration of Passover or Pesach consisted of slaughtering and eating the Korban Pesach ("Passover sacrifice" in Hebrew, referring to the sacrifice of the lamb for the Passover festival), matzo, and bitter herbs. Since the Korban Pesach symbolized Hebrew/Israelite identity, as it was actually the first mitzvah ("commandment" in Hebrew, referring to a commandment from G-d) given to all of B'nei Yisrael [Exodus 12:3, 12:6 - "Speak to the entire community of Israel, saying: On the tenth of this month, every man must take a lamb for each extended family, a lamb for each household. Hold it in safekeeping until the fourteenth day of this month. The entire community of Israel shall then slaughter (their sacrifices) in the afternoon.], the question of whether or not a person was permitted to participate in the rituals that were part of the commemoration of the Hebrews'/Israelites' Exodus from Egypt depended on whether or not a person was part of B'nei Yisrael (the "House of Israel", collectively referring to the Jewish people). This is referenced in Exodus 12:43 - "G-d said to Moses and Aaron, 'This is the law of the Passover sacrifice: No outsider (read: Gentile) may eat it.'" Thus, only those who were part of B'nei Yisrael could participate in the commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt and its associated rituals, including eating the Korban Pesach. The underlying principle here is that the Korban Pesach represented the uniqueness of the Hebrews/Israelites from other nations. In fact, the entire Passover / Pesach festival represents a symbol for the formation of the Hebrews/Israelites into a nation borne out of a collection of 12 tribes. The Korban Pesach embodies the theme of the development of the Hebrew/Israelite nation and at the same time, embraces the importance of the Hebrews/Israelites (later known as the Jews) both individually and collectively. This is why only circumcised Hebrew/Israelite men - with the covenant of circumcision ("Brit Milah" in Hebrew) being another mark of Hebrew/Israelite identity - could participate in the commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt by eating the Korban Pesach, because uncircumcised Jewish men meant that they were not considered completely part of the Hebrew/Israelite people. The issue of circumcision differentiating a Hebrew/Israelite from a non- Hebrew/Israelite is referenced in Exodus 12:48-49 - "When a proselyte joins you and wants to offer the Passover sacrifice to G-d, every male (in his household) must be circumcised. He may then join in the observance, and be like a native-born (Hebrew/Israelite). But no uncircumcised man may eat (the sacrifice). The same law shall apply both for the native-born (Hebrew/Israelite) and for the proselyte who joins you." After the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E. by the Romans, the emerging rabbinical institutions ended the practice of the Korban Pesach and replaced it with two foods that symbolized the Korban Pesach when they developed the Seder meal and its 15- step structured order: a hard-boiled or roasted egg, and a shank bone. Therefore, since the institution of the hard-boiled or roasted egg and the shank bone into the Seder meal, the issues surrounding the Korban Pesach and who can participate in eating it when commemorating the Exodus from Egypt do not apply anymore.
Despite the ending of the Korban Pesach ritual which prevented people from nations other than the Hebrews/Israelites from eating the Korban Pesach and hence, participating in the commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt, there is a religious prohibition that could possibly prevent people of other faiths from participating in the Seder. The evening of the first day of Passover (if Passover is celebrated for 7 days) or first two evenings of Passover (if Passover is celebrated for 8 days) is/are the Seder day(s) and hence, is/are Yom Tov day(s). The religious laws for the Sabbath ("Shabbat" in Hebrew) and for Yom Tov (literally meaning "Good day" in Hebrew, but in essence, referring to a day that is a "full" holiday or "full" holy-day or in the case of Passover/Pesach, a "full" festival day, meaning all the religious rules for a holiday or festival day apply to this type of day) as well as their source in an "isur d'oraysa ("a prohibition stated DIRECTLY in the Torah" in Hebrew)" state that a Jewish person is not permitted to cook on Shabbat or on Shabbat if it also occurs on Yom Tov. However, a Jewish person is permitted to cook for a Jewish person on Yom Tov (provided Yom Tov does not occur on Shabbat, as mentioned), but is not permitted to cook for people of other faiths on Yom Tov. As well, our Sages forbade even inviting a person of another faith to a Jewish household on Yom Tov (which includes the days when the Passover Seder meal is performed) because they feared the Jewish person would want to cook for the person of another faith and hence, violate the ruling. There are exceptions to this ruling, however, and it concerns circumstances that may result in ill-feeling on the part of the non-Jewish person or the possible loss of a job for the Jewish person at not being invited to the Jewish household on Yom Tov. In those circumstances, our Sages say that the Jewish person may invite the person of another faith, but he or she must add food to the pot before placing the pot on a fire. Other than this exception, adding a special pot of food on a fire for the non-Jew or adding more food to the pot after the pot was placed on the fire are methods which are prohibited for the Jewish person to do for the person of another faith on Yom Tov. So what does this all mean for inviting a person of another faith to the Seder? I knew I'd get around to that sooner or later. If a Jewish person adheres to the laws of the Sages, then he or she, based on the above information, will either: (A) not be able to cook for as well as not be able to invite a person of another faith to the Seder; (B) be able to invite a person of another faith to the Seder, but not be able to cook for them; (C) be able to invite a person of another faith to the Seder, but with regards to cooking for them, will only be able to add food to a pot before placing it on a fire, and will not be able to use a separate pot for the person of another faith. As mentioned, it is prohibited to use a special pot of food that is specifically for the person of another faith or to add food to a pot that is already on a fire. As well, apart from the aforementioned choices, if one chooses to invite a person of another faith to a Seder, and the Seder falls on Shabbat, then the Jewish person cannot cook for both Jewish people (including him/herself) and non-Jewish people but rather, prepare the food before Shabbat and keep the food on a low flame just before, while entering, and during Shabbat so that it remains warm for the Shabbat meals. So which choice applies to you? The answer is that one must consult one's local Halakhic authority, meaning one's local rabbinic authority on Jewish religious law [known as an acronym: CYLHA ("consult your local halakhic authority", in Hebrew)], which is usually a Va'ad Ha'ir ("Jewish Community Council" in Hebrew) or other rabbinic authority that serves a specific geographical area. Some Halakhic authorities will prohibit cooking additional food altogether for a person of another faith at a Seder no matter what method is used, and will translate that view into a total prohibition on inviting people of other faiths to a Seder. So CYLHA! :)
Aside from the traditional reasons concerning whether it is permitted or prohibited to invite people of other faiths to a Seder, a Conservative-Jewish opinion on the issue of inviting people of other faiths to a Seder takes another view. In Chapter 12 of the biblical Book of Exodus ("Shemot" or "Shmot" in Hebrew), the story of the Exodus itself is described. According to Exodus 12, a "mixed multitude" went out of Egypt with the Hebrews/Israelites [Exodus 12:38 - "A great mixture (of nationalities) left with them. There were (also) sheep and cattle, a huge amount of livestock."]. This raises the likelihood that the question may have arisen even at that time since the text stipulates that if you have a "stranger" (read: Gentile) who wants to join in the Passover service, he must be circumcised. From this, some Jewish people have interpreted this to mean that you may not invite people of other faiths who are uncircumcised to the Seder (as far as I know, no one has actually created a method for checking!). However, this belief is countered based on the Haggadic passage "bechol dor vador chayav adam lirot et atzmo k'ilu hu yatza mi'Mitzrayim," which from Hebrew is translated as: "In every generation, each individual (not just each Jewish person) should feel as though he or she had actually been redeemed from Mitzrayim ("Egypt" in Hebrew)." Therefore, in contemporary times at least, many families invite not only Jews who need a place to experience the Seder, but also people from other faiths as well.
Passover Seder : What Is The Ultimate Purpose Of The Seder?
Oy, did I just put myself in a corner! In a nutshell (a kosher one), the ultimate purpose of the Passover Seder is to fulfill G- d's Torah commandment to commemorate the Passover of Egypt, to learn from its many messages, and to pass these messages down to future generations, since the timeless messages of the Passover story are not only relevant to the Jewish people, but to all. The preeminent theme of Redemption in the Passover Seder is foretold in the Passover Haggadah and is two-fold: to be in Israel and to be free. The hope to someday return to be in Israel has been the dream for many centuries. In fact, the Passover Seder begins and ends with the following stated goal: "Next Year In Jerusalem!". For Jews living in Israel, the text reads: "Next Year In Jerusalem Rebuilt!"
In a nutshell, the ultimate purpose of the Seder and its ordered set of rituals is to make an idea tangible. The concepts and realities of slavery and physical freedom may be hard to grasp when we are not experiencing them. The Seder is a tool by which we associate concepts with tangible materials; in other to make an idea concrete. From this, we can get as close as possible to the meaning of the concept that is being described as we perform the ritual so that we are in a sense connecting ourselves with the past as well as making the concepts more true-to-life, that is, more realistic. We envision what it must have been like for the Hebrews in Egypt as we taste the symbolic foods of the Passover / Pesach Seder and Passover / Pesach story. The sensations we take in with our bodies when we eat the symbolic foods combined with the drama of the Passover story / Pesach story that we hear and engage with our minds gives us a complete body-and-mind feeling of what it must have been like for the Hebrews in the Passover story / Pesach story. On Passover / Pesach, we take a festive meal such as the Seder and transform it into a journey of liberation.
Passover Seder Instructions : How Does One Conduct The Passover Seder?
