A Review of the Seder of the Seder

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18 Feb 2014
As appeared in Torah Tidbits


Kiddush is said over the first of the Four Cups. Most people stand for Seder Kiddush (even if they usually sit for Kiddush). When saying SHEHECHEYANU, have in mind the Yom Tov and the mitzvot of matza, Haggadah, and the 4 Cups. (Women who make their own Kiddush should say SHEHECHEYANU with Kiddush, not with candles. Those who hear Kiddush from someone else, may say SHEHECHEYANU with candles, but should then not say AMEN to SHEHECHEYANU in Kiddush, as it might be considered an interruption between Kiddush and the first sip of wine.) We then sit and recline comfortably to the left side and drink the wine (even those who usually stand). Unlike regular Kiddush, for which a hefty sip can suffice, at the Seder (for each cup), one should drink the whole cup, or at least the majority of the cup. Grape juice is a valid – but non-preferred – substitute for wine. It should be used by those who can’t handle wine and a Seder at the same time. Diluting wine with grape juice (but not with water) is better than straight grape juice. Part of the definition of Freedom “requires” alcoholic content.


Wash hands, with cup but without bracha (in some families, only the Seder leader washes). Required according to the rules of ritual purity when eating wet foods. This washing is one of the things done to arouse the child’s curiosity.


A small piece of celery (or other green vegetable; some use boiled potato, onion, etc. – family custom determines) is dipped in salt water (or vinegar). The bracha Borei Pri HaAdama is said. One should have in mind the Maror as well. Reclining is optional. Karpas symbolizes Spring. It also whets our appetite – a further sign of freedom and luxury. Salt water reminds us of both the bitter tears of slavery and the freedom waters of Yam Suf.


We next break the middle matza and hide the larger portion for later (Afikoman), just as the Final Geula is yet to come. Some also see this as a “poor person’s or slave’s act”, having a small quantity of food, but only eating a portion of it now and saving the remainder for later. The act of “breaking bread” but not eating it (now) is also meant to stimulate the curiosity of the questioning child. The remaining piece – over which the Magid portion is recited – is now in its proper broken form – LECHEM ONI, bread of poverty, bread of affliction…


Over the matza and the second cup of wine, we tell of the Exodus in answer to children’s questions. Real questions should be encouraged, in addition to the traditional MA NISHTANA, and personalized answers should be offered in addition to the standard Haggadah text. Following the story and analysis of selected Torah pesukim, the first installment of Hallel is sung. The second cup of wine follows the “Redemption” bracha and HaGafen. In some homes, the Seder leader reads (and explains) the Haggadah and the rest of the celebrants listen. It seems that +n most families, everyone says the Haggada (more or less) together, with a healthy dose of divrei Torah and explanations thrown in by everyone. Either way, parents/grandparents should also TALK to their children.


At this point, we wash a regular N’tilat Yadayim, with a bracha. It is proper that there be no talking from this point until after the Hillel sandwich. (It is advisable to spend a few moments before washing to explain the several upcoming elements of the Seder.) Talking “to the point”, if necessary, after washing is permitted.


The 2½ matzot are taken in hand and HAMOTZI is said. The two whole matzot (top & bottom) serve as LECHEM MISHNA, as is proper for a Yom Tov meal. The broken piece is the mitzva of the night. Some salt the Motzi; some don’t. Some keep the matzot covered during the bracha; some don’t. People without their own Lechem Mishna should answer AMEN to the leader’s HaMotzi, even if they will be saying their own “Matza” bracha.


Without delay, put down the bottom matza, and say …AL ACHILAT MATZA on the whole and half. When saying the bracha, one should have in mind this first matza, the matza of Koreich, and the Afikoman at the end of the meal. Opinions vary, but approx. 2/3 of a square machine matza (or an equivalent amount of hand matza) will satisfy the Torah’s requirement of a “KEZAYIT”. There is a custom to have a portion of matza from each of the whole piece and the broken. If one has his own 3 matzot to start with, this custom can be followed. About half of the top-whole square and the broken piece will more than cover the requirement and the custom. The custom does not “apply” to people without their own 3 matzot. One must recline to the left while eating the matza, as a symbol of freedom. One set of matzot will not suffice for the requirements of all Seder participants. Either each person should have his own set of 3 Shmurah matzot, or a plentiful stock of matza pieces should be available to supplement the piece of the “Ceremonial” matza one receives from the Seder leader.


A KEZAYIT of maror (lettuce leaves or stalks, or horseradish) dipped in Charoset is eaten – without reclining – following the bracha – as a reminder of bitter slavery. The Yerushalmi explains that the longer lettuce remains in the ground, the more bitter it becomes. This makes lettuce an excellent reminder of the life of our ancestors in Egypt. Some use a small amount of grated horseradish (not from a jar, since that is pickled in vinegar and invalid for the mitzva) wrapped in a lettuce leaf. Maror is a rabbinic requirement until the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash, when it will resume its Torah status as an accompaniment to the Korban Pesach.


A KEZAYIT of the bottom matza is eaten together with another KEZAYIT of maror to commemorate the Torah’s command to eat the Korban Pesach together with matza and maror. Some dip Koreich in Charoset; some don’t. Some recline; some don’t. Some say ZECHER L’MIKDASH before; some say it after eating the Koreich.

Shulchan Orech

We now partake of the festive meal, which should be an integral part of the Seder, not a food break. Now is the perfect time to discuss various aspects of the Seder in a relaxed atmosphere. Some recline during the meal. Many begin the meal with egg (from the Seder plate or elsewhere) and salt water. Care must be taken not to stuff oneself at the Seder, since the Afikoman (like the Korban Pesach it commemorates) must be eaten AL HASOVA – when satiated but not stuffed.


Afikoman commemorates the Korban Pesach and/or the matza that was eaten with the K.P. at the end of the meal. A KEZAYIT (some take two K’ZEITIM) of matza is eaten while reclining. The Afikoman should be completed before halachic midnight – 11:43pm (still winter time) this year, for Jerusalem.


Birkat HaMazon is said over the third cup of wine. Forgetting Yaaleh V’Yavo requires repeating the benching. Slightly different rules for remembering the omission while still in the Rachem-U’v’nei bracha or right after it, but before continuing.


The fourth cup is filled and Hallel is completed. The “other” Hallel is also said, as are other songs of praise from davening. A fifth cup is filled – Eliyahu’s Cup – which represents the fifth term of redemption, the coming of the Moshiach, and the building of the third Beit HaMikdash. Most people leave this cup undrunk, just as the fifth verse (from the Bikkurim portion) is currently left un-“darshened” since we have not yet been blessed with peace and tranquility in Eretz Yisrael, with all Jews here, etc. This sentiment is summed up by our prayerful statement – L’SHANA HABA’A B’YERUSHALAYIM HAB’NUYA – next year in rebuilt Jerusalem. When drinking the fourth cup, we should make sure to have at least a full REVI’IT so that the after-bracha can be said without doubt.


We conclude the Seder with songs and poems which speak of miracles, Divine protection, and justice. This portion of the Haggadah, which seems to have been added later in history, speaks of the broader picture – not just about Pesach, but about all of Jewish Life and History.

Some have the custom to read SHIR HASHIRIM after the Seder.