In Hebrew, it means "order."

Usually connotes the Pesach ritual, in which the story of the Exodus is recapitulated, while the participants feast on foods that symbolize various aspects of the narrative.

"Why is this night different from all other nights?" It is the question asked by the youngest sentient child at the seder, which gives the other attendants the opportunity to recount the story of the Exodus from Egypt. This is the point of the seder, to ensure that the Jews never forget the trials of their ancestors and the gifts given to them by the Almighty.

This question is followed by four more specific ones (note: recent, liberal additions to the Passover celebration are in [square brackets]:

  1. On all other nights, we can eat either leavened or unleavened bread, as we choose. Why on this night do we eat only unleavened bread? The answer is to tell about the matzo, the bread of affliction.
  2. On other nights we don't force ourselves to eat bitter herbs. Why on this night must we eat the maror? To remember the bitterness of our ancestors' slavery[, and the suffering of all oppressed people past and present].
  3. On other nights, we don't dip our food, or we dip it in whatever we like. Why on this night do we dip certain foods twice? We dip the parsley in salt water to remind us of our people's tears, mingled with the renewed hope of Spring. We dip the bitter herbs in to the charoset to remind us of the bitterness we felt as we mixed mortar for the pharoah's buildings.)
  4. On other nights, we can sit as we please. Why on this night do we recline, like wealthy people? To remind us of our freedom, of the mercy of the lord who freed us from slavery [and gave us the inner freedom to grow in wisdom and love, and spread our blessings to others].
The seder is an extended eating/storytelling/praying ritual carried out on the first two nights of the Jewish holiday of Passover. Its made up of 15 highly specific steps. It's also an excuse to drink four cups of wine, though if you're at a seder with your entire family I would have to recommend against getting too drunk and weepy and accusing everybody present of ruining your life with their dead ceremonies. While the specific seder rituals tend to recall symbols of past affliction, the seder itself is a celebration of God-given freedom. As a result, seder participants often recline on pillows instead of sitting up straight. In addition, at some seders, no one will pour his/her own wine, instead, everyone pours for his/her neighbor.

The sequence of the seder is:

Kadesh - Participants pour the first cup of wine, recite the blessing over wine, recite the Shehechiyanu blessings thanking God for all renewal, and drink the first cup of wine.

Orchatz - Participants wash their hands.

Karpas - Participants recite the blessing over vegetables, and eat a green vegetable such as parsley, lettuce, scallion, etc., dipped it in salt water to recall the tears of the Israelites in Egypt.

Yachatz - There are 3 matzahs on the table, and leader of the seder breaks the middle one of these into two pieces. He/She replaces the smaller half, and, wrapping the larger half in a napkin, puts it aside to eat as the afikomen at the end of the meal. Depending on tradition, the seder leader may at this point put the afikoman behind/under his/her chair, for the children at the seder to steal and hide. Among families with this tradition, the seder leader is responsible for finding the afikoman so it can be eaten later, or bribing the children with promises of presents if they return it.

Magid - Participants recite the Passover story, in the form of the Hagaddah text. Magid has a number of components:
  • "Ha Lachma Anya" - A door is opened as a sign of hospitality, and an Aramaic text is recited explaining that the matzah is "the bread of affliction". The door is then closed.

  • The second cup of wine is poured, but not yet drunk.

  • The four questions - The youngest person at the seder asks why we

    1. eat matzah
    2. eat maror, bitter herbs
    3. dip herbs into salt water, and later into charoset (see below)
    4. and recline

    at the seder

  • "Avadim hayenu" - The leader of the seder recites a text which answers the four questions with the general explanation "we were slaves".

  • A text is recited telling the story of the Talmudic era Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elazar, Rabbi Akiva, and Rabbi Tarfon, who held a seder so long it lasted until morning. The text also recounts their discussion of a diffidult Biblical verse.

  • A text is recited comparing the proverbial four sons-

    1. the wise son
    2. the wicked son (oh! the poor abused wicked son! he doesn't accept the relevance of dead ceremony and so his parents are instructed to "box his teeth"! oh! the pain of the irreligious offspring! ...ok I'm done now.)
    3. the simple son
    4. and the song who does not even know how to ask

    and the proscribed methods for teaching/ punishing them

  • A text is recited concerning the actual date of the seder

  • And then, the story (in proscribed text form, of course). It starts at the beginning: Our ancestor Terach was an idol worshipper beyond the River Euphrates. Then God led his son Abraham to the land of Canaan. Abraham begat Isaac begat Jakob, who Lavan the Aramean tried to kill. Jakob went down to Egypt, where his clan multiplied. And Pharoah oppressed and enslaved them, so they cried out to God, who rescued them from Egypt with miracles and wonders.