The Passover Seder is conducted using an "instruction manual" known in Hebrew as the Haggadah, which means "telling" or "narration" in Hebrew. The Haggadah is a booklet or manual that contains a 15-step structured process for conducting the Passover Seder according to Jewish religious law, known as "Halakhah" in Hebrew [also transliterated from Hebrew as: Halakha, Halacha, and Halachah; Hebrew: הלכה; the word "Halakhah" derives from the Hebrew word "Halach" meaning "going" or the "(correct) way"; therefore, a literal translation does not yield "law", rather "the way to go." The term Halakha may refer to a single rule, to the literary corpus of rabbinic legal texts, as well as to the overall system of religious law.]. There is usually a designated Passover Seder leader who conducts the Passover Seder, but there are family customs whereby each person at the Passover Seder table takes a turn at reciting sections of the Passover Haggadah. Another custom used at some Passover Seder tables is the collective recitation of the Passover Haggadah text by all participants at the Passover Seder table.
Passover Seder Symbolism : What Is The Enduring, Universal Symbol Of The Passover Seder?
In short, matzo. Matzo is the only symbol among all the symbols at the Passover Seder table that symbolizes both slavery and freedom and that endures down through the generations. This dual symbolism demonstrates the power of G-d to transform a symbol of negative conditions into a symbol of positive conditions as one moves through the 15-step process for conducting the Passover Seder. Matzo is a universal symbol, not just for the Jewish people but for all humankind, as throughout the generations, it has been the goal of all humans to transform their condition from a negative, oppressive state to a positive, physically free state, be it from under a repressive political regime or even from freeing oneself from the catastrophes that arise out of natural disasters. When the Hebrews/Israelites were toiling as slaves, it was matzo that was given to them by the Egyptians. As well, when the Hebrews/Israelites were preparing to leave Egypt, their hasty preparations caused them to bake unleavened bread known as matzo rather than wait for the dough to leaven so that it would become leavened bread. So it was matzo that existed for the Hebrews/Israelites in times of slavery and matzo that existed for them in times of physical freedom. Thus, the dual symbolism of matzo.
Passover Seder Night or Nights: Is There Just One Type Of Passover Haggadah?
No. In fact, to date, there are over 3,000 versions of Passover Haggadahs (plural form in Hebrew: "Haggadot"). The Talmudic rabbis encouraged the Jewish people to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt in as many ways as possible and as a result, there are Haggadahs that interpret the text based on political, social, and religious ideologies in Judaism. Interestingly, while the text of the Haggadah is encouraged to be told in as many ways as possible due to its importance to both the Jewish people and to humankind, the 15-step process used for conducting the Passover Seder that makes up the text of the Haggadah is in a highly structured format. While this seems a contradiction, it is not. The rabbis deemed it important to spread the messages and lessons of the Exodus from Egypt in as many ways as possible but in a way that does not dilute the method of telling the story. This method was originally used because the rabbis wanted persons to easily recall the 15 steps in case Haggadahs were not available where one was located. The method involved using a mnenomic system to create and organize the names for each of the 15 steps so that one could easily recall each of the names due to the rhyming, musical pattern of the names taken collectively. This helped one to easily remember the 15 steps and thus conduct the Passover Seder.
Passover Seder Night or Nights: When do they take place during the Passover Festival?
The most logical place to begin this discussion is to mention the night or nights of the Passover festival on which the Passover Seder takes place. For Jewish people who celebrate the Passover festival for 8 days (Jews living outside of Israel, except for most Reform Jews and some Conservative Jews), the first two evenings of the Passover festival are the Passover Seder evenings; for the Jewish people who celebrate Passover for 7 days (most Reform Jews, some Conservative Jews, and Jews in Israel), only the first evening of the Passover festival is the Passover Seder evening, meaning that for both the 7-day and 8-day celebration of the Passover festival, it is the Passover Seder that opens the Passover festival, as the Jewish day in the lunisolar Hebrew calendar is from sundown to sundown in the solar Gregorian or Christian calendar. Furthermore, by the instructions of G-d as told in the biblical Book of Leviticus, specifically in Leviticus 23:5, the Passover Seder can only be held on the first evening of the Passover festival for the 7-day celebration. The Passover festival was originally celebrated for 7 days as instructed by G-d in Leviticus 23:8. An 8th day was eventually added to the Passover festival by Jewish religious authorities in Israel for Jews living outside of Israel to compensate for the calendrical time differences, for in biblical times, it took more time for Jews living outside of Israel to hear about news from Israel. So, as the Passover festival was extended to 8 days for Jews living outside of Israel, the first two nights of the Passover festival were designated as the nights when the Passover Seder would be celebrated for the 8-day Passover festival celebration, as outlined earlier in this paragraph. The Passover Seder cannot be held on any other day or days during the Passover festival except on the aforementioned days for the 7-day and 8-day celebrations, respectively. The following are the quotes from Leviticus: "23:5 - 'The afternoon of the 14th day of the first month is [the time that you must sacrifice] G-d's Passover offering'; 23:6 - 'Then, on the 15th of that month, it is G-d's festival of matzahs, when you eat matzahs for seven days' ("on the 15th of that month" in the Hebrew calendar means 'at evening' in the Gregorian or Christian calendar, meaning just after sunset, as the Jewish day begins at sundown as previously mentioned. That is why the Passover festival begins at sundown.); 23:7 - 'The first day shall be a sacred holiday to you, when you may not do any service work'; 23:8 - 'You shall then bring sacrifices to G-d for seven days. The seventh day is a sacred holiday when you may not do any service work." The religious calendar of the Passover festivals is as follows: for Jews celebrating the festival for 7 days, the 1st day and 7th, or final day of the Passover festival are called "Yom Tov" days ("Yom Tov" literally means: "Good Day" in Hebrew), and for Jews celebrating the Passover festival for 8 days, the 1st and 2nd days and the 7th and 8th days are called "Yom Tov" days. Yom Tov days are full religious holidays, meaning Jews are not permitted to do most forms of work. The intermediate days or middle days of the Passover festival days are called "Hol Hamoed" days (alternate spellings: "Hol Ha-Moed", "Hol Ha Mo'ed", Chol Ha -Moed", "Chol Hamoed", "Chol Ha Mo'ed"). "Hol Hamoed" in general terms means "the intermediate days" in Hebrew. "Chol" literally translates as "non-holy" in Hebrew (as opposed to "kodesh", meaning "holy" in Hebrew), part of the festival ("Moed" in Hebrew refers to the "appointed time"). Chol Hamoed days also occur for the agricultural Jewish festival of Sukkot. On Chol Ha-Moed days, Jews are permitted to do most forms of work as long as they adhere to specific religious conditions under Halakhah, or religious Jewish law. For this reason, Chol Ha-Moed days are known as half- holidays, where work is permitted but under certain religious conditions. According to Jewish religious law, there are 39 forms of work that are forbidden on Chol Hamoed days. On Shabbat (Sabbath) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) all 39 forms of forbidden work (the 39 "melakhot" in Hebrew) are prohibited. On the Yamim Tovim (the first and last days of Pesach, on Shavuot, Rosh Hashana, the first day of Sukkot and on Shemini Atzeret) the Torah permits work activities that are needed for food. On Chol Hamoed five types of work are permitted, although, once again, the starting point is the 39 prohibitions. However, after the 5 exceptions, quite a lot of work ends up being permitted. The five (permissible) exceptions (listed in the Mishneh Berurah's introduction to Chol Hamoed in Orach Chayim #530) are: 1. "Davar Ha'aveid" - work that will be lost if not done now. (Example: If the produce of a field will be lost if not irrigated, that irrigation is permitted.); 2. "Tzorkhei Hamoed" - things needed for the holiday (Example: If needed, a sukkah can be totally rebuilt.); 3. "Bishvil poeil she'ein lo ma yokhal" - work created to enable a worker to make enough money to eat; 4. "Tzorkhei rabim" - public needs (Example: Fixing a broken city water main is permitted.); 5. "Maasei hediot" - simple acts (Example: Flipping on a light switch, which involves no craftsmanship is permitted.). For Jews who celebrate Passover for 7 days, the Chol Ha-Moed days are the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th days of the Passover festival. For Jews who celebrate Passover for 8 days, the Chol Ha -Moed days are the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th days of the Passover festival.
So now that we know when the Passover Seder takes place, let's move on to what is involved in the 24 hours leading up to the Passover festival and Passover Seder.
The Day Before The Passover Festival and Passover Seder
During the Passover festival, we are forbidden to be in possession of any chametz ("leaven" in Hebrew), so after weeks of cleaning our household of any chametz, that is, of leaven, the 24 hour period before the start of the Passover festival and of the Passover Seder marks the transition period from our ordinary lives which included eating and using leavened products to that of eating and using unleavened products in our lives during the Passover festival. This 24 hour period begins from nightfall (not sunset, nightfall is a little later on) on the day before Passover begins and lasts until sunset on the following day (the day of Passover).
Beginning from nightfall on the night before the start of the Passover festival, we conduct a final search of our household to locate and dispose of any leavened products we may have missed during the weeks leading up to Passover. This is known as the official search for leavened products and in Hebrew, it is called "Bedikat Chametz" ("search for leaven"). There are specific, prescribed guidelines which includes both practises and timelines for what to use to conduct the search for chametz as well as how to conduct the search for chametz in addition to when we must finish eating whatever chametz we choose to finish eating before Passover begins (usually well before noontime on the day before the start of Passover, however, the exact time will vary depending on one's location in the world), how and when to dispose of the chametz (usually before noontime on the day before the start of Passover, however, the exact time will vary depending on one's location in the world), and/or "sell" any remaining chametz that we discover after conducting the search and having disposed of the chametz, usually either to a rabbi or to a person of another faith to "hold" for us until after the Passover festival is completed, whereupon we "buy back" the chametz from them. After noontime has passed, chametz is out of our possession and mind and it is at this point we are ready for the Passover festival.
