A seder is a home-based service. The word “seder” means order. We use a book called a Haggadah to guide us through the steps. There are thousands of versions of Haggadahs. Congregation Beth Adam has written its own Haggadah, available here.
A Passover seder traditionally has 14 steps. Yet, you should not feel constrained by the order – there is room for creativity and choices.
Some Hebrew words are included below – but they are not essential to understanding the holiday.
1. Kadesh (Sanctification)
• This begins the sanctification of the day; there is a blessing recited over a cup of wine.
• There will be a four glasses of wine during the seder meal, based on God’s four promises in Exodus 6:6-7: “I will bring you out, I will deliver you from their bondage, I will redeem you, and I will take you to Me for a people”
2. Rachtzah (Washing of hands)
• It was once pretty standard to wash hands before performing rituals.
• Passover is the only Jewish festival with two hand washings (rather than one).
3. Karpas (Green vegetable)
• This can be any green vegetable, but is not to be confused with the bitter herb.
• It is dipped into salt water to remind us of the tears of slavery.
4. Yachatz (Breaking the middle matzah)
• We break to “create less” as a symbol of the poor who must put food aside to have enough later.
• There are traditionally two loaves of bread on Shabbat, but on Passover we use three pieces of matzah.
5. Maggid (The telling of the story)
• Children ask four questions.
• There is a reading about four sons.
• The plagues from the Exodus story are recalled; sometimes people remove a drop of wine from their cup to symbolize each plague as it is recited.
• Three symbols are explained: matzah (unleavened bread), maror (bitter herbs), and pesach (paschal lamb).
• Second cup of wine.
6. Rachtzah (Second washing of hands)
7. Matzah (Unleavened bread)
• A blessing is said over the matzah.
8. Maror (Bitter herbs)
• One of the three Passover symbols.
• Represents the bitterness of slavery.
• Many Jews use horseradish root.
9. Korech (Charoset and Hillel Sandwich)
• Charoset is a mixture of apples and nuts with wine. It symbolizes brick and mortar that slaves had to use when building stuff in Egypt.
• After maror and matzah are eaten separately, we eat them together (charoset and maror between two pieces of matzah).
• The Hillel sandwich is named after Rabbi Hillel who lived around the year 0 CE.
10. Shulchan Orech (Meal)
• The meal traditionally does not include any leavened food. Matzah ball soup and gefilte fish are pretty popular for the first courses. Then a main course and dessert.
11. Tzafun (Hidden things)
• Kids search for a hidden piece of matzah called the afikoman – and often receive a prize for finding it.
12. Barech (Blessing)
• Read Psalm 126, Grace after meal.
• Third cup of wine.
• Elijah is the prophet who is supposedly going to usher in the messianic age.
• A cup of wine is added at many seders for Elijah, set on the table for him to “drink.”
• The door is opened for him. (In all likelihood, the tradition of opening the door at seders probably began in the Middle Ages as a way of showing Christian neighbors that nothing suspicious was happening inside the Jews’ homes).
• While some wait for a messianic age to come, others of us choose to see how we can all contribute to making the world a better place.
• Psalm 113.
• Fourth cup of wine.
14. Neertzah (Conclusion)
• Concluding prayer
• The wish is expressed “Next year in Jerusalem” – meaning a rebuilt temple. However some of us broaden it to mean that the hope is for peace in Jerusalem next year.