Pesach / Passover Guide
Passover is a holiday that mandates our complete involvement, not just during its eight days but for weeks before. Aside from the regular holiday obligations, we are also commanded (Exodus 13:3–7): “No leaven shall be eaten . . . For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread . . . and no leaven shall be seen of yours [in your possession].”
We accomplish this by cleaning and inspecting our homes well before Passover, and gradually eliminating chametz from every room and crevice. This intensive cleaning takes place in Jewish homes throughout the world.
What Is Chametz?
The Very Short Answer
Chametz (also spelled “hametz” or “chometz”) is any food product made from wheat, barley, rye, oats or spelt that has come into contact with water and been allowed to ferment and “rise.”
In practice, just about anything made from these grains—other than Passover matzah, which is carefully controlled to avoid leavening—is to be considered chametz. This includes flour (even before it is mixed with water1), cake, cookies, pasta, breads, and items that have chametz as an ingredient, like malt.
The Biblical Basis
Just before the nation of of Israel left Egypt, G‑d commanded them to sacrifice the paschal lamb and then eat it with unleavened matzah and bitter herbs.2 G‑d then told them that they should replicate this feast every year on the anniversary of the Exodus: “It shall be for you a remembrance . . . seven days you shall eat matzah, and on the first day you should remove all se’or (sourdough, a leavening agent) from your homes. Anyone who eats chametz (leaven) from the first day to the seventh day shall be cut off from Israel.”
When Is It Forbidden?
According to Jewish law, it is forbidden to eat chametz after the fourth halachic hour3 on the morning before Passover. It is forbidden to derive any benefit from chametz at the fifth hour, and all chametz should be burned before the sixth hour. From then until after Passover, chametz is completely forbidden.
Why does the prohibition start before Passover begins?
The Torah states: “You shall slaughter the Passover sacrifice to the L‑rd, your G‑d. . . . You shall not eat leaven with it.”4 Tradition interprets this to mean that the prohibition of chametz starts from the time when the Passover sacrifice could be offered: from midday of the 14th of Nissan.5
To prevent people from transgressing the prohibition inadvertently, the sages decreed that the prohibition of eating chametz starts two hours before midday, and the prohibition of deriving any benefit starts one hour prior to midday.
Getting Rid of Chametz
Long before Passover begins, we clean our homes, offices, and any other place that belongs to us to rid our homes of chametz. Although it’s praiseworthy to be stringent on Passover, keep in mind that dust isn’t chametz. The main purpose of cleaning and searching for chametz is to remove any chametz that one may come to inadvertently eat or derive benefit from during Passover. This obligation of getting rid of chametz does not extend to inedible chametz or tiny crumbs or particles of chametz that are soiled or spoiled. So the key areas to focus on are things that may come in contact with food, since we are forbidden to eat anything with even a trace of chametz.
The kitchen should be thoroughly cleaned, and all surfaces should be covered or koshered. Additionally, if you’re using your regular utensils or appliances for Passover, they will need to be koshered. If finances permit, it is better (and easier) to simply buy a set of Passover utensils. For more on the specifics of getting rid of chametz and koshering your kitchen.
Some non-food items, such as vitamins and cosmetics, may contain chametz and will need to be disposed of or sold (see below). Please consult with a rabbi for a list of permissible and prohibited items.
On the eve of the 14th of Nissan, with just 24 hours to go to the Seder, we search our property—including home, office and car—for any chametz that may have been missed in the cleaning process.
The custom is to conduct the search using a candle, feather, wooden spoon and a (paper) bag for collecting any chametz found. Have someone place 10 pieces of bread throughout the house to be found during the search.6
Before we start the search, we recite the blessing. No interruption should be made between reciting the blessing and the start of the search. Additionally, during the search, we only discuss that which pertains to the search for chametz.
In order to ensure that we remember to conduct the search on time, it is forbidden to eat or even learn Torah after nightfall until after the search has been completed.
Following the search for chametz, we recite a “nullification statement” renouncing all ownership of any chametz that, unbeknownst to us, may still be in our possession. The nullification statement should be said in a language that you understand, and can be found.