From midday onward, we use the remaining time to prepare the Passover Seder table, which includes setting up and arranging the Passover Seder plate ("Ke'arah" in Hebrew, meaning either "Platter" or "Plate") which contains most of the symbolic foods for the Passover festival, as well as a separate plate which contains another symbolic food, matzo; specifically, three sheets of matzos. The Passover Seder plate or platter must contain spaces for each of the symbolic foods that one will use, while the number of symbolic foods that one will use depends on one's custom. The cup or bowl which contains the liquid that is used as part of the Passover Seder rituals - usually either salt water, or vinegar, lemon juice, or lime juice - is also filled and is the final symbolic food of Passover, and along with the Passover Seder plate and plate of three matzos, is placed on the Passover Seder festive table. Red wine is preferred for the Passover Seder, although white wine is acceptable, or grape juice is used as the beverage and also plays a symbolic part in the Passover Seder rituals.
The final task we must do after the Passover Seder table has been set and the symbolic foods have been placed on the Passover Seder table is to light two candles for the Yom Tov day or "full" festival day for the first day of Passover/Pesach at precisely 18 minutes before sunset. Some Jewish people have different customs based on the authoritative rabbinical opinion they follow, and kindle the two Yom Tov candles anywhere from 15 minutes to a half hour before sunset. A "full" festival day means the full application of Jewish law applies to that day; in this case, the full or complete Jewish laws for Passover apply to the first day of Passover and to the seventh day of Passover (both are Yom Tov days, or "full" festival days) for Jews who celebrate Passover/Pesach for seven days (Jews living in Israel, as well as most Reform Jews and some Conservative Jews). For Jews who celebrate Passover/Pesach for eight days (Jews living outside Israel, except for most Reform Jews and some Conservative Jews), the first day, second day, seventh day, and eighth day are Yom Tov days, or "full" festival days. Although the Jewish day in Jewish law is either from sunset to sunset or from nightfall to nightfall, depending on the authoritative rabbinical opinion one follows, due to the holiness time of the Yom Tov day there is a custom to extend the time for the Yom Tov day (and for Shabbat, or the Sabbath for that matter) by "borrowing" time from the previous and following day. The recitation of the blessing for the Yom Tov day formally ushers in both the Passover festival and the first Yom Tov day for Passover/Pesach, with the kindling of the two Yom Tov candles immediately either preceding or following the recitation of the Yom Tov blessing, depending on the authoritative rabbinical opinion one follows.
So now that we know what is involved in the 24 hours leading up to the Passover festival and Passover Seder, let's move on to what is involved in conducting a Passover Seder.
Passover Seder Requirements
The Passover Seder table should be set up with the finest dishes, glasses and cutlery in the household. After all, this is a celebration about freedom from slavery and we are to dine as if we were kings or queens, who symbolized independence and freedom in ancient times!
Along with setting the table with the finest tableware, each person attending the Passover Seder is given a copy of the special Passover "instruction manual" known as the Passover Haggadah. Each copy of the Passover Haggadah is placed beside the plate on the Passover Seder table that is reserved for each person.
Observant Jews will have four sets of dishes - For Passover: one set of dishes for meat, and another set of dishes for dairy. For the remainder of the year: an additional set of dishes for meat, and another additional set of dishes for dairy. This complies with the dietary laws as outlined in Halachah, the book of Jewish dietary laws.
What are the Passover Seder Requirements?
Well, guess what. Here they are!
Why does one dip vegetables into salt water, vinegar, lemon juice, or lime juice (the liquid depends on one's custom)?
The custom of dipping vegetables into salt water, vinegar, lemon juice, or lime juice may have been derived from the activities at ancient Roman banquets where guests would begin the banquet by dipping vegetables in either vinegar or a fruit sauce. Charoset may have eventually represented the fruit sauce. The ancient rabbis who formulated the Passover Seder instructions were writing the Passover Seder instructions at a time when the Romans ruled the region of Judea/Israel and so they may have incorporated many of the Roman rituals they saw at ritualized Roman feasts or banquets that were known as "Symposia" into the instructions for conducting the Passover Seder as well as both transforming and re -interpreting them to fit the needs of the Passover Seder.
What do the Zeroah and Beitzah have in common?
The zeroah (roasted shankbone) and beitzah (hard-boiled roasted egg) both represent Passover lamb sacrifices. In addition to the original Passover lamb sacrifice represented by the zeroah, a second Passover lamb sacrifice called the "chagigah" or "hagigah" came to be represented by the beitzah. Chagigah means "festival offering" in Hebrew. In ancient times, the chagigah now represented by the beitzah was served at the Passover Seder meal followed later on by serving the original Passover lamb sacrifice represented by the zeroah. This was done so that the Passover lamb sacrifice would be eaten for the sole pupose of fulfilling the religious commandment to eat a paschal lamb, and not to quell hunger.
The Passover Seder Plate
How Does One Set Up The Passover Seder Plate?
A good question. I'm happy that I remembered to ask. There are many rabbinical opinions as to how one sets up the Passover Seder plate as suggested by rabbis throughout Jewish history. The following are two of the more popular opinions: the first rabbinical opinion is from Rabbi Isaac Ben Solomon Luria (1534- 1572), known by his acronym as the "Arizal". Most Sephardim follow the opinion of the "Arizal". According to the Arizal's opinion, there are six symbolic foods on the Seder plate that are arranged at the points of two triangles. Two types of bitter herbs are used on the Seder plate: one for the ritual of maror and the other for creating korech, or Hillel's Sandwich (see the Passover Seder steps below). Depending on one's custom, there are many ways to arrange the six symbolic foods according to this opinion. The second rabbinical opinion is from Rabbi Moses Ben Israel Isserlis (1525-1572), known by his acronym as the "Rema" or "Remoh". Most Ashkenazim follow the opinion of the "Rema". According to the Rema's opinion, everything is arranged on the Seder plate in the order that they will be used, starting with the first symbolic food to be used being closest to the Seder leader.
In addition, three matzos are placed on the Seder table and there are different ways to place the three matzos on the Seder table depending on the authoritative rabbinical opinion one follows: the three matzos are placed either under the Seder plate which contains the six symbolic foods, or with the six symbolic foods sitting directly on the top matzo of the three matzos, which are stacked, one on top of the other, or the three matzos placed in a special bag with three compartments called a matzo cover, with one matzo in each bag, and then placing the Seder plate containing the six symbolic foods - if following the opinion of the Arizal - on top of the top matzo of the three matzos. Another authoritative rabbinical opinion by the German Rabbi Yaakov Emden, known by his acronym as the "Yabets" (1697-1776), who followed the opinion of the Rema, placed the three matzos on the Seder plate with no dividers between them such as the matzo cover, and then on each of the protruding edges of the Seder plate, he placed the symbolic foods. The Yemenite Rabbi Shalom Sharabi, known by his acronyms as the "Rashash", the "Shemesh" or as Ribbi Shalom Mizrachi deyedi'a Sharabi (1720-1777), used a rectangular Seder plate, with the lefthand side containing the three matzos with no dividers between them, and on the righthand side he placed the symbolic foods according to the opinion of the Arizal. Rabbi Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman (or Elijah ben Solomon Zalman), also known as the Vilna Gaon (named after the city where he was from, Vilnius, Lithuania), and also by his acronym, the Ha-Gra (1720- 1797), had a completely different approach to the arrangement of the symbolic foods on the Seder plate. His opinion was that the shankbone and the egg should be placed nearest to the Seder leader, with just two sheets of matzo - not three matzos - then being placed in the middle of the Seder plate, and finally, the maror and the charoset are then placed on the other side of the Seder plate. The Vilna Gaon's arrangement did not include the karpas on the Seder plate, and instead of having the Seder plate on the Passover Seder table from the start of the Seder, the Vilna Gaon's opinion is that the Seder plate is only brought to the Seder table for Passover Seder Step #4, known as Yachatz ("Dividing" in Hebrew, since the middle matzo of the three matzos is divided in two in this step), and additionally, the Seder plate is only brought to the Seder table after the karpas has been eaten. There are also other opinions on the arrangements of the symbolic foods and the three matzos.
This is the first rabbinical opinion for setting up the Passover Seder plate (again note that this is one of many types of arrangements according to this opinion, as Jewish customs worldwide vary in the arrangement according to the "Rema" as was just discussed.):
The Passover Seder plate is placed before the leader of the Passover Seder, usually the head of the household.
The following is the second rabbinical opinion for setting up the Passover Seder plate (again note that this is one of many types of arrangements according to this opinion, as Jewish customs worldwide vary in the arrangement according to the "Arizal" as was just discussed.):
The Passover Seder plate is placed before the leader of the Passover Seder, usually the head of the household.
Got it? You're smart. A maven. I like to have mavens read what's on my website. In case you're wondering, maven means "expert", "authority", or "knowledgeable person" in Yiddish. Now that I know you're a maven, surely you can read on to find out about and understand the 15 Passover Seder steps in detail!
The 15 Passover Seder Steps Explained.
Each step in the Passover Seder contains rituals, each of which represents a symbolic value that both reminds one of an event in the story of the Passover festival and the ultimate theme of Passover: freedom from slavery, and the importance that freedom means to an individual. The following 15 steps detail the order of events and customs from an Ashkenazic (Jews whose ancestors came from Central and Eastern Europe) perspective. Sephardic (Jews whose ancestors came from Spain or Portugal before they were expelled from those countries in 1492 and 1497 respectively), Mizrahi (Jews who come from Central, South, and Eastern Asia, and the Middle East; "Mizrahi" means 'Eastern' in Hebrew), and many African Jews, such as the Ethiopian Jews, vary in their practice of the customs and order of those customs within each of these 15 steps, depending on their community.
