The Haggadah (Hebrew: הַגָּדָה‎, “telling”) is a Jewish text that sets forth the order of the Passover Seder. Reading the Haggadah at the Seder table is a fulfillment of the Scriptural commandment to each Jew to “tell your son” of the Jewish liberation from slavery in Egypt as described in the Book of Exodus in the Torah. (“And thou shalt tell thy son in that day, saying: It is because of that which the LORD did for me when I came forth out of Egypt. ” Ex. 13:8)

Themes of the Seder

The rituals and symbolic foods evoke the twin themes of the evening: slavery and freedom. The rendering of time for the Hebrews was that a day began at sunset and ended at sunset. Historically, at the beginning of the 15th of Nisan in Ancient Egypt, the Jewish people were enslaved to Pharaoh. After the tenth plague struck Egypt at midnight, killing all the first-born of Pharaoh to the first born of captive who was in the dungeon, and all the first born of livestock (Exodus 12:29), in the land. Pharaoh let the Hebrew nation go, effectively making them free people for the second half of the night.

Thus, Seder participants recall the slavery that reigned during the first half of the night by eating matzo (the “poor person’s bread”), maror (bitter herbs which symbolize the bitterness of slavery), and charoset (a sweet paste representing the mortar which the Jewish slaves used to cement bricks). Recalling the freedom of the second half of the night, they eat the matzo (the “bread of freedom” and also the “bread of affliction”) and ‘afikoman’, and drink the four cups of wine, in a reclining position, and dip vegetables into salt water (the dipping being a sign of royalty and freedom, while the salt water recalls the tears the Jews shed during their servitude).

The Four Cups

There is an obligation to drink four cups of wine during the Seder. The Mishnah says (Pes. 10:1) that even the poor are obliged to drink the four cups. Each cup is imbibed at a specific point in the Seder. The first is for Kiddush (קידוש), the second is for ‘Maggid’ (מגיד), the third is for Birkat Hamazon (ברכת המזון) and the fourth is for Hallel (הלל).‎[7][8]

The Four Cups represent the four expressions of deliverance promised by God Exodus 6:6-7: “I will bring out,” “I will deliver,” “I will redeem,” and “I will take.”[7]

Seder Plate

The Passover Seder Plate (ke’ara) is a special plate containing six symbolic foods used during the Passover Seder. Each of the six items arranged on the plate have special significance to the retelling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt.  The seventh symbolic item used during the meal—a stack of three matzot—is placed on its own plate on the Seder table.

The six items on the Seder Plate are:

Passover Seder PlateMaror and Chazeret: Two types of bitter herbs, symbolizing the bitterness and harshness of the slavery which the Jews endured in Ancient Egypt. For maror, many people use freshly grated horseradish or whole horseradish root (ours had cooked beets and sugar making a condiment called chrein.)  Either the horseradish or romaine lettuce may be eaten in fulfillment of the mitzvah of eating bitter herbs during the Seder.

Charoset: A sweet, brown, pebbly paste of fruits and nuts, representing the mortar used by the Jewish slaves to build the storehouses of Egypt

Karpas: A vegetable other than bitter herbs, usually parsley but sometimes something such as celery or cooked potato, which is dipped into salt water (Ashkenazi custom) reminds the participants that Passover corresponds with Spring and the harvest, which, in ancient times was a cause for celebration by itself.

Karpas is dipped in salt water to represent tears.

Zeroa: A roasted lamb bone, symbolizing the korban Pesach (Pesach sacrifice), which was a lamb offered in the Temple in Jerusalem and was then roasted and eaten as part of the meal on Seder night.

Beitzah: A hard boiled egg, symbolizing the korban chagigah (festival sacrifice) that was offered in the Temple in Jerusalem and was then eaten as part of the meal on Seder night.

Focus on the children

Since the retelling of the Exodus to one’s child is the object of the Seder experience, much effort is made to arouse the interest and curiosity of the children and keep them awake during the meal. To that end, questions and answers are a central device in the Seder ritual. By encouraging children to ask questions, they will be more open to hearing the answers.

