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All of the Biblical holidays begin with Passover. On the first day of the month of Nisan, two weeks before the Exodus, God showed Moses the "new moon" and commenced the divine calendar (Exod 12:2) At the stroke of midnight on Nisan 15 God sent the last of the plaques on the Egyptians, killing all their firstborns, and freeing or redeeming the Israelites. Because of this, traditionally, there are 15 separate and distinct parts to the Passover seder:
- Nerot Lighting the candles
- Kadesh Sanctifying the wine (1st Cup)
- Urchatz Washing the hands
- Karpas Dipping the Karpas
- Yachatz Breaking the Matzah
- Maggid Telling the story (2nd Cup)
- Rachtzah Washing the hands
- Motzi Matzah Eating Matzah
- Maror Eating bitter herbs
- Korekh Eating the Hillel sandwich
- Shulchan Orekh Eating the meal
- Tzafun Eating the Afikoman (Hidden Matzah)
- Barekh Blessing after the meal (3rd Cup)
- Hallel Songs of Praise (4th Cup)
- Nirtzah Conclusion of the Seder and communion
The seder officially begins with a physical act: lighting the candles. In Jewish tradition, lighting candles and saying a blessing over them marks a time of transition, from the day that is ending to the one that is beginning, from ordinary time to sacred time. Lighting the candles is an important part of our Passover celebration because their flickering light reminds us of the importance of keeping the fragile flame of freedom alive in the world.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה, יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ, מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֺלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֺתָּיו, וְצִוָֽנוּ לְהַדְלִיק נֵר שֶׁל יוֹם טוֹב
Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha'olam asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav, v'tzivanu l'hadlik ner shel Yom Tov.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has sanctified us with laws and commanded us to light the festival lights.
As we light the festival candles, we acknowledge that as they brighten our Passover table, good thoughts, good words, and good deeds brighten our days.
Why do we light two candles, when the prayer uses the singular "neir" for one? We are told in the 4th commandment to "remember" and "keep" the Sabbath and the two candles reflect the two acts.
All Jewish celebrations, from holidays to weddings, include wine as a symbol of our joy – not to mention a practical way to increase that joy. The seder starts with wine and then gives us three more opportunities to refill our cup and drink.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, borei p’ree hagafen.
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who creates the fruit of the vine.
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who chose us from all peoples and languages, and sanctified us with commandments, and lovingly gave to us special times for happiness, holidays and this time of celebrating the Holiday of Matzah, the time of liberation, reading our sacred stories, and remembering the Exodus from Egypt. For you chose us and sanctified us among all peoples. And you have given us joyful holidays. We praise God, who sanctifies the people of Israel and the holidays.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam,
she-hechiyanu v’key’manu v’higiyanu lazman hazeh.
We praise God, Ruler of Everything,
who has kept us alive, raised us up, and brought us to this happy moment.
Drink the first glass of wine!
Passover, like many of our holidays, combines the celebration of an event from our Jewish memory with a recognition of the cycles of nature. As we remember the liberation from Egypt, we also recognize the stirrings of spring and rebirth happening in the world around us. The symbols on our table bring together elements of both kinds of celebration.
We now take a vegetable, representing our joy at the dawning of spring after our long, cold winter. We now dip it into salt water, a symbol of the tears our ancestors shed as slaves. Before we eat it, we recite a short blessing:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, borei p’ree ha-adama.
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who creates the fruits of the earth.
We look forward to spring and the reawakening of flowers and greenery.
We hide a piece of matzah to remind us of the poor who dare not eat without setting aside some food for the next meal. We break the matzah to remind us that we must set aside some of our own food for those who go hungry today
This is the bread of poverty and affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat with us. Let all who are in need come and share a meal. This year we are here. Next year may we be in Jerusalem. This year we are slaves. Next year may we all be free.
(Break the middle matzah and hide the Afikomen – the larger half)
The formal telling of the story of Passover is framed as a discussion with lots of questions and answers. The tradition that the youngest person asks the questions reflects the centrality of involving everyone in the seder. The rabbis who created the set format for the seder gave us the Four Questions to help break the ice in case no one had their own questions. Asking questions is a core tradition in Jewish life. If everyone at your seder is around the same age, perhaps the person with the least seder experience can ask them – or everyone can sing them all together.