Through nullifying our chametz, we consider it as no more than dust and thus ownerless, thereby fulfilling the mitzvah of removing chametz from our possession.
Utensils used for chametz (and chametz itself that you are reluctant to dispose of) may be sold to a person who is not Jewish for the duration of Passover. (Some have the custom not to sell any real chametz, although this is not the Chabad custom.)
The sold chametz and utensils should be set aside in a designated place (e.g., closet or cabinet), which is rented to the non-Jewish buyer until after Passover. This storage place should be clearly marked, so no one can take anything from there through force of habit.
The sale of chametz to the non-Jew is not a symbolic sale, but a legally binding transaction, and must therefore be conducted by a competent rabbi.
After writing a bill of sale, one may leave the chametz in his home without transgressing the prohibitions of not seeing or having chametz, since the chametz no longer belongs to him.
On the 14th of Nissan, before the sixth hour of the day, we burn any chametz that we still have. This includes the bag of chametz from our search the previous night.
After the chametz is burned, we again recite a nullification statement. However, this nullification statement has a slightly different wording than what was said at night after the search for chametz. The statement recited at night includes only chametz that was missed in the search, but doesn’t include chametz set aside to be sold or eaten in the morning. When we burn the chametz, the statement includes all chametz that may still be in our possession, and serves as a final “safety measure” for a chametz-less Passover.
Due to the gravity of the prohibition of chametz, the medieval Ashkenazic rabbis also forbade the consumption of any kitniyot (very loosely translated as “legumes”) on Passover, since they can be confused with the forbidden grains. This includes (but is not limited to): rice, corn, soybeans, stringbeans, peas, lentils, mustard, sesame and poppy seeds. This ban was accepted as binding law by Ashkenazic Jewry.
The prohibition extends only to the consumption of kitniyot; there is no obligation to destroy or sell kitniyot products before Passover, and we can derive benefit from kitniyot products (e.g., pet food) during Passover.
Chametz After Passover
Due to the severity of the prohibition of owning chametz on Passover, the rabbis of the Talmud established an after-the-fact penalty for owning any chametz products during Pesach. This prohibition is known as chametz she’avar alav haPesach. One may not consume or even derive benefit from such chametz, and if chametz is found either on or after Passover that was owned by a Jew during Passover, it needs to be destroyed.
So, what does that mean on a practical level? When you’re purchasing chametz products after Passover from a Jewish-owned store, the owner cannot have owned that chametz during Passover. If he did, you’ll need to refrain from purchasing any chametz products there until it is deemed that a sufficient amount of time has passed for all of those chametz products to have been sold. Consult your local rabbi with any questions regarding stores in your area.
This prohibition does not apply to kitniyot, since one is permitted to own it on Passover.
On a Spiritual Note
Chametz and matzah are almost the same substance, containing the same ingredients of flour and water. The one key difference is that while chametz bread rises, filling itself with hot air, the matzah stays flat and humble.
Thus, chametz represents that swelling of ego that enslaves the soul more than any external prison. It is for this reason that once a year on Passover, when we celebrate our freedom from slavery and our birth as a nation unto G‑d, we are extremely careful to eradicate any chametz that we may have.
The flat, unpretentious matzah represents the humility, self-effacement and commitment that are the ultimate liberators, enabling us to connect to G‑d without our egos getting in the way. And that is why eating matzah on Passover is so fundamental to our faith.
The medieval Jewish sages placed a ban on eating legumes (kitniyot) on Passover, because they are similar in texture to chametz—even bread can be made out of their flour—so people might assume that if, for example, cornbread can be eaten on Passover, wheat or rye bread can be eaten too. This prohibition includes rice, beans and corn. This injunction was unanimously accepted by Ashkenazic Jews; many Sephardic Jews, however, continue to eat kitniyot on Passover. If you are Sephardic, speak to your rabbi to determine your family and community tradition.
The prohibition is only with regards to consumption of kitniyot; there is no obligation, however, to destroy or sell kitniyot products before Passover.
