What Is a Seder?
The Seder is a marathon feast that includes reading, drinking wine,
telling stories, eating special foods and singing.
It is held after nightfall on the first night of Passover (and the second night if you live outside of Israel), the anniversary of our nation’s
miraculous exodus from Egyptian slavery more than 3,000 years ago. This year’s Seder(s) will be on April 10 (and 11), 2017.
When is Passover?
What’s on the Menu?
During the course of the evening you will have:
- four cups of wine.
veggies dipped in saltwater.
- flat, dry cracker-like bread called matzah
- bitter herbs, often horseradish (without additives) and romaine
lettuce, dipped into charoset (a
paste of nuts, apples, pears and wine).
- a festive meal that may
contain time-honored favorites, like chicken soup and gefilte fish.
Each item has its place in a 15-step choreographed combination of
tastes, sounds, sensations and smells that have been with the Jewish people for
Passover recipes for all tastes
What Do We Use?
- ceremonial foods are all arranged on a platter, called a ka’arah or Seder plate. There may be one ka’arah for the entire Seder, or several.
procedure is all laid out in a book called a Haggadah. Although the text is in Hebrew (with a sprinkling of Aramaic), it is
perfectly acceptable to read the Haggadah in translation if you don’t
Print a Haggadah for your Seder
A Note From the Sages
At the Seder, every person should feel as if he or she were going out of
Egypt. We begin with the story of our patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
and recount the Jewish people’s descent into Egypt, recalling their suffering
and persecution. We are with them as G‑d sends the ten plagues to
punish Pharaoh and his nation, and follow along as they leave Egypt and cross
the Sea of Reeds. We witness the miraculous hand of G‑d as the waters part,
allowing the Israelites to pass, then return to inundate the Egyptian
As we eat bitter foods of affliction and poverty, the Exodus becomes a
reality—as real as the festive meal and celebratory toasts that follow.
More freedom-related thoughts
Here are the 15 steps of the Seder, with a bit of explanation:
The Seder service begins with the recitation of kiddush, proclaiming the holiness of the
holiday. This is said while holding a cup of wine, the first of the four cups
we will drink (while reclining) throughout the Seder.
The Four Cups of Wine
Why four cups? The Torah uses four expressions of freedom or
deliverance in connection with our liberation from Egypt. Some link them to the four
great merits the children of Israel had in exile: (1) They did not
change their Hebrew names; (2) they continued to speak their own language,
Hebrew; (3) They remained highly moral; (4) They remained loyal to one another.
Wine is used because it is a symbol of joy and happiness.
More reasons for the four cups
Why We Recline
When drinking the four cups and eating the matzah, we lean on our
left side to accentuate the fact that we are free people. In ancient times only
free people had the luxury of reclining while eating.
We wash our hands in the usual, ritually prescribed manner, as is done
before a meal, but without the customary blessing.
The next step in the Seder, Karpas,
requires dipping food into water. Jewish law specifies that certain wet foods
be eaten with a utensil or that one’s hands be purified first by washing. On
the eve of the Seder, we choose the less common (but more ideal) observance to
arouse our children’s curiosity.
Step-by-step washing instructions
3. Karpas—the “Appetizer”
A small piece of vegetable (an onion or boiled potato in Chabad
tradition) is dipped into salt water and eaten (after reciting the blessing
Dipping the karpas in
salt water (after having washed our hands) is part of a series of acts intended
arouses the child’s curiosity.
The Hebrew word karpas (parsley),
when read backwards, alludes to the backbreaking labor performed by the 600,000
Jews in Egypt. (The last letter, samech, has
the numerical equivalent of 60, representing 60 times 10,000, while the
remaining three Hebrew letters spell perech,
The meaning behind the karpas
4. Yachatz—Breaking the Matzah
The middle matzah on the Seder plate is broken in two. The
smaller part of the middle matzah is returned to the Seder plate. This broken
middle matzah, the “bread of poverty,” remains visible as we tell the story of
Exodus (see step 5) and will be eaten shortly thereafter. The larger piece is
put aside for later use as the afikoman
(see step 12). This unusual action of breaking the matzah not only attracts
the child’s attention once again, but also recalls G‑d’s splitting of the Sea
of Reeds to allow the children of Israel to cross on dry land.
