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Seder

The Seder (Hebrew for 'order') is a special Jewish ceremonial dinner revolving around the story of Exodus. The Seder is held on the first and second evenings of Passover. The Seder commemorates the Biblical exodus of the formerly enslaved Jewish people from Egypt. Jewish families take turns reading from the Haggadah[?] during the Seder, which tells the story of the Exodus. It also includes rabbinical commentary on various Passover customs.

The participants in the Seder are seated comfortably, usually leaning on pillows. This is to symbolize the freedom of the Jewish people compared to their past enslavement. The Haggadah is read from throughout the Seder, and portions of it prompt certain actions.

Table of contents

The Seder (order) of the Seder

Hadlakat ha-Nerot

Before the Seder begins, the Yom Tov (festival) candles are lit to signify the beginning of Passover. A bracha (blessing to God) is recited over the candles.

Kadeish (The First Cup of Wine)

Throughout a Passover Seder, each participant drinks four cups of wine. The amount is not considered to be important, so a "cup" of wine may be a very small portion, if a person prefers. It is common for children to substitute grape juice for wine. The Kiddush bracha is recited.

Ur'chatz (Wash Hands)

In traditional Jewish homes, it is common to ritually wash the hands before a meal. Usually, a bracha is recited, but the bracha is not recited on Passover.

Karpas (Appetizer)

Jews dip a green vegetable in salt water as a reminder of the tears of their enslaved ancestors.

Yachataz (Break the middle matzah)

The matzah[?], a flat, crispy, unleavened bread, is silently introduced in a stack of three, covered by a cloth. The middle matzah is broken in two. Half will be hidden later, as the afikomen, the dessert of the meal.

Ha Lachma Anya (Invitation)

The matzot (plural of matzah) is uncovered, and referred to as the "bread of affliction". Jews assume the role of their enslaved ancestors, and acknowledge their enslavement, but express hope to be free. They also express an invitation to all who are hungry or needy to join in the Seder.

Maggid (The Telling)

The story of Passover, and the change from slavery to freedom, are told in four different ways.

The First Telling

The first telling begins with the youngest child's recitation of the four questions, which are then answered by the Haggadah.

The Four Questions

Mah nishtanah ha-lahylah ha-zeh mi-kol ha-layloht, mi-kol ha-layloht
Why is this night different from all other nights?

  1. She-b'khol ha-layloht anu okhlin chameytz u-matzah, chameytz u-matzah. Ha-lahylah ha-zeh, ha-lahylah ha-zeh, kooloh matzah?
    Why is it that on all other nights during the year we eat either bread or matzoh, but on this night we eat only matzoh?
  2. She-b'khol ha-layloht anu okhlin sh'ar y'rakot, sh'ar y'rakot. Ha-lahylah ha-zeh, ha-lahylah ha-zeh, maror?
    Why is it that on all other nights we eat all kinds of herbs, but on this night we eat only bitter herbs?
  3. She-b'khol ha-layloht ayn anu mat'bilin afilu pa'am echat, afilu pa'am echat. Ha-lahylah ha-zeh, ha-lahylah ha-zeh, sh'tay p'amim?
    Why is it that on all other nights we do not dip our herbs even once, but on this night we dip them twice?
  4. She-b'khol ha-layloht anu okhlin bayn yosh'bin u'vayn m'soobin, bayn yosh'bin u'vayn m'soobin. Ha-lahylah ha-zeh, ha-lahylah ha-zeh, koolanu m'soobin?

The Second Telling

The second telling begins with the questions asked by the "four sons". They each phrase the question "What is the meaning of this service?" in different ways. The four sons are characterized as being wise, being simple, being evil, or being too young to ask. The Haggadah says that the wise son, who inquires at length of the service, should be answered with the complete set of customs of the service. The wicked son, whose asks his father "What is this cult of yours?", isolates himself from the Jewish people. Therefore, he is rebuked by the explanation that "It is because God acted for my sake when I left Egypt." The one who is too young to ask is told "It is because of what the Almighty did for me when I left Egypt." The simple son, who asks "What is this?" is answered with "With a strong hand the Almighty led us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage."

The Third Telling

The third telling consists of the story of Exodus, from four verses in Deuteronomy. The Haggadah explores the meaning of those verses, and embellishes the story. This telling refers to the life of Moses, and his demand that Pharoah free the Jewish slaves. According to the Bible, when the Egyptian Pharoah refused, God caused ten plagues to occur in Egypt. The ten plagues were:

  1. All of the water was changed to blood
  2. An infestation of frogs sprang up in Egypt
  3. The Egyptians were afflicted by lice
  4. An infestation of wild animals sprang up in Egypt
  5. Egyptian cattle died
  6. An epidemic of boils[?] affected the Egyptians
  7. Hail rained from the sky
  8. Locusts swarmed over Egypt
  9. Egypt was covered in darkness
  10. The first-born children of the Egyptians were slain by an angel of God

Throughout the plagues, Pharoah promises to free the Jewish slaves, but refuses when the plague subsides. The Jewish slaves were not affected by any of the plagues. After the last plague, Pharoah ordered the Jewish slaves to leave Egypt, to end the plague. However, the Egyptians soon chased after the Jewish slaves on horseback and nearly caught up with them, when the Jews were stranded at the Red Sea. At that point, Moses was commanded by God to lift up his staff, and the waters parted. The slaves safely passed through the sea, and the pursuing Egyptian army was drowned.

At this part in the Seder, songs of praise are sung, including the song Dayeinu, which proclaims that if God had performed any single deed of many deeds performed for the Jewish people, it would have been enough.

The Fourth Telling

The fourth telling refers to questions about the customs of the Seder, and their answers. The Seder suggests that each Jew should feel as if he or she had just been themselves liberated from slavery.

Kos Sheini (The second cup of wine)

At this point, after having told the story of the Exodus four times, participants in the Seder celebrate their redemption with the second cup of wine.

Rochtza

The ritual hand washing is repeated, this time with the traditional blessing before breaking bread.

Motzi/Matzah

God is praised for bringing forth bread from the Earth, and then he is praised for matzah, which is now referred to as the bread of freedom.

Maror

Bitter herbs, referred to as maror are eaten as a symbol of former slavery.

Koreich

The matzah and maror are combined, similar to a sandwich, and eaten. This follows the tradition of Rabbi Hillel, who did the same at his Seder 2000 years ago.

Shulchan Orech (Set the table)

The meal is eaten.

Tzafun (dessert)

The afikomen, which was hidden earlier in the Seder, is the last morsel of food eaten by participants in the Seder. In some homes, after an adult hides it, children search the house, trying to locate it. They are rewarded by money or a small gift after they locate it, since the Seder cannot be completed without the afikomen.

Bareich (Blessing after the food)

God is praised for providing the food, the Promised Land (Israel), Passover, Jerusalem, and all that is good in ones life.

Kos Shli'shee (The Third Cup of Wine)

The meal concludes with a third cup of wine.

Eliahu ha-Navi (Elijah the prophet)

The song Eliahu ha-Navi[?] is sung to welcome the prophet Elijah to the table, whose coming would signify the coming of the Messiah.

Hallel (songs of praise)

Various psalms of praise for God are sung for redeeming the Jewish people.

Ruach (spirit)

The mood turns more festive with songs to celebrate freedom.

Kos R'vi'i/Nirtzah (The fourth cup of wine/acceptance)

The Seder is concluded with the final cup of wine, and a prayer that the Seder be accepted. The hope for the Messiah is expressed: "Next year in Jerusalem!"



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