The most famous question which the youngest child asks at the Seder is the Mah Nishtanah – “Why is this night different from all other nights?” After the asking of these questions, the main portion of the Seder, Magid, gives over the answers in the form of a historical review. Also, at different points in the Seder, the leader of the Seder will cover the matzot and lift their cup of wine; then put down the cup of wine and uncover the matzot—all to elicit questions from the children.

The afikoman, which is hidden away for the “dessert” after the meal, is another device used to encourage children’s participation. In some families, the leader of the Seder hides the afikoman and the children must find it, whereupon they receive a prize or reward.

Order of the Seder

The Jewish Sages say that Passover occurs on the 15th of Nissan just as the moon grows for 15 days. The conclusion is that our growth must be in 15 gradual steps just like the Passover puzzle is constituted by 15 pieces that, when assembled, will give us freedom.

Kadeish (blessings and the first cup of wine)

Kadeish is Hebrew Imperative for Kiddush. This Kiddush is a special one for Passover, it refers to matzot and the Exodus from Egypt. Acting in a way that shows freedom and majesty, many Jews have the custom of filling each other’s cups at the Seder table. The Kiddush is traditionally said by the father of the house, but at our Seder, Rita recited the Kiddush.

Ur’chatz (wash hands)

In traditional Jewish homes, it is common to ritually wash the hands before a meal. According to most traditions, no blessing is recited at this point in the Seder, unlike the blessing recited over the washing of the hands before eating bread at any other time.

Three matzot are stacked on the seder table; at this stage, the middle matzah of the three is broken in half. The larger piece is hidden, to be used later as the afikoman, the “dessert” after the meal. The smaller piece is returned to its place between the other two matzot.

Magid (The telling)

Ha Lachma Anya (invitation to the Seder)

The matzot are uncovered, and referred to as the “bread of affliction”. Participants declare (in Aramaic) an invitation to all who are hungry or needy to join in the Seder. Halakha requires that this invitation be repeated in the native language of the country.

Mah Nishtanah (The Four Questions)

The Mishna details questions one is obligated to ask on the night of the seder. It is customary for the youngest child present to recite the four questions.[14] Some customs hold that the other participants recite them quietly to themselves as well. In some families, this means that the requirement remains on an adult “child” until a grandchild of the family receives sufficient Jewish education to take on the responsibility. If a person has no children capable of asking, the responsibility falls to their spouse, or another participant.[15] The need to ask is so great that even if a person is alone at the seder they are obligated to ask themselves and to answer their own questions.[15]

Ma nishtana ha lyla ha zeh mikkol hallaylot?
Why is this night different from all other nights?

Shebb’khol hallelot anu okh’lin ḥamets umatsa, vehallayla hazze kullo matsa.
Why is it that on all other nights during the year we eat either leavened bread or matza, but on this night we eat only matza?
Shebb’khol hallelot anu okh’lin sh’ar y’rakot, vehallayla hazze maror.
Why is it that on all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables, but on this night we eat bitter herbs?
Shebb’khol hallelot en anu matbillin afillu pa‘am eḥat, vehallayla hazze sh’tei fe‘amim.
Why is it that on all other nights we do not dip [our food] even once, but on this night we dip them twice?
Shebb’khol hallelot anu okh’lin ben yosh’vin uven m’subbin, vehallayla hazze kullanu m’subbin.
Why is it that on all other nights we dine either sitting upright or reclining, but on this night we all recline?

We eat only matzah because our ancestors could not wait for their breads to rise when they were fleeing slavery in Egypt, and so they were flat when they came out of the oven.
We eat only Maror, a bitter herb, to remind us of the bitterness of slavery that our ancestors endured while in Egypt.
The first dip, green vegetables in salt water, symbolizes the replacing of our tears with gratefulness, and the second dip, Maror in Charoses, symbolizes the sweetening of our burden of bitterness and suffering.
We recline at the Seder table because in ancient times, a person who reclined at a meal was a free person, while slaves and servants stood.
We eat only roasted meat because that is how the Pesach/Passover lamb is prepared during sacrifice in the Temple at Jerusalem.