מַה נִּשְׁתַּנָּה הַלַּֽיְלָה הַזֶּה מִכָּל הַלֵּילות
Ma nishtana halaila hazeh mikol haleilot?
Why is this night different from all other nights?
שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אָֽנוּ אוֹכלין חָמֵץ וּמַצָּה הַלַּֽיְלָה הַזֶּה כֻּלּוֹ מצה
Shebichol haleilot anu ochlin chameitz u-matzah. Halaila hazeh kulo matzah.
On all other nights we eat both leavened bread and matzah.
Tonight we only eat matzah.
שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אָֽנוּ אוֹכְלִין שְׁאָר יְרָקוֹת הַלַּֽיְלָה הַזֶּה מָרוֹר
Shebichol haleilot anu ochlin shi’ar yirakot haleila hazeh maror.
On all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables,
but tonight we eat bitter herbs.
שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אֵין אָֽנוּ מַטְבִּילִין אֲפִילוּ פַּֽעַם אחָת הַלַּֽיְלָה הַזֶּה שְׁתֵּי פְעמים
Shebichol haleilot ain anu matbilin afilu pa-am echat. Halaila hazeh shtei fi-amim.
On all other nights we aren’t expected to dip our vegetables one time.
Tonight we do it twice.
שֶׁבְּכָל הַלֵּילוֹת אָֽנוּ אוֹכְלִין בֵּין יוֹשְׁבִין וּבֵין מְסֻבִּין. :הַלַּֽיְלָה הַזֶּה כֻּלָּֽנוּ מְסֻבין
Shebichol haleilot anu ochlin bein yoshvin uvein m’subin. Halaila hazeh kulanu m’subin.
On all other nights we eat either sitting normally or reclining.
Tonight we recline.
1. What's up with the matzoh?
When we left Egypt, we were in a hurry. There was no time for making decent bread.
2. What's the deal with horseradish?
Life was bitter, like horseradish.
3. What's with the dipping of the herbs?
It's called symbolism.
4. What's this whole slouching at the table business?
Free people get to slouch.
At Passover each year, we read the story of our ancestors’ pursuit of liberation from oppression. When confronting this history, how do we answer our children when they ask us how to pursue justice in our time?
What does the activist child ask? “The Torah tells me, ‘Justice, justice you shall pursue,’ but how can I pursue justice?”
Empower her always to seek pathways to advocate for the vulnerable. As Proverbs teaches, “Speak up for the mute, for the rights of the unfortunate. Speak up, judge righteously, champion the poor and the needy.”
What does the skeptical child ask? “How can I solve problems of such enormity?”
Encourage him by explaining that he need not solve the problems, he must only do what he is capable of doing. As we read in Pirkei Avot—The Ethics of Our Ancestors, “It is not your responsibility to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”
What does the indifferent child say? “It’s not my responsibility.”
Persuade her that responsibility cannot be shirked. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel writes, “The opposite of good is not evil; the opposite of good is indifference. In a free society where terrible wrongs exist, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”
And the uninformed child who does not know how to ask ... Prompt him to see himself as an inheritor of our people’s legacy. As it says in Deuteronomy, “You must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” At this season of liberation, let us work toward the liberation of all people. Let us respond to our children’s questions with action and justice.
Here is a kid and adult friendly alternative to for the Maggid section (the Passover story section) of the Haggadah. This short play/skit is in the style of "sedra scenes" -- a contemporary take which makes the story current but stays true to the Exodus narrative. I've written it for large crowds -- so there are 13 parts, but if you have a smaller gathering you can easily double up.
LET MY PEOPLE GO!
A short play for the seder
CAST: NARRATOR, JOSEPH, BENJAMIN, PHAROAH, ADVISOR, HEBREW 1, HEBREW 2, HEBREW 3, BOSS, BAT PHAROAH, MOSES, GOD, AARON (13 parts)
NARRATOR: Our story begins in the land of Egypt where Joseph, once a prisoner, is now the Pharaoh’s chief advisor.
JOSEPH: So how are things back in Israel?
BENJAMIN: Oy! Terrible. Our gardens and crops are dying. There is no rain this year. That is why we had to come down to Egypt!
JOSEPH: Well, don’t worry..life in Egypt is fantastic. Playstation 3 in every house, High Definition Television, Lincoln Navigators in the driveway, This is the most powerful nation on the planet!