Getting Rid of Chametz (Chometz)
Search and Destroy
Any area where one can reasonably suspect that chametz might have been brought throughout the year must be thoroughly cleaned. This includes the home, office, cars, garage, etc. Check carefully to ensure that no crumb is left behind: check and clean desks, drawers, closets, clothing pockets (especially the children’s), pocketbooks, briefcases and attache cases, beds, dining and living room furniture, bookcases, etc.
If You Can’t Destroy it, Sell It
Chametz that you don’t want to destroy, and utensils used throughout the year (and not koshered for Passover), should be stored in closets or rooms which will be sealed for the duration of Passover. The chametz should be sold to a non-Jew through a rabbi.
Preparing the Kitchen
Every part of our homes is cleaned for Passover, but we pay special attention to the kitchen, because (a) that’s where most of our chametz hangs out during the year, and (b) we will be using our kitchens to prepare our Passover food.
Dishes and Utensils
Today, most Passover-savvy homes have a special set of dishes, silverware, pots, pans and other utensils for Passover use only. If necessary, certain year-round utensils can be used—provided they are koshered for Passover. This gets rather complex—you’ll need to consult a competent rabbi about your particular utensils.
Thoroughly clean and scour every part of the stove. Heat the oven to the highest temperature possible for 1–2 hours. Heat the grates and the iron parts of the stove (and the elements, if electric) until they are red-hot. It is suggested that the oven and the stove top should be covered with aluminum foil afterwards for the duration of Passover.
Clean the oven thoroughly. Fill a completely clean container, that was not used for 24 hours, with water. Turn on the microwave and let it steam heavily. Turn it off and wipe out the inside.
To use the microwave during Passover, use a flat, thick, microwave-safe object as a separation between the bottom of the oven and the cooking dish. When cooking or warming, the food should be covered on all sides.
For 24 hours before koshering the sink, do not pour hot water from chametz pots into it. Meticulously clean the sink, boil water in a clean pot which was not used for 24 hours, and pour three times onto every part of the sink, including the drain stopper. Then line the sink with foil or liner.
Refrigerator, Freezer, Cupboards, Closets, Tables, and Counters
Thoroughly clean and scrub them to remove any crumbs and residue. Afterwards, place a heavy covering over those surfaces that come into contact with hot food or utensils.
Tablecloths and Napkins
Launder without starch.
Cars, Garages, etc.
Vacuum your car or van; thoroughly clean your basement, garage, or any property you own. Special care should be taken with items you will be using, or rooms you will be accessing, during Passover.
While shopping for Passover we must be careful that the foods we buy are not only kosher, but are also kosher for Passover—that is, chametz-free.
Starting “From Scratch”
All fruits and vegetables, as well as all kosher cuts of meat and kosher fish, are kosher for Passover, provided they have been prepared in accordance with Jewish law and have not come into contact with chametz or chametz utensils.
The prevailing custom in Ashkenazi communities is that on Passover we do not eat rice, millet, corn, mustard, legumes (beans, etc.) or food made from any of these.
Commercially Prepared Products
Today there are many kosher-for-Passover packaged foods available. However, care must be used to purchase only those packaged foods that have reliable rabbinical supervision which is valid for Passover.
Obviously, all leavened foods made from—or that contain among their ingredients—wheat, barley, rye, oats, or spelt are actual chametz and are prohibited on Passover. Examples are bread, cake, cereal, spaghetti, beer and whiskey.
Check That Medicine Cabinet!
Many medicines, sprays, and cosmetics contain chametz. Consult a competent rabbi as to which ones may be used on Passover. The same applies to pet food.
Note: Please refer to the Holiday Calendar above to determine which blessings are recited on which holiday and Shabbat nights.
- BAH-ROOCH AH-TAH AH-DOH-NOI EH-LOH-HEH-NOO MEH-LECH HAH-OH-LAHM AH-SHER KEE-DEH-SHAH-NOO BEH-MITZ-VOH-TAHV VEH-TZEE-VAH-NOO LEH-HAD-LEEK NER SHEL SHAH-BAHT KOH-DESH.
Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the light of the holy Shabbat.