Passover Seder Step #1: Kadeish (Aramaic form of "Kiddush" in Hebrew), Kaddesh, Kadesh, Qaddesh, or Qiddush
Just after nightfall arrives, the two festival candles are lit and the blessing over them is recited. Everyone who is participating in the Passover Seder is then seated at the Passover Seder table and the Passover Seder begins by having everyone at the Passover Seder table raise their first cup of wine, called the Kadeish. Kadeish means "cup of sanctification", or "the blessing" in Aramaic. Its equivalent in Hebrew is "Kiddush". More specifically, "Kiddush" is from the Hebrew root word "Qof-Dalet- Shin", meaning "holy". While the cups are raised, everyone recites the Kiddush. The purpose of the Kiddush - which means "sanctification" in Hebrew - blessing is to fulfill G-d's commandment to sanctify the Jewish festivals and to sanctify the Holy Day of Passover and also to sanctify time and its ability to be filled with holiness. G-d is also praised for both sanctifying the Jewish people and for allowing the Jewish people to reach the current year so they could celebrate Passover in His honor. In this step called "Kadeish", we are thanking G-d for being the One to make Israel holy, thereby giving Israel mastery over time in order to be able to confer holiness upon the Jewish festivals. There are 3 blessings in the Kiddush: first, there is a blessing over the wine ("Kiddush" blessing), next is a blessing over the festival of Passover, and finally, there is the shehechayanu (or shehecheyanu) blessing, which praises G-d for enabling the Jewish people to reach the current day of Passover. "Shehechayanu" or "Shehecheyanu" means "He Who has kept us in life" in Hebrew. There are 4 cups of kosher wine that are drunk during the Passover Seder, with a 5th cup symbolically reserved for the Prophet Elijah. In some Passover Seders, an additional 6th cup for Moses's sister Miriam is filled with water. Miriam was a prophetess in her own right (Exodus 15:20). The cup filled with water in Miriam's cup represents a well filled with water because according to tradition, Miriam's righteous actions in helping to save her younger brother Moses when he was an infant by watching over him as he lay in a basket of reeds floating in the Nile River resulted in G-d creating a well filled with water that followed the Hebrews through their wanderings in the desert after they left Egypt, and that well remained with them until the day of Miriam's death. After the Kiddush is recited, everyone drinks the first cup of kosher wine while reclining to the left side in their chair. To fulfill the ritual, at least half the cup must be drunk (2.9 fl. oz.) - preferably the entire cup - so a smaller cup is usually used, as one does not want their guests falling face first into their plate after 4 large cups of kosher wine! You may ask: What is the symbolic value of this ritual? In ancient times, kings symbolized freedom, for they could do what they wanted in their kingdoms. So, to symbolize the freedom of Passover as if one were a king in biblical times, it is preferable that a person who is not seated and participating in the Passover Seder be the one to pour the kosher wine for participants in order that the participants may feel like kings.
Passover Seder Step #2: Urchatz, U-Rehaz, or Rahatz
The next Passover Seder ritual is the washing of hands, called Urchatz. Urchatz means "and wash" in Hebrew. Urchatz is done by the leader of the Passover Seder. This action closely symbolizes the metaphor "I wash my hands of it", meaning one washes away one's troubling thoughts by asking G-d for help. In addition, water symbolizes wisdom, and by washing one's hands with water, one hopes that their heart and emotions are touched with wisdom so that in turn one can shape their interactions with the world for the better. There are two other explanations for performing this purifying ritual. During the time of the Temple periods in ancient Jerusalem, ritual purity required that one washed their hands before dipping any food into a liquid and then eating it, as is done in the next step in the Passover Seder. The other explanation is that one washes their hands to symbolically demonstrate the separation between our previous state or condition and that of the journey on which we are about to undertake, for instance, from a troubling thought to seeking and receiving wisdom to relieve us of its grip, or in the case of the Passover story, from slavery to freedom. Outside of the symbolic representations of Urchatz, one performs this ritual for hygiene and cleanliness.
Passover Seder Step #3: Karpas
The next Passover Seder ritual is the dipping of Karpas into salt water, vinegar, lemon juice, or lime juice, depending on one's custom. Karpas means "greens" or "green vegetable" in Hebrew. Why do we do this? Glad I asked. Again, symbolism is the answer. The green color of the Karpas vegetable symbolizes springtime and rebirth of the land, occurring around the time of Passover, which in turn represents the spirit of hope for the future. In addition, Passover in ancient times was an agricultural festival, and the Karpas or green vegetable we use in this ritual reminds us of the gathering of the Spring harvest which coincided with Passover. The action of dipping the Karpas vegetable in salt water, vinegar, lemon juice, or lime juice reminds us of the tears our ancestors shed when they were slaves in the land of Egypt, and concurrently, reminds us of the renewal of our longing for redemption for those who are enslaved or are unjustly imprisoned. Dipping the green vegetable into salt water, vinegar, lemon juice, or lime juice is also a symbolic act of replacing our ancestors' tears (represented by the liquid) with gratefulness (represented by the green vegetable). The green vegetable that is used is usually a piece of parsley, celery, or lettuce. As one dips the green vegetable into the salt water, vinegar, lemon juice, or lime juice, one recites the traditional blessing from the Haggadah: 'Borai pri ha-adamah', which translates as: "Blessed is the Source of Life, the Fountain of Being, by whose power the earth gives birth to vegetables". Dipping the Karpas in liquid is the first of two dippings we make as stated in the Mah Nishtanah (The Four Questions). The second dipping occurs when we dip the marror in charoses as told in Passover Seder Step #9.
Passover Seder Step #4: Yachatz, Yahaz, or Yahatz
The next Passover Seder ritual is the breaking of the middle matzah into two pieces, called Yachatz. Yachatz means "dividing" in Hebrew. The matzo cover, a special bag with three compartments, holds the three sheets of matzo, one in each compartment. Depending on one's custom, the matzo cover containing the three matzos is placed either on a separate tray, cloth, or plate apart from the Seder plate that contains the other symbolic foods of Passover or Pesach, or the Seder plate with the symbolic foods is placed on top of the matzo cover containing the three matzos. Other variations of this custom include omitting the matzo cover altogether and instead stacking the three matzos on top of one another on the Seder plate and the other symbolic foods of Passover or Pesach are then placed on top of the top matzo, or some other arrangement of the symbolic foods with the Seder plate based on this custom. After one prepares the Seder plate and/or the matzo tray or plate or cloth with the symbolic foods according to one's custom, the Seder plate and/or matzo tray or plate or cloth containing the symbolic foods are then placed before the leader of the Passover Seder when preparing the Passover Seder table. Each matzah symbolizes one of the three ancestral affiliations that comprise the Jewish people. The three matzahs also represent the three religious groupings of the Jewish people. Why are the three matzot (plural form of "matzah" in Hebrew) placed together on the same plate? Ok, I won't keep you in suspense any longer. The three matzot are placed together to indicate the unity of the Jewish people, for in unity we discover our strength and our power and will to survive. The top matzah represents the Kohanim or Kohen. Kohanim means 'priests' in Hebrew, and Kohen simply means 'priest' in Hebrew. The Kohanim were members of the priesthood in Jewish history prior to the establishment of the Rabbinical institutions and Rabbinical title in the period just before and after the beginning of the Common Era. The middle matzah represents the Levite, meaning 'a descendant of Levi' in Hebrew. Levi was the 3rd of 12 sons of the Hebrew patriarch Jacob. Jacob was also named 'Israel' in the Hebrew bible, hence the expressions '12 tribes of Israel' or the 'children of Israel', where each of Jacob's sons represents a tribe, and the descendants of Jacob's sons represent the 'children of Israel' or Jewish people, collectively speaking. The Levites were the priestly tribe prior to the establishment of Rabbis and consisted of the Kohanim and their assistants, where the latter were simply called Levites. Incidentally, the word 'Levi' means 'to join' in Hebrew, which described Levi and his descendants - the Levites - as a group of people who were devoted and fervent worshippers of G-d. Finally, the bottom or third matzah represents the rest of the Jewish people, collectively known as 'Israelites'. When the Passover Seder has reached step 4 - Yachatz - the middle matzah is then taken by the leader of the Passover Seder and broken into a larger half and smaller half. These two pieces of matzah are also known as the "Afikoman". What is the "Afikoman"? I'm guessing that was your next question. The term "Afikoman" (alternate spelling: "Afikomen") derives either from the Aramaic word for "dessert", or derives from a Greek word "epikoman" (alternate spellings: "epikomaizon", or "epikomazein") meaning "after-dish" or "dessert" and has two interpretations: one by the ancient Talmudic Sages from Israel in the Israeli Talmud and one by the ancient Talmudic Sages from Babylonia in the Babylonian Talmud. In the Mishnah of the Israeli Talmud, the Israeli Sages interpreted "Afikoman" as meaning that "after the Passover Offering, one should not end with Afikoman", where "Afikoman" referred to a Greek word and custom known as "epikomion" meaning "after dinner revelry" or "entertainment" which meant going off to another party or banquet following the initial banquet one attended, as was the Roman and Greek custom of the day. If the Jews did this, they would be following too closely the pagan customs of the Romans and Greeks, which would make it more difficult for the Jews to differentiate Jewish customs relating to the Passover Seder meal from their pagan neighbors. In contrast, the Babylonian Talmudic Sages in the Mishnah of the Babylonian Talmud interpreted "Afikoman" as a Greek word meaning "dessert" in Greek, and stated that the word "Afikoman" meant that "one should not eat anything after eating the Passover Afikoman", where the "Afikoman" represented the "dessert" for the Passover Seder meal. So how does all this relate to "breaking" the Afikoman into a larger piece and a smaller piece in this Passover Seder step known as Yachatz? The answer is that "breaking" the Afikoman into a larger piece and a smaller piece satisfies both the Israeli and Babylonian Talmudic explanations of what "Afikoman" means! After the Afikoman or the middle matzah is split into a larger half and a smaller half, the larger half is hidden away somewhere in the household for the children to find after the Passover Seder meal is over. Once a child finds the Afikoman, he or she brings it back to the Passover Seder table and asks for a "ransom" from the person who hid the Afikoman so that the person who hid the Afikoman could get it back. This "ransom" for the Afikoman can be in the form of a chocolate coin or some small amount of pocket money. Why do this? The purpose of finding the Afikoman is to both satisfy the Israeli Talmudic explanation of the "Afikoman" as representing or symbolizing "after dinner revelry" or "entertainment" as well as to maintain the interest of the children in the Passover Seder proceedings. And what about the smaller half of the Afikoman? After splitting the Afikoman or the middle matzah into a larger half and a smaller half, the smaller half remains between the top and bottom matzot to later be broken up into small pieces and eaten by the Passover Seder participants as the Passover "dessert" or "Afikoman", which satisfies the Babylonian Talmudic interpretation of the Afikoman as representing or symbolizing the "dessert" for the Passover Seder meal.