The Four Sons

The traditional Haggadah speaks of “four sons”—one who is wise, one who is wicked, one who is simple, and one who does not know to ask. Each of these sons phrases his question about the seder in a different way. The Haggadah recommends answering each son according to his question, using one of the three verses in the Torah that refer to this exchange.

The wise son asks “What are the statutes, the testimonies, and the laws that God has commanded you to do?” One explanation for why this very detailed-oriented question is categorized as wise, is that the wise son is trying to learn how to carry out the seder, rather than asking for someone else’s understanding of its meaning. He is answered fully: You should reply to him with [all] the laws of pesach: one may not eat any dessert after the paschal sacrifice.

The wicked son, who asks, “What is this service to you?”, is characterized by the Haggadah as isolating himself from the Jewish people, standing by objectively and watching their behavior rather than participating. Therefore, he is rebuked by the explanation that “It is because God acted for my sake when I left Egypt.” (This implies that the Seder is not for the wicked son because the wicked son would not have deserved to be freed from Egyptian slavery.) Where the four sons are illustrated in the Haggadah, this son has frequently been depicted as carrying weapons or wearing stylish contemporary fashions.

The simple son, who asks, “What is this?” is answered with “With a strong hand the Almighty led us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage.”

And the one who does not know to ask is told, “It is because of what the Almighty did for me when I left Egypt.”

Go and learn

Four verses in Deuteronomy (26:5-8) are then expounded, with an elaborate, traditional commentary. (“5. And thou shalt speak and say before the Lord thy God: ‘A wandering Aramean was my parent, and they went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous. 6. And the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage. 7. And we cried unto the Lord, the God of our parents, and the Lord heard our voice, and saw our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression. 8 And the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders.”)

The Haggadah explores the meaning of those verses, and embellishes the story. This telling describes the slavery of the Jewish people and their miraculous salvation by God. This culminates in an enumeration of the Ten Plagues:

Dam (blood)—All the water was changed to blood
Tzefardeyah (frogs)—An infestation of frogs sprang up in Egypt
Kinim (lice)—The Egyptians were afflicted by lice
Arov (wild animals)—An infestation of wild animals (some say flies) sprang up in Egypt
Dever (pestilence)—A plague killed off the Egyptian livestock
Sh’chin (boils)—An epidemic of boils afflicted the Egyptians
Barad (hail)—Hail rained from the sky
Arbeh (locusts)—Locusts swarmed over Egypt
Choshech (darkness)—Egypt was covered in darkness
Makkat Bechorot (killing of the first-born)—All the first-born sons of the Egyptians were slain by God

With the recital of the Ten Plagues, each participant removes a drop of wine from his or her cup using a fingertip. Although this night is one of salvation, the Sages explain that one cannot be completely joyous when some of God’s creatures had to suffer. A mnemonic acronym for the plagues is also introduced: “D’tzach Adash B’achav”, while similarly spilling a drop of wine for each word.

At this part in the Seder, songs of praise are sung, including the song Dayenu, which proclaims that had God performed any single one of the many deeds performed for the Jewish people, it would have been enough to obligate us to give thanks.