BENJAMIN: Did you have rain this year? Are the gardens and crops doing well?
JOSEPH: We don’t have to worry about that. I’ve stored away tons of food in giant warehouses. The Pharaoh will be able to feed the people for three years at least, even if we get no rain.
BENJAMIN: What does the Pharaoh think of us Hebrews?
JOSEPH: He loves me. He welcomes the Hebrews into his land. Bring the entire family, we’ll make a great life here.
Narrator: The Hebrews all moved to Egypt and had many children and lived a successful life. But after many years, after Joseph and his brothers had died, a new Pharaoh rose to power.
PHAROAH: Advisor, bring me the latest census report. I want to know all the people who I rule over!
ADVISOR: Yes, you’re Royal Highness. I have the numbers here.
PHAROAH: Let’s see..Nubians, Midians, yes, very good. Are there really that many Hebrews?
ADVISOR: Oh yes, your highness. They are growing in number. They are very strong workers.
PHAROAH: Do you think that might be a danger? Perhaps they will challenge my rule – make demands. You know how these workers are always complaining about the size of the rocks for the new Pyramids. I am worried that they will use their strength in numbers to rise up against me!
ADVISOR: Yes, you are right, we must do something to break their spirits.
PHAROAH: First, let us begin with something small. We’ll get them to make more bricks each day. If that doesn’t work, we’ll eliminate the fifteen-minute breaks. If that doesn’t break them, then maybe we’ll turn to harsher measures.
Narrator: The Hebrew workers struggled to keep up with Pharaoh’s demands.
HEBREW 1: My hands are killing me. And my back, oy! I can’t take this pace.
HEBREW 2: We can make a thousand bricks a day—but two thousand? No team can work that hard! We’ll fall over!
HEBREW 3: Get back to work, the boss is coming!
BOSS: Efficiency, people! We have got to make 900 more bricks by sundown! Come on, let’s work faster!
HEBREW 1: We are working as fast as we can, boss.
BOSS: Listen, smart aleck, I’ve got a lot of pressure on my shoulders. If Pharaoh doesn’t get his bricks, I’m out of a job. I got a family to feed, too, you know. So get back down in the pit and start working!
HEBREW 2: We haven’t had a break all day!
BOSS: And you are not going to get one! Work!
HEBREW 3: You know what, boss; you have become a real pain in the backside!
BOSS: What’d you say?
HEBREW 3: You heard me.
[The BOSS walks over and pushes Hebrew 3 to the ground]
BOSS: Now get back to work before I get really angry!
Narrator: Meanwhile, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted a young Hebrew child. The child, Moses, was raised with the finest Egypt had to offer.
BAT PHAROAH: Here, sweetheart, eat your honey cakes before your flute lesson.
MOSES: I’m so excited about the party this evening.
BAT PHAROAH: Your new robe looks lovely, dear. I just hope that the Pyramid is finished. Your grandfather has the workers working double time just to get the place finished before the great assembly.
MOSES: I heard that the Hebrews were complaining.
BAT PHAROAH: Complaining? Don’t worry about that. We take care of the needs of all our workers, dear. They are fed, given homes, and we give them a new pair of shoes each year. We are very generous. The only problem is that there are simply too many Hebrews. For that reason, we are cutting down their number. I know that it is sad that we have to kill off their baby boys, but we are really doing it for their own good.
MOSES: I know so little about the world. Someday I’d like to go out of the palace and see how they live.
BAT PHAROAH: They are not clean like us, dear. Especially the Hebrews. They throw garbage on the streets, and the smells are truly horrible.
Narrator: One day Moses decides to sneak out of the palace, and see for himself the plight of the Hebrews.
HEBREW 1: I can’t work, today, I’m sick! And I hurt my arm yesterday lifting stones!
BOSS: I don’t want to hear excuses. This pyramid has got to be finished by Thursday! Today is Wednesday! So get moving!
HEBREW 1: I can’t work. Please, listen to me, have some compassion!
HEBREW 2: Give him a break, boss!
BOSS: Shut up!
HEBREW 3: Don’t get involved!
HEBREW 2: I’m tired of this, boss! My cousin there is hurt. He can’t work today. And he’s not working. So go tell Pharaoh that he’ll have to hire some more workers or this isn’t getting done!
