At Pesach many people are invited to family gatherings but there is no reason why you cannot do it yourself should you find you are "it". The good news is that you may already have the "manual" or can buy one – the Haggadah normally tells you what to do as you go along. However here are a few tips:
Firstly do not worry too much about the meal your first time – there is too much else to be doing!
Secondly like everything you do for the first time – keep it simple – better to embellish things next year. Before you start you will have to get the ingredients. First are the candles – after lighting the candles some people cover their eyes until the blessing is and/or spread out their hands with palms facing inwards pulling them in towards themselves several times in a symbolic gesture of welcome for the Sabbath.
The traditional blessing is then said:
"Blessed are you, HaShem, our God, Sovereign of the Universe, Who makes us holy with His commandments and commands us to light the Yom Tov candles"
ברוך אתה ה’ א‑לוהינו מלך העולם, אשר קדשנו במצותיו וצונו להדליק נר של שבת.
Baruch ata Adonai elohaynu melech haolam asher kiddishanu b’mitzvotav vitzeevanu l’hadleek ner shel Yom Tov.
Next some Matzah – if you can get "Kosher le Pesach" (Kosher for Pesach) so much the better. The arrangement of the matzah and what to do with it are described in the Haggadah. Essentially you have three – separated traditionally by some form of cloth, improvise if you do not have a traditional cover.
The centre of the table is the Seder Plate. Whilst ornate ones are available an ordinary plate or a series of small dishes are fine. Boil an egg then put it (with shell) into the oven. If you can get a bit of lamb leg bone or chicken neck do likewise (other bits of meat are better than nothing, vegetarians can improvise). These will represent respectively the festival offering and the paschal offering. Cook until pretty burnt – they are not for eating! Next is the best bit – Charoset. Charoset is meant to represent mortar but does not taste like it. Essentially it is a mixture of apples and nuts crushed up together, in a food processor if you have one, with a little wine and cinnamon to taste – smooth or crunchy (as you like your peanut butter!). Maror – bitter herbs – is usually horseradish, the pre made sauce will do. Karpas is lettuce, parsley or chicory and the second bitter vegetable, Chazeret is usually lettuce.
You need some salt water, representing tears, and also useful for dipping the boiled eggs which some people eat before the meal! Last but not least – wine, lots of it. If, like me, you get too shika, use grape juice instead. We have four glasses of wine during the course of the meal and remember we have to enjoy the meal in comfort which traditionally means leaning rather than sitting straight. You should be able to get an Haggadah through the Judaica shop or from any Jewish bookshop and if you look through before the big day you will get plenty of hints on "How to do it" including how to dispose of your chametz (leavened food) the day before. Remember there is no reason why you cannot do the whole service or parts in English and indeed this makes it more interesting.
Conducting Your Passover Seder
The Seder Table:
When possible, the table should be set before nightfall. A white cloth, flowers, candlesticks, Seder plate, and matzot in a special three part cover, wine cups and the cup of Elijah should be present.
Wine: Provide a wine cup and saucer for each person. Also make sure to have enough wine since the Seder calls for four cups per person. Elijah’s cup, a separate special cup, should be set in the center of the table.
Matzah – Three Matzot, separated from one another are placed in a matzah holder or cover. The middle matzah, called the afikomen, will be broken in half and is later needed as the “dessert.” By tradition, it is hidden to maintain children’s interest and the one to find it is awarded a prize for its return.
Seder Plate and Other Symbols
Zeroa (lamb shank or chicken leg bone): symbol of the Paschal lamb sacrificed in ancient days
Marror (bitter herbs, usually horseradish or romaine lettuce): symbol of hardship and suffering of Jews in slavery
Betsah (roasted egg): symbol of the holiday sacrifice
Charoset (finely chopped nuts and apples moistened with wine): symbol of mortar which held bricks together when Jews were slaves in Egypt
Karpas (greens such as celery, parsely, or lettuce): symbol of hope and spring, to dip into
Salt water: a symbol of tears
Haggadah: lays out the story of Passover and the order of Seder
Candlesticks with candles: lighting the candles inaugurates the festival
Pillows: – used to recline in chairs as a symbol of the privileges of freedom
Why three Matzot?