Passover Seder Step #5: Maggid
The next Passover Seder ritual is the reciting of the story of Passover as told in the Passover Haggadah. The term 'Maggid' in Hebrew means either "preacher", "storyteller", "teller", or "itinerant speaker". By telling the Passover story, one is keeping the Mitzvah (meaning both 'commandment' and 'connection' in Hebrew) of what G-d said to Moses once the Jews were freed from slavery in Egypt, as told in the biblical Book of Exodus: "And you shall tell your son on that day (meaning the day that Passover begins), saying: 'this (meaning the Passover rituals that G-d commanded Moses and the Hebrews to do) is for that (freedom from slavery) which the Lord did for me when I went out of Egypt'". By tradition, the Mitzvah - or commandment - of telling the Passover story, symbolically establishes a connection - hence the 2nd definition of Mitzvah - between oneself and G-d. Another tradition states that telling the Passover story is primarily reserved for those younger than Bar Mitzvah - or confirmation - age, which is usually age 13, but one can either tell the story oneself or hear it from others. The Passover story is not told directly in traditional Passover Haggadahs, but rather is referred to through Rabbinic texts. It is through these Rabbinic texts that we learn indirectly about the Passover story. Ideally, one should read the Passover story in Hebrew and then translate and explain it in the local language, but if this is not possible, then one should recite the Passover story in a language that everyone at the table can understand. There are many Passover customs surrounding how the Passover story is read: some families read, translate and explain the Passover story in unison; others read the Passover story in unison, and then ask each member around the Passover Seder table to translate and/or explain each part of the Passover story, while still others have other traditions. There are also many different Passover Haggadah versions and hence, many "orders" or arrangements as to how different parts of each of the 15 Passover Seder steps, including this Passover Seder step - Maggid - is performed, in addition to different versions of how each Passover Seder step is worded, in accordance with the beliefs of the author(s) of the Passover Haggadah, but the underlying themes of Passover in the Passover Haggadah remain the same. The purpose of these various orders or arrangements in the Passover Haggadah is to stimulate question-asking about the Passover story. For instance, the first part of this step begins by making a declaration about the matzah that is placed before us on the Passover Seder table. This declaration is known as "Ha Lachma Anya", which invites those who are less fortunate to join in the Passover Seder. This declaration stimulates one to ask: "Why are we making this declaration?" The answer to this question is in the following part of this step: asking the Four Questions, which initiate the expansion of the primary themes of Passover being both a recollection of slavery and a recollection of becoming physically free people. This further stimuates one to ask: "Why are we recalling both slavery and freedom? Isn't this being contradictory?" The answer to this question lies in the part following the asking of the Four Questions in this Passover Seder step. This part of Maggid is known as "Avadim Hayinu", meaning "We were slaves" or "Once we were slaves" in Hebrew. By recalling both slavery and freedom, we realize that there is a great disparity between being under oppression and being physically free human beings. Thus, our realization that being physically free can truly be appreciated by comparing it with the hardships of slavery helps to stimulate our consciousness toward helping all those who are less fortunate to realize their physical freedom as well in areas of the world where they are under oppression. This format of stimulating question-asking and answering continues through out the Passover Haggadah. So, you can see by the aforementioned example that the order or arrangement in a Passover Haggadah is arranged as such because the ancient rabbis want to encourage question-asking in the Passover Haggadah so that one may be able to learn more about the story of Passover and thus keep the traditions alive from generation to generation. In fact, the ancient rabbis considered it praiseworthy for one to tell not only the story of Passover as told in the Passover Haggadah, but to increase their telling about our departure above and beyond that contained in the Passover Haggadah. The following order or arrangement is but one version for 'telling' this step: The Passover Seder 5th step or Maggid begins with describing the symbolism of matzah to all those at the Passover table and then calling for assistance to all those who are still suffering spiritual and physical slavery. This introductory part of Maggid is known as "Ha Lachma Anya" in Hebrew, meaning "This is the bread of affliction" in Hebrew. The plate of matzah is held up and the following is said: "This is the bread of affliction which our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Let those who are hungry come in and partake. Let all who are in need come and celebrate the Passover". The next part of this step is to recite the "Ma Nishtana" (alternate spelling: "Mah Nishtanah"), meaning "The Four Questions" in Hebrew. Before the "The Four Questions" from the Passover Haggadah are read, the second cup of wine is filled. The purpose of the four questions, as mentioned, is to introduce and expand on the primary themes of slavery and physical freedom so as to stimulate further inquiry from adults and particularly children about the history and meaning of the Passover story, in particular, by inquiring about why Jews celebrate Passover and its connection to this series of Four Questions, which, as mentioned, introduce the theme that Passover is both a recollection of slavery and of freedom. After the four questions are asked, usually by the youngest child at the Passover Seder table so that they are actively learning about their history, the Passover story is then told as a series of events which are organized into parts. This Passover Seder step is then concluded with the telling and description of the 10 Plagues. The next part, as mentioned, is where all at the Passover Seder table are reminded of the greatness of how G-d liberated the Hebrews from Egypt and of the obligation to tell the Passover story in a declaration from the Passover Haggadah called "Avadim Hayinu", meaning "We were slaves" (in Egypt) or "Once we were slaves" (in Egypt) in Hebrew. So why are we reminded in "Avadim Hayinu" of the miracles that G-d performed for us in the Passover of Egypt story and also of the need to tell or 'increase' our telling over of the Passover story each year? The reason why we "increase" our telling over of the story of Passover is because in the Gemara of the Talmud (Pesachim tractate), it states in Hebrew the following: "Bechol dor vador, chayav adam..., "In every generation, a person is required to view himself as if he went out of Egypt". Thus, by each of us recalling each year the miraculous adventures and happy outcome of the Passover story - which it would be in our nature to want to tell in any case if we truly felt that G-d performed these miracles for us, including being released from bondage and brought to freedom by being taken out of Egypt - we are demonstrating that we truly feel that we were taken out of Egypt by increasing our telling of the Passover story each year. Next is the story of "The Four Children". The story of the Four Children or Four Sons fulfills the obligation to tell the Passover story to other people. In particular, this story explains the meaning of the Passover Seder to four different types of personalities so that all can understand the importance of the exodus from Egypt. After this step comes the telling of the story of Passover, which includes a telling of the chain of events in several parts. Finally, there is the introduction and description of the 10 Plagues. As each plague is read out aloud, each person at the Seder table dips their pinky finger into their wine glass and spills a drop of wine onto a plate. The origin of this practise may have been rooted either in a desire to ward off evil, or to symbolize that our joy at being free should be reduced because of the suffering of our ancestors, meaning having less wine in our glass to drink. The final step in the recitation of the Passover story is the singing of Dayenu, a song of praise ["Dayenu" means "Enough" in Hebrew, as in approximately meaning: "It would have been enough (for us)" or "It would have been sufficient (for us)" or "It would have sufficed (for us)" in Hebrew]. This song praises G-d's feats from the time the Almighty helped the Hebrews escape Egyptian slavery to the time when the Hebrews constructed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The Passover Haggadah explains the various rituals of when to lift the cup of wine, when to pour wine from the cup, and so forth. After completing the recitation of the Passover story, the first two psalms of Hallel for Passover are recited (Psalms 113 and 114 from the Book of Psalms in the Hebrew Bible). What are these two Hallel Psalms about? They express gratitude to G-d for being our constant source of salvation in every past generation of Jewish people. There is a request to G-d to bring about the Final Redemption so that we will have the opportunity to celebrate future Passover's and the other Festivals in Jerusalem and at the Temple. This request is sought when we recite: "Blessed are You, O L-rd, Who has Redeemed Israel." Following the recitation of the first two Psalms of Hallel that are relevant for Passover, we then bless the second cup of wine and then drink the second cup of wine in a reclining position to the left. The second cup of wine is where the obligation to lean on one's left side as an expression of freedom, while drinking, is strongest.