A deep lesson from the broken matzah
5. Maggid—the Haggadah
At this point, the poor are invited to join the Seder. The Seder tray is
moved aside, a second cup of wine is poured, and the child, who by now is
bursting with curiosity, asks the time-honored question:
“Mah nishtanah ha-lailah
hazeh mikol ha-leilot? Why is this night different from all other
nights?” Why only matzah? Why the dipping? Why the bitter herbs? Why are we
relaxing and reclining as if we were kings?
The child’s questioning triggers one of the most
significant elements of Passover, which is the highlight of the Seder
ceremony: reading the Haggadah, which tells the story of the Exodus from
Egypt. The answer includes a brief review of history, a brief narrative of how
how Abraham rejected idolatry and entered a pact with G‑d, a description of the
suffering imposed upon the Israelites, a listing of the plagues visited on the
Egyptians, and an enumeration of the miracles performed by the Almighty to
redeem His people. We conclude by thanking G‑d for the having set us free from Egypt and a
prayer for the Final Redemption.
Brush up with the Four Questions trainer
6. Rachtzah—Washing Before the Meal
After concluding the first part of the Haggadah by drinking
the second cup of wine (while reclining), the hands are washed again, this time
with the customary blessings, as is usually done before eating bread.
Step-by-step washing instructions
7-8. Motzi Matzah—We Eat the Matzah
Taking hold of the three matzahs (with the broken one between
the two whole ones), recite the customary blessing before bread. Then, letting
the bottom matzah drop back onto the plate, and holding the top whole matzah
with the broken middle one, recite the special blessing “al achilat matzah.” Then break a bit of the upper matzah and at
least one ounce from the middle matzah (ideally an ounce from each), and eat
the two pieces together while reclining.
What Is Matzah?
9. Maror—the Bitter Herbs
Take at least one ounce of the bitter herbs. Dip it in the charoset, then shake the latter off and
make the blessing “al achilat maror.” Eat
What is maror?
10. Korech—the Hillel Sandwich
In keeping with the practice of Hillel, the great Talmudic sage, a
sandwich of matzah and maror is
eaten. Break two pieces off the bottom matzah, which should be at least one
ounce together. Again, take at least one ounce of bitter herbs and dip them in
the charoset, which is shaken off.
Place this between the two pieces of matzah, say “kein asah Hillel…,” and eat the sandwich while reclining.
Learn more about the korech
11. Shulchan Orech—the Feast
The holiday meal is now served. We begin the meal by eating the
hard-boiled egg dipped into salt water. Traditionally associated with mourning,
the egg reminding us that our meal lacks the sacrificial lamb.
Note: The zeroa (the leg of
lamb or chicken leg or neck on the Seder plate), is not eaten at the Seder.)
Passover stories to share at the meal
12. Tzafun—Out of Hiding
After the meal, the half-matzah that had been “hidden” and set aside for
the afikoman (“dessert”) is
taken out and eaten. It symbolizes the Paschal lamb, which our ancestors ate at
the end of their Passover Seders.
Everyone should eat at least 1½ ounces of matzah, reclining, before
midnight. After eating the afikoman,
we do not eat or drink anything except for the two remaining cups of wine.
13. Berach—Blessings After the Meal
A third cup of wine is filled and Grace After Meals is recited. After
the Grace, we recite the blessing over wine and drink the third cup while
Now we fill the cup of Elijah and our own cups with wine. We
open the door and recite the passage inviting the Prophet Elijah, the harbinger
of the coming of Moshiach, our righteous Messiah.
Why we open the door for Elijah
14. Hallel—Songs of Praise
At this point, having recognized the Almighty and His unique guidance of
the Jewish people, we go still further and sing His praises as L‑rd of the
After reciting the Hallel, we again recite the blessing over wine and
drink the fourth cup, reclining.
Having carried out the Seder service properly, we are sure that it has
been well received by the Almighty. We then say “Leshanah haba’ah b’Yerushalayim—Next year in Jerusalem.”