On Shabbat and Yom Tov, one is required to say Hamotzi over two whole loaves of challah. On the two nights of Seder, three Matzot are used. Since one of the three is broken before the meal for the afikomen, two whole are required. The third matzah is also added to fulfill the commandment of eating “The Bread of Affliction.” The Kabbalists called the three matzot by names of the three divisions of the Jewish people (Kohen, Levi, and Israel) to symbolize the unity of the Jewish people.
Why the four cups of wine?
Each participant drinks four glasses of wine during the Seder. The first is when the Kiddush is recited as on every Shabbat and Festival. The second follows the benediction of redemption. The third is drunk at the end of Grace after Meals, and the fourth falls before the conclusion of the Seder.The drinking of the four cups of wine recalls the four expressions of redemption in Exodus.
Why the cup of Elijah?
A controversy arose during the Middle Ages among the Rabbis, about the necessity of drinking four or five cups of wine because of a fifth expression related to redemption, “And I will bring you into the land” (Exodus 6:8). Since they did not reach an agreement, they declared that a fifth cup of wine should be placed on the table but not be drunk. The Talmudic expression for the settlement of a doubt was “… until Elijah arrives.” As it was hoped that the problem of the controversial fifth cup would likewise be settled by Elijah, this goblet was named for him.
The use of the cup of Elijah, a comparatively late custom, has become a symbol of the eternal hope for freedom and salvation that will be realized with the coming of the prophet.
Opening the door following the Grace after Meals, is also a “reminder to trust in Divine Providence” on this “night of watching.” Thus it expresses one’s belief in the promise of salvation from enemies and of the Messianic era. This tradition is based on the Talmudic statement that “in Nisan they are redeemed and in Nisan they are destined to be redeemed.”
A new custom is to add a cup of water for Miriam to honor her role in the Exodus and her connection to life-saving water. We also honor the many other women of our tradition whose stories are seldom told.
Why the practice of reclining?
One is obligated to recline at the Seder table as a sign of freedom as that was the behavior of free people in ancient days. Even the poor of Israel are expected to recline while they eat at the Seder table as an expression of their independence even though they may be subject to hardships throughout the year.
Since the practice of reclining while eating was common at the time Passover observances were instituted, the series of questions to be asked at the Seder contained no reference to leaning. After the destruction of the Temple, when this custom was no longer in vogue, the Seder night was the only time during the year when Jews reclined while dining. Hence the question relevant to this practice was included in the Four Questions, replacing a question about how the sacrificial meal was prepared.
How To Conduct Your Seder
Kiddush (Sanctifying the Festival): Begin the Seder with the chanting of the Kiddush (a proclamation of the sanctity of the Festival) over a cup of wine. While on Shabbat and other Festivals everyone drinks the wine of the Kiddush from the cup of the leader; at the Seder, all participants have their own cup of wine. The wine is drunk in a reclining position.
Urchatz (Washing the Hands): In ancient times one was required to wash before one dipped food into a liquid. Thus, before partaking of the karpas, hands are washed without reciting the blessing.
Karpas (Dipping the Greens): A small piece of celery, parsley, or other green vegetable is dipped in salt water, and the benediction for vegetables is said. This unusual practice is for the purpose of arousing the interest of children. Many associate the vegetable symbolically with the joyous rebirth of spring and the salt water with the tears shed during the Israelite enslavement in Egypt.
Yachatz (Dividing the Middle Matzah): The middle of the three matzot is divided into two. The larger piece, called the afikomen, is then wrapped in a napkin and hidden. The smaller piece is returned to its place. The purpose of this procedure is to retain the interest of the children throughout the Seder.
