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Home > Holidays > Passover's Guide to Passover
Cast of Characters
Cleaning for Passover
The Haggadah
Passover Foods
The Seder
The Seder Plate
The Story

Passover: The Seder

The seder is the ceremonial meal that commemorates the Jewish exodus from slavery in Egypt to freedom. Food is only a part of the process; the most important component is the maggid, the telling of the exodus from Egypt. This is preceded by "the four questions," recited by the youngest child present:

a) On all other nights, we eat chametz and matzah. On this night why only matzah?

b) On all other nights we eat all vegetables; on this night why only maror?

c) On all other nights we don't dip our food even once; why on this night twice?

d) On all other nights we eat either sitting or reclining; why on this night do we all recline?

The answer to the four questions? It was a long, hot 210 years in Egypt…

When the ten plagues are recited, Ashkenazic Jews have the custom to spill a drop of wine for each plague. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explained that this indicates reduced joy at our celebration coming at the suffering of the Egyptians.

Each participant at the seder drinks four cups of wine, corresponding to the four words used by the Torah to describe God's redemption of the Jews in taking them out of Egypt: "I will bring you out," "I will save you," "I will redeem you," and "I will take you" (Exodus, 6:6-7).

Matzah and maror are eaten at the seder to commemorate God's commanding the Jews to eat the roasted lamb with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. Additionally, when drinking the wine and eating, everyone at the table reclines, symbolizing freedom.

The seder, which means "order" in Hebrew, proceeds through 14 steps:

1) Kadesh - Like every Shabbat or festival meal, the seder begins with the kiddush, the blessings over the wine to sanctify the day.

2) Urchatz - Washing the hands before eating a vegetable dipped in liquid, based on a Talmudic custom.

3) Karpas - Eating a green vegetable dipped in salt water.

4) Yachatz - Breaking the middle of the three matzahs, with the larger half put away for the afikoman. This is the point in the seder at which all the kids begin plotting how to steal the afikoman, knowing how high the stakes are in this winner-take-all game. (Winner gets a new bike from Mom and Dad; loser gets a chocolate covered macaroon.)

5) Maggid - The telling of the story of Passover and the exodus. This relies on the text laid out in the haggadah, but participants at the table are encouraged to discuss their own questions.

6) Rachtzah - The traditional washing of hands before eating bread, or in this case, matzah.

7) Motzi Matzah - The Hamotzi blessing and eating matzah.

8) Maror - Eating the bitter herbs. The maror recalls the bitter times Jews had as slaves in Egypt. Old schoolers use real horse radish root for the maror; gen-X'ers tend to prefer the tamer Romaine lettuce, the root of which is bitter. This ain't your grandfather's maror, thankfully.

9) Korech - As Hillel the sage used to do, we eat a sandwich of matzah and maror and with a touch of charoset, but the charoset runs out quickly. Sort of like when your turkey sandwich for lunch at work has no turkey left, just bread and lettuce. You tell yourself there's turkey there, but you know there isn't. Same deal with the korech.

10) Shulchan Orech - The meal. If you're not stuffed from Korech sandwich, tipsy from the wine, or exhausted (it should be close to 11 p.m. by this point), bring on the chicken.

11) Tzafon - Eating the afikoman as dessert. If the kids who stole the afikoman have fallen asleep, their parents negotiate on their behalf. If they're awake, they handle their own talks. Until Grandpa gets grumpy, anyway.

12) Barech - Grace after meals. "Rachamim. Sour cream."

13) Hallel - A few more songs and psalms praising God, taken from the Hallel recited on all holidays. Let's be honest-everyone mumbles through this.

14) Nirtzah - Six lines that conclude the seder. Until you turn the page and find extra-credit songs.

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