BOSS: Shut up!
[Boss pushes Hebrew 2 to the ground.]
HEBREW 1: Stop it!
BOSS: I’m going to hurt you bad, you whiny Hebrew!
HEBREW 3: Stop! One of Pharaoh’s princes is coming!
MOSES: What is happening?
BOSS: I am going to give this man the beating he deserves, your honor! Watch this!
[Moses hits the Boss, who falls to the ground]
HEBREW 3: Oh no! What did you do to the boss? We’ll be blamed for this! We’ll be punished!
MOSES: What have I done? What have I done?
Narrator: Moses ran away, far off into the wilderness. Where he is taken in by Yitro, and marries one of Yitro’s daughter’s Zipporah. One day, as Moses is taking care of yitro’s sheep, he stumbles across a burning bush.
GOD: Moses, Moses!
MOSES: Who is that? What is going on? What is happening?
GOD: It is me, the God of your ancestors, Abraham, Issac, and Jacob.
MOSES: You must have the wrong number.
GOD: This is no time for jokes. You must go back to Egypt and stand up to Pharaoh! Then you will lead the people back to their homeland!
MOSES: How will I do that? The people do not know me! I have no power now that I have run away!
GOD: I will be with you. Go to your sister, Miriam, and brother, Aaron, and stand up to Pharaoh!
Narrator: Moses returns to Egypt, with his wife and son, Gershom. Aaron and Moses approach Pharaoh.
PHAROAH: What do you want?
AARON: Our people need a three-day vacation. We need to go outside of the city so that we can pray to God in our own way.
PHAROAH: Why can’t you wait for the festival of the pyramids? Then your people will have a chance to celebrate with everyone.
MOSES: We do not wish to pray to your gods. We have one God, who is mightier than all of your gods.
PHAROAH: You must be joking. The gods have made Egypt a great nation. What has your God done for you?
MOSES: You’ll see what our God can do! And then you’ll give in to our demands!
PHAROAH: Don’t count on it, Hebrew!
Narrator: Pharaoh was a stubborn man. Even after plagues of blood, frogs, lice, disease, hail, and darkness, he would not let the Hebrews take a day off. It wasn’t until a disease struck and killed the first born of every Egyptian, that the Pharaoh changed his mind.
PHAROAH: Don’t you understand what is happening?
ADVISOR: No, your highness, I don’t know why our gods are not protecting us.
PHAROAH: Everything we did to the Hebrews is now happening to us!!!
ADVISOR: Maybe their God is powerful!
PHAROAH: Tell the police that are surrounding their neighborhood to let them go.
Narrator: That night, Moses, spoke to the people.
MOSES: Put on your sandals, we will not have time to bake the bread for tomorrow! Tonight we will leave Egypt, and set out for a new land! Our children, and our children’s children will remember this night! They will tell the story of how we stood up to Pharaoh, and how God helped us to be free!
AARON: Let all who are hungry come and eat!
Narrator: And thus ends our little play.
As we read the 10 plagues, we spill drops of wine from our cups, mourning the suffering the Egyptians endured so that we could be free. This year, as these drops spread across our plates, let us turn our hearts toward the millions of people around the world suffering today’s plagues of hatred, prejudice, baseless violence and war.
Blood | dam | דָּם
We comfort and mourn for those whose blood has been spilled.
Frogs | tzfardeiya | צְפַרְדֵּֽעַ
We protest the proliferation of violence.
Lice | kinim | כִּנִּים
We stop infestations of fear and hatred.
Beasts | arov | עָרוֹב
We appeal to all people to act with humanity.
Cattle disease | dever | דֶּֽבֶר
We overcome the sickness of racism and bigotry.
Boils | sh’chin | שְׁחִין
We tend to those who suffer from disease.
Hail | barad | בָּרָד
We respond to storms and disasters that claim lives.
Locusts | arbeh | אַרְבֶּה
We fill the air with voices for change.
Darkness | choshech | חֹֽשֶׁךְ
We bring light to those who live in the shadows.
Death of the Firstborn | makat b’chorot | מַכַּת בְּכוֹרוֹת
We inspire the next generation to carry on the struggle for a better world.
The Egyptians needed ten plagues because after each one they were able to come up with excuses and explanations rather than change their behaviour. Could we be making the same mistakes? Make up your own list. What are the plagues in your life? What are the plagues in our world today? What behaviours do we need to change to fix them?