- BAH-ROOCH AH-TAH AH-DOH-NOI EH-LOH-HEH-NOO MEH-LECH HAH-OH-LAHM AH-SHER KEE-DEH-SHAH-NOO BEH-MITZ-VOH-TAHV VEH-TZEE-VAH-NOO LEH-HAD-LEEK NER SHEL YOHM TOHV.
Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the Yom Tov light.
- BAH-ROOCH AH-TAH AH-DOH-NOI EH-LOH-HEH-NOO MEH-LECH HAH-OH-LAHM AH-SHER KEE-DEH-SHAH-NOO BEH-MITZ-VOH-TAHV VEH-TZEE-VAH-NOO LEH-HAD-LEEK NER SHEL SHAH-BAHT VEH-SHEL YOHM TOHV.
Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the Shabbat and Yom Tov light.
- BAH-ROOCH AH-TAH AH-DOH-NOI EH-LOH-HEH-NOO MEH-LECH HAH-OH-LAHM SHEH-HEH-CHEH-YAH-NOO VEH-KEE-YEH-MAH-NOO VEH-HEE-GHEE-AH-NOO LIZ-MAHN HAH-ZEH.
Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.
The Seder Ingredients
Matzah, the “Food of Faith”
When our forefathers left Egypt, they were in such a hurry that there was no time to wait for the dough to rise. They therefore ate matzah, unleavened bread. With only this food (but with great faith), our ancestors relied on the Almighty to provide sustenance for the entire Jewish nation—men, women and children. Each year, to remember this, we eat matzah on the first two nights of Pesach, thereby fulfilling the Torah’s commandment, “Matzot shall you eat . . .”
The Humblest of Foods
Matzah symbolizes faith. In contrast to leavened bread, matzah is not enriched with oil, honey or other substances. It consists only of flour and water, and is not allowed to rise. Similarly, the only “ingredients” for faith are humility and submission to G‑d, which come from recognizing our “nothingness” when compared with the infinite wisdom of the Creator.
One of the holiday’s primary obligations is to eat matzah during the Seder. It is strongly recommended to use shmurah matzah to fulfill this commandment.
Matzah is eaten three times during the Seder:
- After telling the story of the Exodus from Egypt (Maggid), washing our hands for bread (Rachtzah) and reciting the blessings (Motzi Matzah), 1¾ ounces of matzah are eaten.
- For the sandwich (Korech), ¾ of an ounce of matzah is eaten.
- For the afikoman at the end of the meal (Tzafun), a minimum of ¾ of an ounce (and ideally 1½ ounces) of matzah are eaten.
In each instance, the matzah should be eaten within 4 minutes.
How much is one ounce of Matzah?
Half a piece of shmurah matzah is generally one ounce.
If store-bought matzot are used, the weight of the box of matzot divided by the number of pieces shows how much matzah is the equivalent of one ounce.
Shmurah means “watched,” and it is an apt description of this matzah, the ingredients of which (the flour and water) are watched from the moment of harvesting and drawing.
The day chosen for the harvesting of the wheat is a clear, dry day. The moment it is harvested, the wheat is inspected to ensure that there is absolutely no moisture. From then on, careful watch is kept upon the grains as they are transported to the mill. The mill is meticulously inspected by rabbis and supervision professionals to ensure that every piece of equipment is absolutely clean and dry. After the wheat is milled, the flour is again guarded in its transportation to the bakery. Thus, from the moment of harvesting through the actual baking of the matzah, the flour is carefully watched to ensure against any contact with water.
The water, too, is carefully guarded to prevent any contact with wheat or other grain. It is drawn the night before the baking, and kept pure until the moment it is mixed with the flour to bake the shmurah matzah.
Also in the bakery itself, shmurah matzot are under strict supervision to avoid any possibility of leavening during the baking process. This intensive process and careful guarding gives the shmurah matzah an added infusion of faith and sanctity—in fact, as the matzah is being made, all those involved constantly repeat, “L’shem matzot mitzvah”—“We are doing this for the sake of the mitzvah of matzah.”
Shmurah matzot are round, kneaded and shaped by hand, and are similar to the matzot that were baked by the Children of Israel as they left Egypt. It is thus fitting to use shmurah matzah on each of the two Seder nights for the matzot of the Seder plate.
