Guide to Making the Seder with Ease
By Eliezer Cohen
Every one complains about the seder. Yet every one has one and enjoys it. Here are some of the main points of the seder so that you can prepare and enjoy it.
This year, 1999, Passover night, the first seder, comes out on Wednesday night, March 31. In Israel there is only one 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:
- Wine preferably red (grape juice may be used also)
- Karpas a raw vegetable, such as celery or radishes, which will be dipped in the next item
- Salt water in a small bowl.
- Bitter herbs, some people use romaine lettuce, some use horseradish, some people mix them.
- Charoset, a thick tasty mixture of ground apples, dates, nuts, cinnamon, ginger and wine.
- Hard-boiled eggs.
- A few copies of the Hagadda, with an English translation.
Those are the bare bone minimum requirements for the seder. Food, like chicken and potatoes are recommended.
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 is an act of a free man, whereas a slave could not recline.
Beginning the Seder
The seder starts off with the kiddush. After recital of the kiddush, everyone drinks their wine 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 and then 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.
The father now breaks the middle matzo into two pieces. The larger piece he takes and hides 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. 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.
At the end of the recitation of the haggada, the blessing is made on wine and the second cup is drunk while reclining on the left side.
Afterward the hands are washed for the matzo. Two blessings are made upon the matzo as opposed to only one blessing on bread (or matzo on regular nights). The three matzos are held for the first blessing. For the second blessing, the bottom matzo is put down and the top matzo and the middle half of matzo is used. After the blessing, the matzo is distributed to each of the assembled who eat the matzo while reclining.
The Bitter Herbs
After eating the matzo, 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 like free men 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, we 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 mourner 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.
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, causing the children to go berserk 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.
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 brethren, in the Holy Temple, that it should be rebuilt swiftly in the coming days. Amen!!
from the March 1999 Passover Edition of the Jewish Magazine