As all good term papers do, we start with the main idea:
ּעֲבָדִים הָיִינוּ הָיִינו. עַתָּה בְּנֵי חוֹרִין
Avadim hayinu hayinu. Ata b’nei chorin.
We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. Now we are free.
We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and God took us from there with a strong hand and outstretched arm. Had God not brought our ancestors out of Egypt, then even today we and our children and our grandchildren would still be slaves. Even if we were all wise, knowledgeable scholars and Torah experts, we would still be obligated to tell the story of the exodus from Egypt.
The plagues and our subsequent redemption from Egypt are but one example of the care God has shown for us in our history. Had God but done any one of these kindnesses, it would have been enough – dayeinu.
אִלּוּ הוֹצִיאָֽנוּ מִמִּצְרַֽיִם, דַּיֵּנוּ
Ilu hotzi- hotzianu, Hotzianu mi-mitzrayim Hotzianu mi-mitzrayim, Dayeinu
If God had only taken us out of Egypt, that would have been enough!
אִלּוּ נָתַן לָֽנוּ אֶת־הַתּוֹרָה, דַּיֵּנוּ
Ilu natan natan lanu, natan lanu et ha-Torah, Natan lanu et ha-Torah , Dayeinu
If God had only given us the Torah, that would have been enough.
The complete lyrics to Dayeinu tell the entire story of the Exodus from Egypt as a series of miracles God performed for us. (See the Additional Readings if you want to read or sing them all.)
Dayeinu also reminds us that each of our lives is the cumulative result of many blessings, small and large.
We have now told the story of Passover…but wait! We’re not quite done. There are still some symbols on our seder plate we haven’t talked about yet. Rabban Gamliel would say that whoever didn’t explain the shank bone, matzah, and marror (or bitter herbs) hasn’t done Passover justice.
The shank bone represents the Pesach, the special lamb sacrifice made in the days of the Temple for the Passover holiday. It is called the pesach, from the Hebrew word meaning “to pass over,” because God passed over the houses of our ancestors in Egypt when visiting plagues upon our oppressors.
The matzah reminds us that when our ancestors were finally free to leave Egypt, there was no time to pack or prepare. Our ancestors grabbed whatever dough was made and set out on their journey, letting their dough bake into matzah as they fled.
The bitter herbs provide a visceral reminder of the bitterness of slavery, the life of hard labor our ancestors experienced in Egypt.
בְּכָל־דּוֹר וָדוֹר חַיָּב אָדָם לִרְאוֹת אֶת־עַצְמוֹ, כְּאִלּוּ הוּא יָצָא מִמִּצְרָֽיִם
B’chol dor vador chayav adam lirot et-atzmo, k’ilu hu yatzav mimitzrayim.
In every generation, everyone is obligated to see themselves as though they personally left Egypt.
The seder reminds us that it was not only our ancestors whom God redeemed; God redeemed us too along with them. That’s why the Torah says “God brought us out from there in order to lead us to and give us the land promised to our ancestors.”
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who redeemed us and our ancestors from Egypt, enabling us to reach this night and eat matzah and bitter herbs. May we continue to reach future holidays in peace and happiness.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, borei p’ree hagafen.
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who creates the fruit of the vine.
Drink the second glass of wine!
As we now transition to the celebratory meal, we once again wash our hands to prepare ourselves.
After you have poured the water over your hands, recite this short blessing.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו, וְצִוָּנוּ עַל נְטִילַת יָדָֽיִם
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al n’tilat yadayim.
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who made us holy through obligations, commanding us to wash our hands.
The blessing over the meal and matzah | motzi matzah | מוֹצִיא מַצָּה
The familiar hamotzi blessing marks the formal start of the meal. Because we are using matzah instead of bread, we add a blessing celebrating this mitzvah.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, הַמּוֹצִיא לֶֽחֶם מִן הָאָֽרֶץ
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, hamotzi lechem min ha-aretz.
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who brings bread from the land.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתַָיו וְצִוָּֽנוּ עַל אֲכִילַת מַצָּה
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al achilat matzah.
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who made us holy through obligations, commanding us to eat matzah.
Distribute and eat the top and middle matzah for everyone to eat.
A: A matzochist.
A Jewish man took his Passover lunch to eat outside in the park. He sat down on a bench and began eating.
