The Seder Made Easy
By Nachum Mohl
It seems like every one must complain about the difficulties involved in preparing for the Passover Seder. Inspite of the exaggerated hardships, everyone makes a seder and everyone enjoys it. According to the effort put in, so the enjoyment that comes out.
Here are some of the main points of the seder to be aware of so that you can prepare it easily and still have energy to enjoy it.
This year, 2010, Passover night, the first seder, comes out on Monday evening, March 29. In Israel there is only one night for the seder, but outside of the land of Israel, there are seders for two consecutive nights.
The following are the "ingredients" that are necessary for the seder and the seder plate which is set out on the table:
- Wine preferably red (grape juice may also be used) - enough for four cups for each participant
- Karpas a raw vegetable, such as celery or radishes, which will be dipped in the salt water
- Salt water in a small bowl.
- Bitter herbs, some people use romaine lettuce, some use horseradish, some people put the horseradish inside the romaine leaves. Note: horseradish is not the store bought mixture, but grated root of the raw horseradish - it is strong!
- Charoset, a thick tasty mixture of consisting of ground apples, dates, nuts, cinnamon, ginger and wine.
- Hard-boiled eggs - for the seder plate and some have the custom of eating one before the meal.
- Copies of the Hagadda, with an English translation - one for each of the participants.
Listed above are the bare bone minimum requirements for the seder. A festive meal should also be planned, such as soup, fish, and a main course of chicken and/or meat with tasty side dishes such as potatoes.
Arranging the Seder Table
Most people have a special seder plate on which the various item are displayed. Each participant to the seder is given a nice wine cup that holds at least 3 1/2 ounces. Three whole matzos are placed on the table. Many people have beautiful and special dishes just for this one evening. The matzos are covered with a cloth. During the seder, they are uncovered and recovered several times.
The chairs are arranged to permit the participants to recline while eating. This is a very important part of the seder, as reclining reflects the way a free man eats as opposed to a slave could not recline since he must be prepared to do his master's biddings.
Since the Seder follows a set form, it is important to have a clear and well written Haggadah for the seder. Going over the Haggadah before hand, will save much confusion during the seder.
Beginning the Seder
The seder starts off with the kiddush as written in the Hagaddah. After recital of the kiddush, everyone drinks their wine or grape juice in a reclining fashion. It is best to drink the entire glass of wine, but at least a half of cup is sufficient. Afterwards the cups are re-filled and the seder continues.
After kiddush, each person washes his hands with a cup as if he/she is going to eat the matzah, but then instead of eating the matzah the karpas is dipped in the salt water and eaten. The purpose of this is to arouse the curiosity of the small children in order that they may ask questions. (Normally it is the custom to wash the hands before partaking of bread or matzah.)
Making the Afikomen
The father (or leader of the seder) now breaks the middle matzo into two pieces. The larger piece is taken and hidden under a pillow which is near his chair. This afikomen is to become the dessert. The tradition in almost all families is that the children try to steal the afikomen when the father is not watching. The afikomen is eaten at the conclusion of the Seder. With out eating the afikomen, the seder can not be completed. The custom is for children to demand a high ransom for it with the father using his negotiation skills to make the payment realistic. Although this may seem ridiculous, it does help keep the children awake during the long seder.
The Four Questions
At this point the youngest child asks the famous four questions and every one listens to him. After the youngest child finishes, many have the custom to repeat it. After this the father relates the answer. It has become customary to let each person read a bit of the seder.
In the old days, the children were provided with nuts to eat in order that they not become bored. Today, many people sprinkle the evening with kosher for Passover candies for the children. It is recommended that you have some tasty candies on hand to bribe the children, as the seder seems long to them and a bit of candy as reward for particiaption can turn a long seder into a very merry experience.
At the end of the recitation of the haggada, the blessing is again made on wine and the second cup is drunk while reclining on the left side.
Afterward the hands are washed with a cup for the matzah. Two blessings are made upon the matzah as opposed to only one blessing on bread (or matzah on other nights). The three matzos (really two and a half as half was put away for the Afikomen) are held for the first blessing. For the second blessing, the bottom matzo is put down and the top matzah and the middle half of matzo are used. After the blessing, the matzo is distributed to each of the assembled who eat the matzah while reclining.
The Bitter Herbs
After eating the matzah, the bitter herbs are now distributed. Unlike the matzo and wine, the bitter herbs are not eaten while reclining. They represent the bitterness of slavery. Slaves do not recline as free men do when they eat. The bitter herbs are dipped into the charoset. The charoset is the color and consistency of the mortar with which the Jews worked in Egypt.
Next is the sandwich. The sandwich is the manner in which many ate the Pascal lamb during the time of the temple. The matzo, the bitter herbs and the Pascal sacrifice (the Pascal lamb) were eaten together. We do not have the Passover sacrifice, but we have the matzo and the bitter herbs. So we make a sandwich and we eat them together.
After this, many, but not all, take the hard-boiled egg and we dip it into salt water. This is in remembrance of a different sacrifice that was brought to the Temple. A festival offering was also eaten on the Passover night. The egg is a symbol of mourning, it is the first food that mourners eat when they return from the graveyard. We recall that we are mourners for the Temple, by dipping it into the salt water, which is symbolic of our tears shed for the Temple.
At this point, we now enjoy the delicious meal made in honor of Passover. Fish, soup, meat, poultry, vegetables etc, combine to make this an unforgettable Passover meal.
The last food eaten is the afikomen. The afikomen, as you may recall is that piece of matzo that the father had broken into two pieces and hid one half, causing the children to have a good time while trying to steal it. Now, hopefully the matza has been redeemed and each participant is given a large piece. More matza may be added to increase the size. The purpose of the afikomen is to give the final taste of slavery/freedom that lingers after the seder is complete. It is obligatory to eat this in a reclining manner. Nothing is to be eaten after eating the afikomen.
After the afikomen, the grace after meals is recited, followed by the third glass of wine (reclining of course).
After this we sing praises to G-d for taking us out of Egypt and for bringing us into the land of Israel, for giving us the Torah and for many other miracles and benefits that He bestowed upon us.
The fourth and final cup of wine is now drunk. We do not eat nor drink after the seder, (as if we had some room to put something in our stomachs). We wish each other that we shall merit next year to be together in Jerusalem, together with all of our fellow Jews, in the Holy Temple, that it should be rebuilt swiftly in the coming days. Amen!!
from the March 2010 Edition of the Jewish Magazine