Passover Seder Step #6: Rachtzah, Rochtzah, Rahaz, Rahatz, Rachatz, Rachtza, or Rochtza
The next Passover Seder ritual is Rochtzah. Rochtzah means "washing" or "celebrant washes" in Hebrew. This prepares us for the next step, which is the blessing and eating of matzah. Because Jewish law states that the law for matzah is the same as that for bread, one then must wash one's hands a second time during the Passover Seder meal. While one washes their hands, a blessing called Al Netilat Yadayim is said, which is a Hebrew phrase meaning "the blessing over the washing of hands before the meal". In transliterated Hebrew, the blessing goes as follows: Baruch atah adonai eloheinu melech ha'olam, asher kidshanu bemitzvotav vitzeivanu, al netilat yadaim. Again, the symbolism of water as 'wisdom', and of the hands as 'growth', reminds us that we are symbolically cleansing ourselves from what enslaves and prevents our mind from reaching greater heights of wisdom. There are also many rabbinical interpretations of how one's hands are washed, and in what order the hands and fingers are washed. One is also not allowed to talk between this blessing and the eating of matzah in step 5. Oy! So many rules! At least there isn't a rule that has you washing your hands while standing on your head. For that alone, I'm thankful!
Passover Seder Step #7: Motzee, Motzi, Mozi, or Motzie
The next Passover Seder ritual is Motzee, also spelled Motzi or Motzei. Motzee means "bring forth" or "bringing forth" in Hebrew (Ha-Motzi means "to bring forth" in Hebrew), in reference to the Blessing Over The Bread that thanks G-d for bringing forth bread from the earth and is the first part of the "Motzee Matzah", which means "Bringing Forth (of the) Unleavened Bread" in Hebrew. In this Passover ritual, the leader of the Passover Seder takes hold of all 3 matzot (plural form of matzah in Hebrew), and recites the "Hamotzi" or "Ha-Motzi" prayer/blessing from the Passover Haggadah. The prayer/blessing, in transliterated Hebrew, goes as follows: Baruch atah adonai eloheinu melech ha'olam, hamotzi lechem min ha'aretz. In this blessing, we are thanking G-d for bringing forth bread from the earth. This prayer/blessing is recited before eating. At other times of the year besides Passover, the Hamotzi prayer is known as "Ha-Motzi Lechem" which means "The Bringing Forth (of the) Bread" in Hebrew (specifically, it is referring here to leavened bread), but since we eat only matzah during Passover which is unleavened bread, then we refer to the blessing over bread as "Motzee Matzah" ["Bringing Forth (of the) Unleavened Bread" in Hebrew] or "Ha-Motzi Matzah" ["The Bringing Forth (of the) Unleavened Bread" in Hebrew] instead of "Ha- Motzi Lechem" ["The Bringing Forth (of the Leavened) Bread" in Hebrew]. Just thought you'd like to know that!
Passover Seder Step #8: Matzah, Matza, Matzo, Mazzah, Massah, Massa, Matze (Yiddish), or Matzoh
The next Passover Seder ritual is Matzah, and is the second part of the "Motzee Matzah". Matzah means "sweet" in Hebrew, and refers to unleavened bread as being sweet in taste, as opposed to leavened bread - or bread with yeast in it - as being bitter. "Chometz", "Chametz", or "Chameitz" means either "bitter", "sour", "leavened", "fermented", "harsh", or "to be pungent" in Hebrew and usually refers to leavened bread, or bread with yeast in it. As you may have guessed in the Passover story, the sweetness of Matzah symbolizes freedom, as opposed to the bitterness of slavery, symbolized by leavened bread, or Chametz. That is why on the eve of Passover, observant Jews conduct a search of the house to locate and remove from the house any chametz, or foods with yeast in them. They then usually sell the chametz to a non-Jew. In this Passover ritual, after the HaMotzi has been recited while holding the 3 matzot, the leader of the Seder then lets go of the bottom matzah to drop back onto the plate and holds the whole of the top matzah and both halves of the middle matzah. The Passover Seder leader then recites the next blessing, called "Al Achilat Matzah" from the Passover Haggadah. "Al Achilat Matzah" means "the blessing over eating matzah" in Hebrew. After this prayer is recited, the Passover Seder leader takes the top matzah, breaks it up into small pieces, and gives a piece to each person at the Passover Seder table. For observant Jews, there are laws concerning the minimum amount of matzah eaten, and even the minimum and maximum amount of time allowed to eat the matzah for this ritual. For instance, one rabbinical interpretation states that the minimum requirement of matzah eaten is 7 x 6 and 1/4 inches of a square matzah, and that it should be eaten in no less than 2 minutes and no more than 4 minutes from the first swallow. The matzah should also be eaten while reclining in a left position. Why recline to the left? The answer is rooted in ancient symbolism. During Roman times, it was customary for the Roman aristocracy at feasts to eat reclining on their side on a couch while taking food from a small, private table. The rabbis at that time interpreted this custom as a sign of independence and freedom. If one is right-handed, then in order to follow this custom it would make sense that one would lean to the left so that one could have their right hand free to take the food from the table. As for how eating matzah is related to the act of reclining, both matzah and the act of reclining symbolize independence and freedom at different times in Jewish history, the former during the exodus from Egypt, and the latter during Roman times, and the fact that these two customs are side-by-side in the Passover Seder ritual order symbolizes the continuity of independence and freedom down through the ages.
Passover Seder Step #9: Maror, Marror, Moror, or Morror
The next Passover Seder ritual is eating Maror, after dipping it in charoset (alternate spellings: charoseth, haroset, and haroseth). Maror means "bitter herb" in Hebrew, and the origin of the term charoset is unclear: the Encyclopedia Judaica suggests it might come from the word "cheres", which means "clay" in Hebrew. Horseradish or romaine lettuce is usually used to represent Maror. In this ritual, the Passover Seder leader takes a piece of matzah and then takes at least 3/4 of an ounce of maror from the Seder plate to put on the matzah, and everyone else at the Seder table takes the same amount of maror as well. Everyone at the Seder table including the Seder leader then dips the matzah with the maror into the charoset. After they dip the maror into the charoset, they then all shake off the charoset and the following blessing is recited from the Passover Haggadah, entitled: "Al Achilat Maror", which means "The Blessing Over Eating Bitter Herbs" in Hebrew. Everyone then eats the bitter herb, but there is no reclining for this ritual, as this is a ritual reminding one of slavery, not freedom. One does not recline when one is enslaved. However when one is free, one can be free to recline. The act of dipping maror into charoses is performed in order to sweeten the bitterness and suffering that the Hebrews experienced as slaves in ancient Egypt. How much maror should be eaten to fulfill this ritual? The answer depends on the type of maror used: if one is using raw leaves as marror, the minimum amount required is 8 x 10 inches; if one is using a stalk, the minimum amount required is 3 x 5 inches; and if one is using horseradish, the minimum amount required is 1.1 fl. oz., and one can only use fresh horseradish. Why dip the maror in charoset? The answer is that the bitter herb of maror symbolizes the bitterness of slavery, and charoset symbolizes the bricks and mortar used by the Hebrews when they were slaves building cities with names such as Pithom and Ra'amses [not to be confused with the Pharaoh (King) Ramses] in Egypt. Another reason is that the charoset serves to soften the harsh taste of the maror. Charoset is usually a mixture of apples, nuts, wine and spices, and the reason for these ingredients is that the charoset is made to look as close to the color of bricks and mortar as possible to add more realism to the ritual. Even the Jews of Saloniki, Greece have been known to add in a little ground stone into the charoset mixture! Now that's coming as close as possible to the real thing as one can!
Some Jewish communities use a second bitter herb in addition to the maror, called the "Chazeret" (plural form: "Chazeres" in Hebrew). Chazeret means "bitter vegetable" in Hebrew, and the bitter vegetable used is often lettuce and/or a radish. The reason for using a second bitter herb derives from the biblical line in the Book of Numbers (Numbers 9:11), which states the commandment to eat the paschal lamb "with unleavened bread and bitter herbs". Since "bitter herbs" is plural in the commandment, most Jewish communities place a second or even third bitter herb on the Seder plate. If one uses a green bitter vegetable as the chazeret, it must not be the same vegetable as the Karpas. Also, eating the paschal lamb, which was worshipped as a G-d in ancient Egypt, symbolizes destroying one of the many G-ds of ancient Egypt, meaning one is destroying idolatry.
Passover Seder Step #10: Koreich, Korekh, Korek, or Korech
The next Passover Seder ritual is the eating of Koreich. Koreich means "sandwich" or "wrap" in Hebrew. This sandwich consists of either marror or the second bitter herb, the chazeret, with some charoses (charoses is the plural form of charoset in Hebrew) surrounded by two pieces of matzah. Since the Passover Haggadah clearly links the origin of this sandwich with the great sage, Hillel, "who took Matzah and Marror and ate them together", this sandwich is also known as "Hillel's Sandwich". Hillel also ate this sandwich with the meat of the Passover lamb, but animal sacrifices are no longer performed, so this meat is omitted from the sandwich. Eating this sandwich is done to commemorate Hillel and the Second Temple, for Hillel ate this sandwich when the Second Temple stood in Jerusalem 21 centuries ago. Eating the koreich is the final ritual before serving the Passover Seder meal. In this ritual, this Passover Seder leader takes the bottom matzah from the Seder plate and breaks off two pieces, with each piece of matzah totalling at least one ounce. The Passover Seder leader then takes at least 3/4 of an ounce of marror, then dips the marror into the charoset. After dipping the marror into the charoset, the marror is then placed between the two pieces of matzah. Everyone else at the Seder table then does the same thing. The Seder leader then says "kein asah Hillel," and then eats the sandwich while in a reclining position to the left. We say this because the great Rabbi Hillel used to do this: he would take the matzah and maror, place them together, and then eat them. The minimum amount of matzah eaten per person for this ritual is a total of 7 x 4 inches, while the minimum amount of marror eaten, usually represented by horseradish or romaine lettuce, is 0.7 ounces or as mentioned, about 3/4 of an ounce. Its symbolism derives from the bitterness of the marror being softened by the sweetness of the matzah, meaning that beyond the hard work and bitterness of slavery lies freedom, as symbolized by the sweetness of the matzah. This can also mean that at the end of a period of hard work will lie the satisfaction of reaching one's goal.