Maggid (Narrating the Pesach Story): At this point, the story of Passover is told, and the discussion of the Seder takes place. Sufficient time should be allotted for a proper reading of the Haggadah and discussion concerning its meaning and message. Adjust your Seder to the needs of your family and guests. If your Seder participants do not read or understand Hebrew, then an English service will be more meaningful. Don’t rush this section; with smaller children, plan a shorter but complete service. With more adults, plan more discussion, explanation, or creative readings.
Rahtzah (Washing the Hands): The hands are washed and the appropriate blessing is said, prior to eating matzah.
Motzi Matzah: The two complete matzot as well as the half broken matzah are taken in hand and the two appropriate blessings are recited.
Marror (Eating the Bitter Herbs): As a reminder that “the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigor. And they made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and bricks” (Exodus 1:13-14), it has been ordained that bitter herbs shall be eaten (Exodus 12:8). The bitter herb is dipped into charoset and the blessing is recited. Charoset (a mixture of apples, nuts, cinnamon and wine) is symbolic of the mortar from which the children of Israel made brick in Egypt. While one may eat different kinds of bitter herbs to fulfill one’s obligation, it is customary to use horseradish, romaine lettuce, or both.
Korech (Eating the Maror with Matzah): Matzah and the bitter herb are combined to make a sandwich to fulfill the commandment “they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs” (Numbers 9:11). The Talmud tells us that this practice was introduced by Hillel during the days of the Second Temple.
Shulchan Orech (Serving the Meal): It is an Ashkenazic custom to start the meal with an entrée of hard boiled eggs in salt water, symbolic of the tears shed at the destruction of the Temple (with the egg representing the Festival sacrifice). The egg, also eaten at the mourner’s first meal, is said to represent the idea of the continuation of life. Jewish sages have felt that even joyous occasions should have a symbol of sadness in memory of the destruction and suffering of our people throughout our history.
Tzafun (Eating the Concealed Afikomen): At the conclusion of the meal, the leader redeems the afikomen and distributes it to all the celebrants. The custom has arisen that the children try to obtain possession of the afikomen during the course of the Seder and hold it until it is redeemed. This may be based on the Talmudic statement “they hasten (the eating of) matzot on the nights of Pesach so that the children should not sleep.”
Barech (Recite the Grace after Meals): Birkat Hamazon, thanking God for the food we have eaten.
Here are audio clips of the major portions of the Haggadah that are recited during the Passover Seder – to help you learn how to better conduct your own seder at home.
- Kadesh, Ur’hatz – Order of the Passover Seder
- Kiddush – Kiddush Recited Over First Cup of Wine
- Ha Lachma – As the Matzah is Uncovered
- Mah Nishtanah – The Four Questions
- Avadim Hayinu – Beginning the Story of the Exodus
- V’Hi She’Amdah – As the Second Cup of Wine is Raised
- Dayenu – Passover Hymn of Thanksgiving
- Hallel (Part 1) – Before the Seder Meal
- Second Cup of Wine – Berachot Recited Over Kot Sheni
- Shir Ha’Ma’alot – Before the Birkat HaMazon
- Birkat HaMazon – Grace After the Meal
- Eliyahu HaNavi – The Cup of Elijah
- Hallel (Part 2) – After the Seder Meal
- Hallel HaGadol (Ki L’Olam Hasdo) – Psalm 136
- Fourth Cup – Includes "Al HaGefen V’Al Pri HaGefen
- Nirtzah – Concluding the Seder (Includes L’Shanah HaBa’ah)
Concluding Seder Songs
* Because of the great variety of printed haggadot, you may find slight variations from the text you use. These clips are only of the selections that are typically sung during the Passover Seder. We have not recorded hagadah passages that are read aloud or simply davened (chanted) without a set melody – such as karpas, 10 plagues, hamotzi, etc.
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