Print out this sheet to guide you through the Passover Seder:
- Why do we have salt water, matzah, and bitter herbs at the Seder?
- When do we drink each cup of wine?
- What are the deeper meanings behind the customs?
- What do the seder customs teach us about achieving personal freedom?
Click here for a printable version.
We begin the Seder with Kiddush recited over a full cup of wine, just as we do at the beginning of Shabbos and festivals. We drink wine while reclining, to highlight our status as free people, part of a royal nation.
Throughout the Seder, we drink 4 cups of wine which correspond to the 4 stages of our redemption from Egypt. Our national redemption from Egypt was a gradual process; so too, our personal redemptions from our own struggles and limitations must come in stages. You usually can’t stop a bad habit cold turkey; you need to make a planto change gradually, and in a sustainable and healthy way.
*** Drink the 1st cup of wine for Kiddush. ***
Wash your hands without reciting any blessing.
According to Jewish law, we are required to wash our hands (without a blessing) before touching any vegetable that was dipped in water. We therefore wash our hands now before touching the Karpas that will be dipped in salt water.
Eat a vegetable (e.g. potato, radish, celery, cucumber) dipped in salt water.
The salt water reminds us of the salty tears the Jews shed in Egypt from their backbreaking labor. The word “Karpas” is also reminiscent of Joseph’s special “Kesones Passim” (tunic made of fine wool) which was dipped in blood, as Karpas is dipped in salt water. Joseph’s brothers’ jealousy of this special tunic was what instigated the Jewish people’s journey down to Egypt in the first place.
Note: Don’t eat more than a k’zayis of karpas. Also, when you say the “ha’adamah” blessing have in mind the Marror (bitter herbs).
We eat less than a k’zayis (olive-sized) piece of the Karpas vegetable, to avoid the need to say an after-blessing (Borei Nefashos). We do not want to say an after-blessing on the Karpas because we want its initial blessing (Ha’adamah) to also cover the Marror (bitter herbs). We don’t want to make a new blessing on the Marror because it is a halachic dispute whether or not Marror requires a blessing; Marror is so bitter that it might not be considered an edible food, and therefore might not require its own blessing.
Break the middle Matzah from the 3 Matzos on the Seder plate. Leave the smaller piece, and hide the larger piece for the Afikoman which will be eaten later.
Breaking the Matzah symbolizes the broken spirit and bodies of the Jews in Egypt. It also symbolizes the fact that we sometimes need to break parts of ourselves (such as bad habits or negative thinking patterns) in order to rebuild ourselves into someone bigger and better.
In this lengthly part of the Seder, we tell over the story of our exile and redemption from Egypt. The Sages encourage us to flesh out the story of the Exodus and make it very real and alive for ourselves and for our families. We focus not only on our redemption from Egypt long ago, but also on our future redemption which we hope and pray will come very soon. Throughout all the generations, God has stood by us to protect us from our enemies, and that is how the Jewish nation continues to survive today.
The Haggadah opens with the Four Questions and includes many more curious stories and facts. We encourage all questions at the Seder, because questioning is the best way to learn.
*** Drink the 2nd cup of wine after Maggid. ***
Wash your hands in preparation for eating the Matzah. Recite the blessing “Al Netilas Yodayim” as you would any time before eating bread or Matzah.
Recite the blessing “Hamotzi” over the Matzah. In this blessing we thank God for the food we are about to eat, and recognize that He is the Source of our sustenance.
We eat Matzah while leaning to the left, just as we reclined while drinking each of the four cups of wine.
We eat Matzah on Passover instead of regular bread to recall the haste in which our ancestors left Egypt; they left in such a haste that their dough did not have enough time to rise. Just as our ancestors’ redemption from Egypt happened so quickly, our Sages teach that “God’s salvation comes in the blink of an eye.” Even when our personal challenges seem insurmountable, or we are faced with adversity, we should never give up hope that God can change our circumstances and save us in a split second.
We eat bitter vegetables (customarily horseradish or romaine lettuce) to recall the bitterness of the Egyptian exile.
The Gemara explains that lettuce is particularly appropriate for Marror because the Hebrew word for lettuce (“chasah”) is similar to the Hebrew word for pity (”chas”). God took pity on our ancestors in Egypt by saving them from their Egyptian oppressors.
In the times of the Temple in Jerusalem, the Jews were required to eat 3 key items on Passover eve: The Pascal Lamb offering, Matzah, and Marror. The great Sage Hillel popularized the practice of eating all 3 items together in one sandwich, because the commandment in the Torah literally states: “You should eat it [the Paschal Lamb] UPON Matzos and Marror.” Today, we no longer eat the Pascal Lamb because we do not have the Temple any more, but we still eat Matzah wrapped together with Marror as the great Sage Hillel did. (”Koreich” literally means “wrapping.”)
Symbolically, wrapping Matzah with Marror reminds us that pain and struggling (symbolized by the bitter Marror) are necessary in order to achieve personal growth and freedom (symbolized by the Matzah). Freedom, that is, from our own self-limiting beliefs and bad habits.
(11) Shulchan Orech
After our extensive discussion of how God took us out of Egypt, we celebrate with a festive meal. Some have the custom to eat a hardboiled egg (from the Seder plate) at the beginning of the meal, because an egg is a symbol of mourning: We mourn that we no longer have the Temple in Jerusalem and can no longer bring the Pascal Lamb as a sacrifice.
On a deeper level, eggs represent the ideal way to endure suffering: Most foods soften when cooked, but eggs harden when boiled. Similarly, when we are faced with challenges, we strive to become harder and stronger. Our suffering in Egypt resulted in the formation of a strong unified Jewish nation; so too, when we overcome personal struggles, it awakens our latent talents and we become aware of strengths and skills we never knew we had.
We now eat the Afikomen, the larger piece of matzah that was broken off and hidden during Yachatz (step 4). “Tzafun” means “hidden” because parents have the custom to hide the Afikomen from their children (or vice versa). It is forbidden to eat or drink anything (except for the 2 remaining cups of wine) after eating the Afikomen.
Just as the taste of the Afikomen lingers in our mouth after the Seder ends, so too should the Passover experience linger and remain with us throughout the year. The lessons that we learned on Passover about God’s love of the Jewish people, trust in God, and how to achieve personal freedom should become incorporated into our lives throughout the year even after the Passover Seder has ended.
After finishing the Afikomen, we recite Birkat HaMazon, the customary blessing recited after eating any meal containing bread or Matzah.
*** Drink the 3rd cup of wine after bentching. ***
After drinking the third cup of wine, we pour an additional cup of wine for the Prophet Elijah. Pouring this cup is meant to express our sincere hope and expectation of the final redemption to come soon, ushered in by Elijah the prophet.
In Hallel, we sing extensive melodious praises to thank God for bringing us out of Egypt and choosing us as His people.
Does God really need us to praise Him? Does He need our compliments and our thanks? No, God does not need our praises; rather, we need to praise Him for our own sake. Expressing gratitude helps us focus on the gifts we have in our lives, and appreciate them to the fullest. In Hallel, we sing songs of praise to God to express our appreciation for our freedom – the freedom provided by Torah and mitzvos which allow us to reach our personal and national potential.
*** Drink the 4th cup of wine after Hallel. ***
At the conclusion of the Seder, we sing additional songs of praise to God, highlighting that God is supreme over all of His creations. Finally, we express our hopes and prayers that next year we will celebrate Passover with the Temple rebuilt in Jerusalem.