Passover Seder Step #11: Shulchan Aruch, Shulchan Orech, Shulhan Orekh, Shulkhan Orekh, or Shulhan Orek
The next Passover Seder ritual is Shulchan Aruch. Shulchan Aruch means either "Prepared Table" or "Set Table" in Hebrew and symbolizes the idea that at Passover, we are supposed to be like wealthy people. Wealthy people do not wait to eat but already have their food prepared for them and placed on the table beforehand, hence the term "prepared table". It is in this ritual that the Passover Seder meal is served to all those at the Passover Seder table with a feeling of freedom and joy. It is also only during the Passover Seder meal that additional wine may be drunk other than when one drinks for the rituals concerning the four cups of wine. Some families like to begin the Passover Seder meal by dipping a hard boiled egg into salt water. This Passover custom has several explanations: some say the egg symbolizes Springtime, others say the egg replaces the sacrifice of the lamb, still others say it was taken from a Roman tradition of beginning their meals with an hors d'oeuvres. In this case, the salt water symbolizes our tears because of the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E. by the Romans.
Passover Seder Step #12: Tzafun, Zafun or Tzafoon
The next Passover Seder ritual is the act of Tzafun. Tzafun means "hidden", or "hidden one" in Hebrew, and refers to when the hidden Afikoman is taken out of its hiding place and brought back to the Passover Seder table. This ritual represents the eating of dessert, as "Afikoman" means "dessert" or "after-dish" in Greek or "dessert" in Aramaic. Each person at the Passover Seder table then takes a piece of the Afikoman matzah and eats the Afikoman matzah while in a reclining position to the left. There are laws which state that the minimum amount of matzah eaten to fulfill this ritual is 7 x 6 and 1/4 inches of a square matzah. Another law states that on the first night of Passover, the Afikoman should be eaten before 12:00 A.M. The Tzafun ritual is also the final step in the Passover Seder rituals where food is eaten. After this step, nothing else may be eaten or drunk except for the two remaining cups of wine. Why do we break the Afikoman matzah in two? The answer is that the broken Afikoman matzah symbolizes a Jewish history of expulsion, exile, bondage, betrayal, and slavery. But it also symbolizes that the world is incomplete, and that there is hope to complete and fulfill the promise of the world. The search for the Afikoman symbolizes this search for fulfilling the promise of the world. The purpose of eating the Afikoman is to remember the Pesach (meaning "Passover" in Hebrew) sacrifice that was served at the end of the first Passover meal. Incidentally, many families make a game out of finding the hidden Afikoman by having their children participate in the hunt for the Afikoman in the house. The one who finds the Afikoman is usually rewarded with either a coin of the real or chocolate variety!
Passover Seder Step #13: Barech, Bareich, Barekh, Bareikh, or Barek
The next Passover Seder ritual is performing Barech. Barech means either "He (G-d) Had Blessed", or "To Bless" in Hebrew, and in this context refers to one feeling grateful for one's sustenance and realizing that one's sustenance ultimately derives from G-d. To express this gratitude, realization, and awareness, everyone at the Passover Seder table collectively recites the "Birkat HaMazon" (meaning "Grace After Meals" in Hebrew) blessing after they have completed the Passover Seder meal. It is in this ritual that the third cup of wine is filled and then the Birkat HaMazon blessing is recited together. The "Grace After Meals" blessing is also known as the "Benching." After reciting this blessing, a blessing is said over the third cup of wine and then the third cup of wine is drunk by all at the Passover Seder table in a reclining position to the left.
Passover Seder Step #14: Hallel
The next Passover Seder ritual is the singing of songs of praise from Hallel (Psalms 115-118 from the Book of Psalms in the Hebrew Bible). Hallel for Passover is split up into two parts in the Passover Seder steps: the first part of Hallel was sung near the conclusion of Passover Seder Step #5 (Psalms 113 and 114). Psalms 115-118 comprise the second part of Hallel that is relevant for Passover. Hallel means "praise" in Hebrew. In this ritual, we are praising G-d, not for G-d's pleasure, but for our own. As we go through the Passover rituals, we build up an appreciation for freedom and the beauty of life. In such an emotional state, one wants to sing and praise G-d for everything that the Almighty has done to bring us to this day, with the happy knowledge that there is a G-d. However, during the days of the Passover festival when there is no Passover Seder - meaning the final 6 days of the Passover festival - the first half of Psalm 115 and the first half of Psalm 116 are not sung out of respect for the drowned Egyptian army in the Red Sea. This means that the full Hallel is recited on the Passover Seder nights, and half-Hallel is recited on the remaining days of the Passover festival. The 14th Passover Seder step ritual begins by filling a fifth cup of wine, called the Cup of Eliyahu HaNavi (meaning "Elijah the Prophet" in Hebrew). The Passover Seder leader then reads the remainder of the Passover Haggadah starting with a description of the symbolism and purpose of the Prophet Elijah and then welcoming the Prophet Elijah into the household. Everyone at the Seder table then stands as the door is opened to the household for the Prophet Elijah. With everyone standing, the Seder leader then recites an appeal to G-d to direct G-ds' wrath upon evil and persecution and to protect the Jewish people from those who would want to destroy them. The Seder leader then follows with a wish for the spirit of the Prophet Elijah to enter the hearts of all people, to love G-d, and to be inspired to build a good world where justice and freedom will be inherited by all of humanity. After this wish is recited, the door is then closed and all who are standing then sit down again. Following this, the fourth cup of wine is then filled, and then the Seder leader invites all at the Passover Seder table to join in reciting a specific selection of Songs (or Psalms) of Praise to G-d that are known as the 'Hallel', hence the name for Passover Seder Step #14. As outlined earlier in this step, these are Psalms 115-118 from the Book of Psalms in the Hebrew Bible.
There are many symbolic reasons for this ritual of opening the door at Passover for Elijah the Prophet. Jewish tradition says that Elijah the Prophet never really died but instead was taken to Heaven in a flaming chariot and being a Prophet, he continues to deliver messages from G-d. Jewish tradition also states that Elijah visits every Passover Seder that takes place around the world. Since the Book of Prophets says that Elijah the Prophet is the forerunner of the arrival of the Messiah, opening the door for Elijah means that Jews hope that Elijah will arrive to mark the coming of the Messiah and the ultimate redemption for the Jewish people. Another reason is that Elijah is the symbol of the humble wayfarer and that at Passover, we open our door to allow those who are less fortunate to share in the joyous celebration of freedom - both spiritually and physically - spiritually in that one shares in the symbolic rituals and meanings of freedom and physically, in the Passover food and wine. Opening the door also symbolizes that those at the Passover Seder table should have no fear since they are under G-d's protection, just as the Hebrews were under G-d's protection when the Angel of Death "passed over" the homes of the Hebrews in the Passover story. Opening the door during the Passover festival is also a reference to the phrase "night of watching" as mentioned in the Torah (meaning the first 5 books of the Hebrew Bible, written by Moses). The "night of watching" describes the night the Jews left Egypt (Exodus 12:42) and so the open door means that a watching or guarding is taking place. The Passover Haggadah readings that follow include a short prayer called "Shefoch Hamatcha" or "Shefoch Chamascha." It is a very unusual and unique prayer in our liturgy but clearly important and cathartic. It is a bitter prayer for revenge against those who attack and kill the Jews. After this prayer, Hallel is then recited from the Passover Haggadah. After finishing the readings from the Passover Haggadah, a blessing over wine is said for the fourth cup of wine. Following this blessing, the fourth cup of wine is then drunk in a reclining position to the left. After drinking the fourth cup of wine, the Birkat HaMazon blessing I.E. the "Grace After Meals" blessing is said. Only water may be drunk after drinking the fourth cup of wine. It is at this point that all at the Passover Seder table join in singing all the beautiful Passover songs. These Passover songs are either from the Passover Haggadah or are simply songs about being liberated from slavery and attaining freedom and redemption. These include such Passover songs with Hebrew names like: "Dayenu", "Adon Olam", "Echod Mi Yodea", "Chad Gadyoh", "Adir Hoo" or "Adeer Hu", "Yerushalayim Shel Zahav", "Beshana Haba'ah Biyerushalayim", "Avadim", "Eli Eli", "T'filah", "Am Yisroel Chai", "Avadim Hayinu", "Vihee She'omdo", "Artza", "Mikimi", "Ten Shabat", "Chayav Adam", "Bitzeis Yisroel Mimitzrayim", "Yareyach", "Atah Kadosh", "Ta Yere Malke", "Bashana", "Yodei Teidah", "Min Hameitzar", "Betzetis", "Elu Esser Makot", "Eser Ha-Makos", "Chasal Sedur Pesach", "Pesach Shuv Higiya", "Emunim", "Bchol Dor Vodor", "Ekdimiyod", "Betzet- Israel", "Zum Gali Gali", "Kineret", "Hin'ni Muchan", "Hinei Ma Tov", "Hoshiya", "Barhku", "Halel: Pis'khu Li", "Na'ar Hayiti", "Ma Lecho Ha-yam", "Od Lecha Ki", "Kol Dichfin", "Vaamartem Zevach Pesach", "Go'al Yisroel", "Halel: Shoykhen ad", "Dona, Dona", "Adir B'melukhah", "Hashvenu", "Ki Lo Einueh", "Hkahd Gahdyah", "Sh'fokh Ha-matkhah", "Yeride", "Al Achat", "Halel: K'mohem yih'yu oseihem", "Kacholym", "Kol Rina V'yishu'a", "Halel: Yoseyf adoshem aleichem", "Erev Shet Shoshanim", "Kaved Yom", "Karev Yom", "B'tset Israel Mi'mitsra'im - Yehoram Gaon", "Hava Nagila", "B'leil HaSeder - Eliyahu", "Elihanvi", "Sisu", "Chai", "Hallel", "Pesach", "Haveinu Shalom Aleichem", "Eliyahu HaNavi", "Zenier Atik", "Haleluya", "Seder Nahkt", "Baruch Haba B'Shem Adonai", "Manistan", "L'shanah Habaa", "Pesach, Matzoh, u'Maror", "Mi k'Adoshem Elokeynu", "Arba'a Banim", "Bim Bam", Lishonoh Habo'oh", and of course "Ma Nishtana" (sung at the beginning of The Four Questions from the Passover Haggadah). There are also Judeo- Spanish Sephardic Passover songs from the Ladino dialect. Ladino is a mixture of mostly medival Spanish from the 14th and 15th centuries and modern Spanish along with Portuguese plus various words taken from countries where Spanish Jews settled after 1492. Examples of Sephardic Passover songs in the Ladino dialect are: "Mose salyo de Mizrayim" (Moses went out of Egypt), "Kadesh Urchatz", "Ha Lachma Anya", "Elohenu Shebashamaim" (a Turkish, Spanish, and Dutch Jewish Pesach song), and "Quen Su Piese". The purpose of this ritual is to be oriented towards the future, when the Jewish people will gain ultimate redemption, and herald the arrival of the Moshiach (meaning "Messiah" in Hebrew. An alternate spelling is "Mashiach"), a descendant of King David of the Davidic Dynasty, who will build the Third Temple and will preside over the return of the Jewish people to Jerusalem and Israel. After singing all the Passover Seder songs, this step is completed.