For each of the four cups at the Seder, it is preferable to use undiluted wine. However, if needed, the wine may be diluted with grape juice. (One who cannot drink wine may use grape juice alone.)
One drinks a cup of wine four times during the Seder:
- At the conclusion of kiddush.
- After telling the story of the Exodus from Egypt, before eating the matzah of Motzi Matzah.
- At the conclusion of the Grace After Meals.
- After reciting the Hallel.
It is preferable to drink the entire cup each time. However, it is sufficient to drink only the majority of each cup.
How large a cup should be used? One that contains at least 3½ fluid ounces.
The Seder Plate
The Seder plate is the focal point of the proceedings on the first (two) night(s) of Passover. Whether it is an ornate silver dish or a humble napkin, it bears the ceremonial foods around which the Seder is based: matzah, the zeroa (shankbone), egg, bitter herbs, charoset paste and karpas vegetable.
Preparing these items requires some time. It is best to prepare all the Seder foods before the onset of the holiday, in order to avoid halachic questions.
The special foods we eat on Passover are also food for thought. Every item on the Seder plate abounds in meaning and allusion. Here you will learn the descriptions of each of the foods, the reason why it is included, the method of preparing it, and its role in the Seder meal.
Three matzot are placed on top of each other on a plate or napkin, and then covered. (Some also have the custom to separate the matzot from each other with interleaved plates, napkins or the like.)
We have three matzot, so that we can break one (as a slave would), and still have two whole matzot over which to recite the Hamotzi blessing (as required on Shabbat and holidays). The matzot are symbolic of the three groups of Jews: Priests, Levites and Israelites. They also commemorate the three measures of fine flour that Abraham told Sarah to bake into matzah when they were visited by the three angels (Genesis 18:6).
It is ideal to use handmade shmurah matzah, which has been zealously guarded against moisture from the moment of harvest.
On a cloth or plate placed above the three matzot, we place the following items:
The Zeroa (Shankbone)
A piece of roasted meat represents the lamb that was the special paschal sacrifice on the eve of the exodus from Egypt, and annually on the afternoon before Passover in the Holy Temple.
Some use a forearm of a lamb. Called the zeroa, it alludes to the verse which states, “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm (zeroa).”
Since we don’t want to appear to offer the paschal sacrifice in the absence of the Holy Temple, others take care to use something that is relatively dissimilar to the actual offering. Accordingly, many communities have the custom to use a roasted chicken neck or the like.
Preparation: Roast the neck on all sides over an open fire on the stove. Afterwards, some have the custom to remove the majority of the meat of the neck (but not all of it).
Role in the Seder: The zeroa is not eaten at the Seder. After the meal it can be refrigerated, and used again on the Seder plate the following night.
A hard-boiled egg represents the pre-holiday offering (chagigah) that was brought in the days of the Holy Temple. The meat of this animal constituted the main part of the Passover meal. The Aramaic word for “egg” is bei’ah, which is similar to the Aramaic word for “desire,” expressing that this was the night when G‑d desired to redeem us.
Preparation: Boil one egg per Seder plate, and possibly more for use during the meal.
Role in the Seder: Place one egg on the plate. As soon as the actual meal is about to begin, remove the egg from the Seder plate and use during the meal.
A popular custom is to eat these eggs together with the saltwater which was set on the table.
Maror and Chazeret (Bitter Herbs)
Bitter herbs (maror) remind us of the bitterness of the slavery of our forefathers in Egypt. Fresh grated horseradish, and romaine lettuce (or endives), are the most common choices.
The leaves of romaine lettuce are not bitter; but the stem, when left to grow in the ground, turns hard and bitter. So it was with our enslavement in Egypt. At first the deceitful approach of Pharaoh was soft and sensible, and the work was done voluntarily and even for pay. Gradually it evolved into forced and cruel labor.
Preparation: Peel the raw horseradish roots, rinse and dry well.
Next, grate the horseradish with a hand grater or food processor. (This must be done before the holiday begins.) Whoever will be grating the horseradish may begin to shed copious tears or cough a lot. Shielding the mouth and nose with a cloth may help. No beets or other condiments should be added to the horseradish.