Dayenu

Ilu ho-tsi, ho-tsi-a-nu,
Ho-tsi-anu mi-Mitz-ra-yim
Ho-tsi-anu mi-Mitz-ra-yim
Da-ye-nu
Chorus
Da-da-ye-nu,
Da-da-ye-nu,
Da-da-ye-nu,
Da-da-ye-nu,
Da-ye-nu Da-ye-nu
English Version:
If God would’ve taken us out of Egypt and not executed judgment upon them,
it would’ve been enough for us–Dayenu.
If He would’ve executed judgment upon them and not upon their idols, it
would’ve been enough for us–Dayenu.
If He would’ve judged their idols, and not killed their firstborn, it would’ve
been enough for us–Dayenu.
If He would’ve killed their firstborn, and not given us their wealth, it would’ve
been enough for us–Dayenu.
If He would’ve given us their wealth, and not split the sea for us, it would’ve
been enough for us–Dayenu.
If He would’ve split the sea for us, and not let us through it on dry land, it
would’ve been enough for us–Dayenu.
If He would’ve let us through it on dry land, and not drowned our enemies in
it, it would’ve been enough for us–Dayenu.
If He would’ve drowned our enemies in it, and not provided for our needs in
the desert for 40 years, it would’ve been enough for us–Dayenu.

Kos Sheini (Second Cup of Wine)

Magid concludes with the drinking of the Second Cup of Wine.  The blessing, which includes the words “who brings forth” (motzi in Hebrew), is said with matzah.[19]

Matzah

The blessing over the matzah is recited and then the matzoh is eaten.

Maror (bitter herbs)

The blessing for the eating of the maror (bitter herbs) is recited and then it is dipped into the charoset and eaten.[19]

We now conclude the Magid section of the Seder:  Tradition teaches us that in every generation, we ought to look upon ourselves as if we personally had gone out of Egypt. Therefore, it is our duty to thank the One who performed all the miracles for generations past and present. We start saying Psalms praising God for taking us of Egypt. We will continue after we eat the meal.

Psalm 114

When Israel came forth out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language;
Judah became His sanctuary, Israel His dominion.
The sea saw it, and fled; the Jordan River turned backward.
The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like young sheep.
What ails you, O that sea, that you flea? The Jordan River, that you turn backward?
You mountains, that you skip like rams; you hills, like young sheep?
Tremble, earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob;
Who turned the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a fountain of waters.

Koreich (sandwich)

The maror (bitter herb) is placed between two small pieces of matzo, similarly to how the contents of a sandwich are placed between two slices of bread, and eaten. This follows the tradition of Hillel, who did the same at his Seder table 2000 years ago (except that in Hillel’s day the Paschal sacrifice, matzo, and maror were eaten together.)

Shulchan Orech (the meal)

The festive meal is eaten.

Kos Shlishi (the Third Cup of Wine)

The drinking of the Third Cup of Wine.  The Third Cup is customarily poured before the Grace after Meals is recited because the Third Cup also serves as a Cup of Blessing associated with the Grace after Meals on special occasions.

Kos shel Eliyahu ha-Navi (cup of Elijah the Prophet)

In many traditions, the front door of the house is opened at this point.

Most Ashkenazim have the custom to fill a fifth cup at this point. This relates to a Talmudic tradition that Elijah will visit each home on Seder night as a foreshadowing of his future arrival at the end of the days, when he will come to announce the coming of the Jewish Messiah.

Hallel (songs of praise)

The entire order of Hallel which is usually recited in the synagogue on Jewish holidays is also recited at the Seder table, albeit sitting down. The first two Psalms, 113-114, are recited before the meal. The remaining Psalms of the Hallel proper, Psalms 113-118, are recited after the Grace after Meals, followed by Psalm 136.

Afterwards the Fourth Cup of Wine is drunk and a brief Grace for the “fruit of the vine” is said.

Nirtzah

The Seder concludes with a prayer that the night’s service be accepted. A hope for the Messiah is expressed: “L’shanah haba’ah b’Yerushalayim! – Next year in Jerusalem!” Jews in Israel, and especially those in Jerusalem, recite instead “L’shanah haba’ah b’Yerushalayim hab’nuyah! – Next year in the rebuilt Jerusalem!”

Following the Seder, those who are still awake may recite the Song of Songs, engage in Torah learning, or continue talking about the events of the Exodus until sleep overtakes them.

As for us, we relaxed and enjoyed one another’s company completing the evening with a variety of teas and light dessert!

Rita and son prepare the table

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