Passover Seder Step #15: Nirtzah, Nirzah or Nirtza
The final Passover Seder ritual is Nirtzah. Nirtzah means "accepted", or "it should be accepted" in Hebrew. This refers to being assured that the way we conducted the Passover Seder - with conscientiousness and detail - will be accepted by G-d. In this final ritual, we conclude the Passover Seder with the following statement: "The order of the Seder is complete, according to its laws, all of its ordinances and statutes. Just as we merited to perform it, so too may we merit to truly offer the sacrifice. O Pure One, Who Dwells on High, uplift the assembly of the community who cannot be counted. Soon, and in joy, may you lead the offshoots of the stock which you have planted, redeemed to Zion. Next year may we be in Jerusalem!" Another similar statement says: "This year we are slaves, next year may we be free men in Jerusalem!" Historically, these statements are referring to the fact that most of the Jewish people have dispersed from the land of Israel to many other countries since the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 C.E., often referred to as the Diaspora (Diaspora means "scattering" or "dispersion" in Greek) and that in those countries, Jews have often seen themselves in a religious and cultural sense as "slaves" or adhering to the rule and often discrimination of people from other cultures. These declarations express the hope that while this year the Jewish people are slaves to others in other countries, hopefully next year the Jewish people will be completely free once they return to the land of Israel, particularly Jerusalem. In a religious sense, these statements ultimately refer to the Jewish people's willingness to be close to G-d. It means that although Jews feel truly lucky to be a free nation, free to serve G-d, there is something that is lacking that would make our happiness truly complete. In order to completely fear G-d and fulfill G-d's commands properly so that we may feel pure joy, the pure joy that can only be found in Jerusalem - which symbolizes pure peace, joy, and freedom to the Jewish people - Jews must ask that G-d bring the entire Jewish population living outside of Israel in the diaspora or exile, to Jerusalem so that they will gain redemption from their current exile and truly know the meaning of pure peace, joy, and freedom. It is at that point that we hope the Holy Temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem, peace, joy, and freedom will reign throughout the world, and all people will be free from their "personal Egypts". It is then that the Exodus will have been completed.
The Passover Seder closes with two declarations: (1) A declaration that references Jerusalem, which is followed by (2) A declaration that the Passover Seder was carried out according to Halakhah (Jewish law) as reflected in the prescribed 15-step formula outlined in the Passover Haggadah, and that we are now confident that it has been well-received by G-d (or another way of saying it is that we hope that it has been accepted by G-d).
(1) The first declaration is a reference to Jerusalem and Messianic times. The following declaration is for Jews living outside of Israel:
L'Shana Haba'ah B'Yerushalayim! ("Next Year In Jerusalem!" in Hebrew)
For all Jews living in Israel and particularly in Jerusalem (since Jews living in Jerusalem are already in Jerusalem), the declaration is:
L'Shana Haba'ah B'Yerushalyim Ha- Benuya! ("Next Year In Jerusalem Rebuilt!" or "Next year we should be in the rebuilt Jerusalem!" in Hebrew)
The purpose of the above declaration is that Jews everywhere hope that when Moshiach or the Messiah first appears, which will be in Jerusalem, all Jews, past and present, will be reunited again in Jerusalem, peace and prosperity will reign supreme, not only for the Jews but for all humankind, and the Third Temple will be miraculously rebuilt by the hand of G-d as opposed to the First and Second Temples, which were built with human hands. For Jews living outside Israel, the hope is that Moshaich will arrive next year in Jerusalem so that all the aforementioned events will occur. For Jews living in Israel and particularly in Jerusalem, the hope is that Jerusalem and the Third Temple will be rebuilt in Messianic times by the hand of G-d in addition to the aforementioned events that will occur in Messianic times.
Note that in Israel (from 1917-1948, Israel was known as Mandatory Palestine) prior to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the declaration was as follows: "Next year in Jerusalem rebuilt - next year a free people everywhere".
The declaration that follows is known in Hebrew as: "Chasal Siddur Pesach", meaning "The Pesach Seder has been concluded" or, more specifically, "The order of Pesach is now completed". It is a prayer which, as mentioned, declares that the Passover Seder has now been completed according to the laws of Halakhah and that we hope it has been accepted by G-d (or HaShem, one of many other names for G-d in Judaism). Some Jews say that they have completed the Passover Seder according to the prescribed 15-step formula and are now confident that it has been well-received by HaShem or G-d. The name for the 15th and final step in the Passover Seder, Nirtzah ("accepted" or "it should be accepted" in Hebrew), derives from the name "Chasal Siddur Pesach". This declaration concludes the Passover Seder. As you can see, the Passover Seder moves through the 15 steps, recalling events through each step that speak of both slavery and physical freedom. This was formulated by the Talmudic rabbis so that one could gain perspective and great appreciation for one's physical freedom by first describing how difficult one's life was in slavery (and the collective group - the Hebrews/Israelites - as a whole) before one's (and the collective group - the Hebrews/Israelites - as a whole) physical freedom. From this perspective, one gains awareness of the priceless value of one's (and the Hebrews/Israelites as a collective whole) physical freedom given by G-d, and the 15-step ordered process of the Passover Seder eventually moves from this awareness toward the hope of the future, that in future times, all will live in physical freedom, peace, prosperity, and harmony in Messianic times when Jerusalem will be rebuilt and the Third Temple will be miraculously built by the hand of G-d. In other words, the Passover Seder ends on a high note for humankind.
In closing, the following is a typical Hebrew greeting between Jewish people for Pesach or Passover:
Chag Pesach Sameach! Happy Passover Festival!
If you celebrate the Pesach Festival or Passover Festival by strictly following the special dietary laws for the Pesach Festival or Passover Festival, and are wishing another person well for the Pesach Festival or Passover Festival, and you know that person also follows the special dietary laws for the Pesach Festival or Passover Festival, then you can say the following statement to them in Hebrew:
Chag Pesach Kasher Ve'Sameach! A Happy And Kosher Passover Festival!
One final note is upon completing the 15 steps, tradition dictates that a person should then discuss the Passover laws and the story of the Exodus until he falls asleep. Now that's keeping the tradition alive, by discussing and thinking about Passover and its meanings and messages so that it might even carry over into one's dreams and subconscious! :)
Note: Remember, because of different rabbinical opinions held by and within different Jewish streams of belief or denominations, for instance, in Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, or Humanistic Judaism, and cultural classifications (Sephardic, Ashkenazic, or Mizrahi) please check with a rabbi or rabbinical authority in your city, region, or country that are from any or all of these streams of belief to find out the particular Passover celebration practices where you live. Orthodox Judaism is the traditional form of Judaism, while the other streams are more recent creations. This website is meant to give a general overview of the Passover celebration observed by Jews around the world. Variations within the Passover celebration exist and differ from family to family, city to city, country to country, and region to region due to the influence and integration of local customs, including one's local linguistic, culinary, and musical traditions into the Passover festival. The tractates Mishnah (or Mishna) Pesachim and Gemarah (or Gemara) Pesachim, which are part of the Talmud, explain in great and scholarly detail about Passover customs and practices. One should be strongly familiar with Passover practices before attempting to read and understand these essays.
Footnote regarding the dates on this Passover Seder / Pesach Seder web page: all dates discussed on this website are based on the modern Gregorian calendar, however, these dates are but one secular scholarly deduction; there are many other secular scholarly deductions as well as traditional Jewish chronological dates in addition to modern Hebrew/Jewish calendar dates regarding the timeline of events in Jewish history. To see a table of some important events in Jewish history discussed on this website and their various dates deduced from traditional Jewish sources, the modern Hebrew/Jewish calendar, and secular historical timelines, check out our Jewish History Timeline web page.