Romaine lettuce is often very sandy. Wash each of the leaves separately, checking very carefully for insects. Take care that they do not soak for 24 hours. (Those who are particular not to eat matzah that becomes moist should pat the lettuce gently with a towel and let it sit until completely dry, so that there will be no moisture to come in contact with the matzah.)
Depending on how much romaine lettuce is needed, it can take several hours to prepare. This task should be completed before candle-lighting time on the first night. Prepare enough leaves for both nights, and store in the refrigerator.
Romaine is preferred over horseradish, and many have the custom to use both kinds together. Place a few cleaned, dried leaves of romaine lettuce on the Seder plate, topped with the horseradish. Since this will be used twice, it actually takes two spots on the Seder plate. The top pile (in the center of the plate) is called maror (bitter herbs), while the pile that sits beneath it is referred to as chazeret (lettuce).
Role in the Seder: After the recital of most of the Haggadah comes the ritual handwashing. Then matzah is eaten, followed by some maror (taken from the maror pile), followed in turn by a sandwich of matzah and maror (this time taken from the chazeret pile).
A mixture of apples, pears, nuts and wine, which resembles the mortar and brick made by the Jews when they toiled for Pharaoh.
Preparation: Shell nuts and peel apples and pears, and chop finely. Mix together and add a small amount of wine.
Role in the Seder: This is used as a type of relish, into which the maror is dipped (and then shaken off) before eating.
Many have the custom to use parsley, called karpas in Hebrew. This vegetable alludes to the backbreaking work of the Jews as slaves, as the Hebrew letters of karpas can be arranged to spell the word perech plus the letter samech. Perech means backbreaking work, and samech is numerically equivalent to 60, referring to 60 myriads, equaling 600,000, which was the number of Jewish males over 20 years of age who were enslaved in Egypt.
Preparation: Prepare your vegetable, an onion or (boiled) potato in many Eastern European traditions. Cut off a slice and place on Seder plate. On the table, next to the Seder plate, place a small bowl of saltwater.
Role in the Seder: After recital of kiddush, the family goes to the sink and ritually washes their hands, but without saying the usual blessing.
Everyone then takes a very small piece of the vegetable and dips it in saltwater. After the appropriate blessing is said, the karpas is eaten. Care should be taken that each person eats less than 17 grams (about ½ ounce).
What Is a Seder?
In Our Forefathers’ Footsteps
At the Seder, every person should see himself as if he were going out of Egypt. Beginning with our Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, we recount the Jewish people’s descent into Egypt and recall their suffering and persecution. We are with them as G‑d sends the Ten Plagues to punish Pharaoh and his nation, and follow along as they leave Egypt and cross the Sea of Reeds. We witness the miraculous hand of G‑d as the waters part to allow the Israelites to pass, then return to inundate the Egyptian legions.
The Seder service begins with the recitation of kiddush, proclaiming the holiness of the holiday. This is done over a cup of wine, the first of the four cups we will drink (while reclining) at the Seder.
The Four Cups of Wine
Why four cups? The Torah uses four expressions of freedom or deliverance in connection with our liberation from Egypt (see Exodus 6:6–7). Also, the Children of Israel had four great merits even while in exile: (1) They did not change their Hebrew names; (2) they continued to speak their own language, Hebrew; (3) they remained highly moral; (4) they remained loyal to one another.
Wine is used because it is a symbol of joy and happiness.
Why We Recline
When drinking the four cups and eating the matzah, we lean on our left side to accentuate the fact that we are free people. In ancient times only free people had the luxury of reclining while eating.
We wash our hands in the usual, ritually prescribed manner as is done before a meal, but without the customary blessing.
The next step in the Seder, Karpas, requires dipping food into water, which in turn mandates, according to Jewish law, that either the food be eaten with a utensil or that one’s hands be purified by washing. On the Seder eve we choose the less common observance to arouse the child’s curiosity.
A small piece of onion or boiled potato is dipped into saltwater and eaten (after reciting the blessing over vegetables).
Dipping the karpas in saltwater is an act of pleasure and freedom, which further arouses the child’s curiosity.