A little while later a blind man came by and sat down next to him. Feeling neighborly, the Jewish man passed a sheet of matzo to the blind man.
The blind man handled the matzo for a few minutes, looked puzzled, and finally exclaimed, "Who wrote this crap?"
Dipping the bitter herb in sweet charoset | maror |מָרוֹר
In creating a holiday about the joy of freedom, we turn the story of our bitter history into a sweet celebration. We recognize this by dipping our bitter herbs into the sweet charoset. We don’t totally eradicate the taste of the bitter with the taste of the sweet… but doesn’t the sweet mean more when it’s layered over the bitterness?
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּֽנוּ עַל אֲכִילַת מרוֹר
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al achilat maror.
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who made us holy through obligations, commanding us to eat bitter herbs.
Hillel, the rabbi who lived in Jerusalem during the time of King Herod, invented the “Hillel sandwich” a combination of the three elements given in the biblical commandment to eat matzah, bitter herbs and the Pascal lamb.
Instead of eating the lamb, however, today we substitute charoset. We take some matzah and smear some maror on end and some charoset on the other. We then top off the sandwich with another piece of matzah.
When we eat, we begin with the bitter side and move to the sweet side, reminding us that though our slavery was indeed bitter, our redemption is sweeter still…The step of Korech was developed to accommodate an argument among the sages. Hillel thought that the matzah and maror (and lamb) should be eaten together. Other sages though they should be eaten separately. Therefore Jewish tradition opted to do both: first we eat them separately and then we do it again together.
Another interpretation of the Hillel sandwich is that part of the challenge of living is to taste freedom even in the midst of oppression and to be ever conscious of the oppression of others even when we feel that we are free.
If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
But if I am for myself only, what am I?
And if not now, when?
Eating the meal! | shulchan oreich | שֻׁלְחָן עוֹרֵךְ Enjoy! But don’t forget when you’re done we’ve got a little more seder to go, including the final two cups of wine!
Finding and eating the Afikomen | tzafoon | צָפוּן
The playfulness of finding the afikomen reminds us that we balance our solemn memories of slavery with a joyous celebration of freedom. As we eat the afikomen, our last taste of matzah for the evening, we are grateful for moments of silliness and happiness in our lives.
We now refill our wine glasses one last time and open the front door to invite the prophet Elijah and Moses' sister, Miriam, to join our seder.
In the Bible, Elijah was a fierce defender of G-d to a disbelieving people. At the end of his life, rather than dying, he was whisked away to heaven. Tradition holds that he will return in advance of messianic days to herald a new era of peace, so we set a place for Elijah at many joyous, hopeful Jewish occasions, such as a baby’s bris and the Passover seder.
אֵלִיָּֽהוּ הַנָּבִיא, אֵלִיָּֽהוּ הַתִּשְׁבִּי,
אֵלִיָּֽהוּ, אֵלִיָּֽהוּ,אֵלִיָּֽהוּ הַגִּלְעָדִי.
בִּמְהֵרָה בְיָמֵֽנוּ יָבוֹא אֵלֵֽינוּ
עִם מָשִֽׁיחַ בֶּן דָּוִד,
עִם מָשִֽׁיחַ בֶּן דָּוִד.
Eliyahu hanavi Eliyahu hatishbi Eliyahu, Eliyahu, Eliyahu hagiladi Bimheirah b’yameinu, yavo eileinu Im mashiach ben-David, Im mashiach ben-David
Tonight we also welcome Miriam, a symbol of redemption in our present lives. Miriam's cup is filled with water, as because of her merit, a wonderful well of healing, sweet, fresh water followed the Israelites in their wanderings in the wilderness.
Nirtzah marks the conclusion of the seder. Our bellies are full, we have had many glasses of wine, we have told stories and sung songs, and now it is time for the evening to come to a close.
At the end of the seder, we honor but modify the tradition of declaring, “Next year in Jerusalem!” by declaring "Next year in peace!"
And so we conclude:
Now our seder is over
According to custom and law.
As we were worthy to celebrate it this year
So may we perform it in future years.
We pray that God brings health and healing
To all the people of the world, as we say…
לְשָׁנָה הַבָּאָה בִּשָׁלום
L’shana haba'ah b'shalom
NEXT YEAR IN PEACE!