On Passover, Jews all over the world conduct a Passover Seder. Passover is the most widely observed Jewish holiday and all family members participate in the Seder.
Seder means” to order” or “organize”. The Passover Seder is a festive meal that is conducted in an organized way so that all the mitzvot (commandments) of Pesach will be performed.
The Torah commands Jews on Passover to tell the story of the Exodus and to eat matza. According to the rabbis, on Passover Jews must
- eat bitter herbs (to remind them of the Israelites' suffering);
- eat extra matza called afikoman (to remind them of the Passover sacrifice);
- recite Hallel (psalms of praise);
- drink four cups of wine and demonstrate acts of freedom (such as sitting with a pillow).
The Haggadah is a special book used for the Seder service. Haggadah means “to narrate”. The Haggadah contains the story of the Exodus from Egypt as well as explanations of symbolic objects on the Seder table and prayers, psalms, and Passover songs.
The Haggadah contains 15 words at the beginning, written as a rhyme, that lists the order of the Seder:
- Shulchan Orech
The Seder begins with Kiddush or 3 blessings. First there is a blessing over the wine. Then there is a blessing over the festival. Then the shehechayanu blessing, which praises God for granting us life to reach this occasion.
Four cups of wine are drunk during the Seder. There is a fifth cup of wine, called the cup of Elijah, which is poured but not drunk. This cup is of the prophet Elijah, who, it is hoped, will appear to announce the coming of the Massiah.
2. Urchatz - Washing the Hands
A ritual hand washing where the blessing normally recited when washing hands is not said.
A vegetable, usually parsley in dunk into salt water. After dipping the vegetable a blessing is recited.
This practice is meant to arouse the curiosity of the children. The vegetable is also said to represent the spring and the salt water is used in the Seder meal to represent the unhappy tears and sweat of the Israelites slaves.
There are three pieces of matza on the Seder plate. The middle matza is broken at the beginning of the Seder. The other two are the equivalent of the two loaves of bread, eaten at any festive meal (representing the double portion of manner sent from god to Israelites in the dessert for Shabbat).
Afikomen: Half the middle matza is hidden and called Afikomen. The children at the Seder hunt for the hidden afikoman throughout the meal. It is customary to give the child who finds the Afikomen a prize. This is intended to keep the children interested in the Seder until the end. The Afikomen is eaten at the conclusion of the Seder.
Bread of Affliction: The other half of the matza is left between the two other pieces of matza on the Seder plate, as a symbol of the bread of affliction. The breaking of the matzo represents the bread of affliction as people eat crumbs rather than whole loaves of bread.
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