The Hebrew word karpas, when read backwards, alludes to the backbreaking labor performed by the 600,000 Jews in Egypt. [Samech has the numerical equivalent of 60 (representing 60 times 10,000), while the last three Hebrew letters spell perech, hard work.]
The saltwater represents the tears of our ancestors in Egypt.
Yachatz—Breaking the Matzah
The middle matzah on the Seder plate is broken in two. The larger part is put aside for later use as the afikoman. This unusual action not only attracts the child’s attention once again, but also recalls G‑d’s splitting of the Sea of Reeds to allow the Children of Israel to cross on dry land. The smaller part of the middle matzah is returned to the Seder plate. This broken middle matzah symbolizes humility, and will be eaten later as the “bread of poverty.”
At this point, the poor are invited to join the Seder. The Seder tray is moved aside, a second cup of wine is poured, and the child, who by now is bursting with curiosity, asks the time-honored question: “Mah nishtanah ha-lailah hazeh mikol ha-leilot? Why is this night different from all other nights?” Why only matzah? Why the dipping? Why the bitter herbs? Why are we relaxing and leaning on cushions as if we were kings?
The child’s questioning triggers one of the most significant mitzvot of Passover, which is the highlight of the Seder ceremony: the haggadah, telling the story of the Exodus from Egypt. The answer includes a brief review of history, a description of the suffering imposed upon the Israelites, a listing of the plagues visited on the Egyptians, and an enumeration of the miracles performed by the Almighty for the redemption of His people.
Rochtzah—Washing Before the Meal
After concluding the first part of the haggadah by drinking the second cup of wine (while reclining), the hands are washed again, this time with the customary blessings, as is usually done before eating bread.
Motzi Matzah—We Eat the Matzah
Taking hold of the three matzot (with the broken one between the two whole ones), recite the customary blessing before bread. Then, letting the bottom matzah drop back onto the plate, and holding the top whole matzah with the broken middle one, recite the special blessing “al achilat matzah.” Then break at least one ounce from each matzah and eat the two pieces together, while reclining.
Maror—the Bitter Herbs
Take at least one ounce of the bitter herbs. Dip it in the charoset, then shake the latter off and make the blessing “al achilat maror.” Eat without reclining.
In keeping with the custom instituted by Hillel, the great Talmudic sage, a sandwich of matzah and maror is eaten. Break off two pieces of the bottom matzah, which together should be at least one ounce. Again, take at least one ounce of bitter herbs and dip them in the charoset. Place this between the two pieces of matzah, say “kein asah Hillel . . .” and eat the sandwich while reclining.
Shulchan Orech—the Feast
The holiday meal is now served. We begin the meal with a hard-boiled egg dipped into saltwater.
A rabbi was once asked why Jews eat eggs on Passover. “Because eggs symbolize the Jew,” the rabbi answered. “The more an egg is burned or boiled, the harder it gets.”
Note: The chicken neck is not eaten at the Seder.
Tzafun—Out of Hiding
After the meal, the half-matzah which had been “hidden,” set aside for the afikoman (“dessert”), is taken out and eaten. It symbolizes the Paschal lamb, which was eaten at the end of the meal.
Everyone should eat at least 1½ ounces of matzah, reclining, before midnight. After eating the afikoman, we do not eat or drink anything except for the two remaining cups of wine.
Berach—Blessings After the Meal
A third cup of wine is filled and Grace is recited. After the Grace we recite the blessing over wine and drink the third cup while reclining.
Now we fill the cup of Elijah and our own cups with wine. We open the door and recite the passage which is an invitation to the Prophet Elijah, the harbinger of the coming of Moshiach, our righteous Messiah.
Hallel—Songs of Praise
At this point, having recognized the Almighty and His unique guidance of the Jewish people, we go still further and sing His praises as L‑rd of the entire universe.
After reciting the Hallel, we again recite the blessing over wine and drink the fourth cup, reclining.
Having carried out the Seder service properly, we are sure that it has been well received by the Almighty. We then say “Leshanah haba’ah bee-rushalayim—Next year in Jerusalem.”
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