The Passover Seder is a ritual meal that marks the beginning of Passover. It takes place on the 14th day of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar, which is sometime in the spring. The Seder has fifteen steps—hence the meaning of its name: “order” or “arrangement.” Each step guides the participants to remember or celebrate the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt and God’s powerful deliverance. The Seder brings familial generations together and promotes oneness among the Jewish people.
The Haggadah (translated “telling”) is a book designed specifically for the Passover Seder. It facilitates the retelling of the Passover story and lays out the fifteen steps with instructions for when to do what. There are multiple variations of the Haggadah; some are longer, some are shorter, some are made for kids, and others have unique illustrations, commentary, and translations. Regardless, all Haggadahs have the same goal—to remember and celebrate God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.
The Passover Plate
The Passover Plate is a special tray with six symbolic foods that are used throughout the Seder. The six foods are as follows:
- Bitter Herbs (Maror) – usually a mixture of horseradish and beets to represent the Israelites’ harsh and bitter slavery.
- Bitter Herbs (Chazeret) – some sort of green herb that also symbolizes slavery.
- Charoset – a sweet, brown mixture of fruits and nuts that symbolizes the mortar the Israelites used to make bricks with in Egypt.
- Karpas – usually celery or parsley that is dipped in salt water as a reminder of the Israelites’ tears.
- Zeroa – a lamb, goat, or chicken leg symbolizing the sacrificed lamb.
- Boiled Egg (Beitzah) – symbolizing the lamb sacrifice made at the temple on Passover.
Four Cups of Wine
Throughout the Seder, four cups of wine (or grape juice) are drunk. There are multiple theories for why there are four cups; the most common holds that it is the Bible’s four expressions of the joy as a result of the Israelites’ deliverance.
At the Seder, there are three pieces of symbolic Matzah—unleavened bead. During the Seder, the middle piece is taken out and broken in half as a reminder of God parting the Red Sea. The larger piece, called the Afikoman, is then hidden. Traditionally, all the young children are allowed to go search for the Afikoman. The tension is high because the one who finds it gets a prize!
Teaching the Children
One of the Seder’s goals is to teach the children the Passover story. They are encouraged to ask questions, sing the Passover songs, and read portions of the Haggadah designed for them. So even though the Seder is long, it is full of learning opportunities and activities for children.
Each Seder ends with everyone saying “next year in Jerusalem.” In the past, this was just a dream for the dispersed Jewish people since Israel was not yet a country. Today, they have the opportunity to live in and travel to their homeland just as they did after the Exodus.