  • Seder participants pour wine out of their full cups, as an expression of empathy even for their oppressors the Egyptians-

    • Participants recite the following terms for God's wrath, and for each term they pour out a drop: "Blood. Fire. And pillars of Smoke."
    • Then they recite the 10 plagues that God wrought against the Egyptians, again pouring out one drop for each plague: "Blood. Frogs. Lice. Wild beasts. Cattle disease. Boils. Hail. Locusts. Darkness. Death of the first born."
    • Then they recite three Hebrew abbreviations for the names of the plagues, once more pouring out a drop of wine for each term: "Dtzach. Adash. Bi'achav."

  • A text is recited in which Rabbis debate exactly how many plagues God cast against the Egyptians. Each figure is a multiple of ten, but the Rabbis in question have as many as 25 subcategories that they say were inherent in each plague.

  • The song "Dayeinu" is sung, thanking God for his multiple kindnesses.

  • And now, the crux: A participant asks what the meaning is of

    1. the lamb that used to be sacrificed at Passover in the Temple in Jerusalem
    2. the matzah eaten at the seder
    3. and the bitter herbs eaten at the seder

    And the leader of the seder answers:

    1. The Pasover lamb is to remind us that God spared the Jewish homes when he killed the Egyptian firstborn.
    2. The matzah is to remind us that the Jews left Egypt in such a hurry that the bread that they had baked for the journey didn't have time to rise
    3. And the bitter herbs are to symbolize the way that the Egyptians embittered the lives of the Israelites

  • Participants recite a text which states their obligation to remember the exodus from Egypt, and to praise God. Then they recite or sing the Halel, i.e. "Hallelujah!" prayer in God's praise.

  • Then they recite the bleesing over wine, and drink the second cup.
Rachtza - Participants wash their hands and recite the blessing "...He who commanded us to wash our hands" (I'm not kidding).

Motzi - Participants recite the blessing over bread, and recite the blessing over matzah

Matza - Then they salt the matzah and eat it.

Maror - Participants dip is piece of maror, or bitter herb, often horseradish root or romaine lettuce, into charoset, which is a sweet sauce made from apples, wine, cinnamon and nuts. They recite a blessing over maror and eat it.

Korech - Participants eat a sandwich consisting of matzah and maror, after the manner of Rabbi Hillel.

Shulchan Orech - The seder meal. Food traditionally does not include anything that has been roasted on an open flame, and participants do not eat any marrow because that is what poor people do.

Tzafun - Participants eat the afikoman as dessert, and do not eat anything subsequently. One reason for the tradition in which the leader of the seder bargains with the children at the seder for the right to eat the afikoman is that it will usually keep some or all of the latter awake until this point. The third cup of wine is poured.

Barech - Participants recite a prayer which ends the meal. At the conclusion of this they recite the blessing over wine and drink the third cup, and they pour the fourth. Then they open a door, welcoming the immortal and invisible prophet Elijah, who ostensibly visits every seder on Passover night. There is traditionally a large, full cup of wine left on the table for Elijah to drink from. Participants recite a prayer asking God to pour out his wrath on their enemies, then close the door.

Halel - Participants recite the rest of the Halel prayer which they began during Magid. At the second seder, the Omer, i.e. the 49 days separating Passover from the succeeding holiday of Shavuot, is counted for the first time. Participants then recite the blessing over wine, drink the fourth cup, and recite another, concluding blessing over wine.

Nirtza - Participants recite a prayer asking God to receive their seder, and expressing the hope that next year their seder will be held in Jerusalem. A number of increasingly whimsical songs are sung. These include
  • "Because God is pleasant"
  • "Mighty is He! Might is He!"
  • The numerical madrigal "Who knows one?"
  • "One baby goat"

Source: my overly extensive yeshiva education, and the Prayer Book Press Passover Hagadah, compiled and edited by Rabbi Morris Silverman

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