Leader: Tonight, we celebrate the Passover holiday, one of the major festivals of Judaism. The long history of the Jews is one of contrasts — freedom and slavery, joy and pain, power and helplessness. The celebration of Passover reflects these contrasts. Tonight as we celebrate our freedom, we remember the slavery of our ancestors, and reflect upon the fact that many people are not yet free.
Leader: Each generation changes — our ideas, our needs, our dreams, our celebrations. In this way, Passover too has changed over many centuries. Our nomadic ancestors gathered for a spring celebration when the sheep gave birth to their lambs. Theirs was a celebration of the continuation of life. Later, when our ancestors became farmers, they celebrated the arrival of spring in their own fashion. Eventually these ancient spring festivals merged with the story of the Exodus from Egypt and became a new celebration — a celebration of life and freedom.
Leader: As each generation gathered around the table to retell the old stories, the symbols took on new meanings. New stories of slavery and liberation, oppression and triumph were added, taking their place next to the old. Tonight, we gather in remembrance not only of our people's ancient enslavement and liberation, but also in remembrance of the countless generations who have maintained this memory — who have passed it on to their children, and they to children of their own; we celebrate those who followed Moses and those who have kept the tradition alive these thousands of years.
Leader: The word seder means "order", and the Passover ritual follows a very specific order. Throughout the meal, we drink four glasses of wine — a symbol of the four promises made to Moses about the liberation of the Jewish people. In the book of Exodus it is written that God told Moses:
Leader: I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will rid you out of their bondage. I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments. I will take you to me for a people, and ye shall know that I am the Lord, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.
Leader: To begin the seder, we share this first cup of wine. We drink this cup in remembrance of the first promise: I will bring you out.
Raise your wine glass.
All: Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, borei p'ri hagafen.
(Blessed art thou, the LORD our God, who createth the fruit of the vine)
Drink your wine.
Leader: We come now to the first element of the Seder Plate: Karpas, the green vegetable.
Reader: The Karpas is a symbol of the Spring. It represents the reawakening of life and reminds us that beneath the snow, the earth is not dead, but dormant. It signifies the life-sustaining crops of our ancestors, and with this blessing, we make favorable their growth.
Reader: The parsley is also historically symbolic of the biblical herb, ezov. It was this plant the Hebrews used to sprinkle the blood of the sacrifical lamb on their doorposts so that they would not be sticken by the 10th plague, the slaying of the first-born.
Leader: We temper this symbol of hope and rebirth by dipping it in salt water, symbolic of the tears of our enslaved forefathers. For without sorrow, how can we know joy? Without struggle, how can we know strength of will?
Take a sprig of parsley, and dip it in salt water.
All: Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha’olam, borei p’ri ha’adamah.
(Blessed art thou, the LORD our God, King of the Universe, who createth the fruit of the earth)
Eat the parsley.
Leader: Ha lachma anya — this is the bread of affliction, which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat; let all who are needy come and celebrate the Passover with us. Now we are here; next year may we be in the Land of Israel. Now we are slaves; next year may we be free.
Leader: The matzoh is symbol of both our slavery and our freedom. The Passover story begins with slavery, and so we first partake of the bread of slavery, and will not partake of the afikoman , which means "that which comes after", until the meal is concluded.
Leader: It is traditional to hide the afikoman at this point. After the meal, the children search for it, and the first to find it earns a reward. This year, we have no children among us. Instead, I ask everyone who is a child at heart to close their eyes while I hide this. And I ask that all those who choose to be adult be responsible enough to not give away the hiding place.
Hiding of the afikoman.
Leader: We cannot eat the Seder meal until the story of Passover is told. This next section is called 'Maggid', which means 'Narrator', or 'Preacher'. In it we explore the reasons for the Passover holiday, culminating in a retelling of the story of the Exodus from Egypyt. We begin with a question:
Reader: Why is this night different from all other nights?
Reader: Why is it that on all other nights during the year we eat either bread or matzoh, but on this night we eat only matzoh?
Leader: Matzoh reminds us that when the Jews were fleeing slavery in Egypt, they had no time to wait for their bread to rise, and so took them out of their ovens while they were still flat.
Reader: Why is it that on all other nights we eat all kinds of herbs, but on this night we eat only bitter herbs?
Leader: We eat only Maror, a bitter herb, to remind us of the bitterness of slavery that our ancestors endured while in Egypt.
Reader: Why is it that on all other nights we do not dip our herbs even once, but on this night we dip them twice?
Leader: We dip twice - Karpas in salt water, and Maror in Charoset. The first dip, green vegetables in salt water, symbolizes the replacing of tears with gratefulness, and the second dip, Maror in Charoset, symbolizes sweetening the burden of bitterness and suffering to lessen its pain.
Reader: Why is it that on all other nights we eat either sitting or reclining, but on this night we eat in a reclining position?
Leader: We recline at the Seder table because in ancient times, a person who reclined at a meal symbolized a free person, free from slavery, and so we recline in our chairs at the Passover Seder table to remind ourselves of the glory of freedom.
Leader: The Twelve Tribes of Israel — Jacob's sons and their families — came into Egypt. And though in time Joseph and all of his generation died, the children of Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly, until the land was filled with them.
Reader: There came to power in Egypt a new king who had never heard of Joseph. He said unto his people, "Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we. Let us deal wisely with them lest it come to pass that they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us."
Reader: Accordingly they put taskmasters over the Israelites to wear them down by forced labor. And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in mortar, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field. But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And the Egyptians were grieved because of the children of Israel.
Reader: And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, "Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive."
Reader: A woman of the house of Levi conceived and bore a son, and seeing what a fine child he was, she kept him hidden for three months. When she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him, coating it with bitumen and pitch, and she laid it amongst the reeds at the river's edge.
Reader: Downriver, the daughter of the Pharoah was bathing. Among the reeds she noticed the basket, and she sent her maid to fetch it. She opened it and saw the child, and the babe wept. She had compassion on him, saying, "This is one of the Hebrews' children."
Reader: As the child grew, he became as a son to the Pharoah's daughter. And she called him Moses, which means "to draw out", for she drew him out of the water.
Reader: One day when he was grown, Moses witnessed an Egpytian striking a Hebrew, one of his kinsmen. And seeing no one about, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand. The Pharaoh learned of this, and tried to have Moses put to death, but he fled.
Reader: While in exile, Moses married a Midianite woman, who bore him a son. When wandering the desert, at the age of 80, he encountered God in the form of a burning bush. Giving him signs with which to prove his words, the LORD instructed him to return to Egypt and free the Hebrews.
Reader: Moses came before the Pharoah, and said unto him, "Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto our God in the wilderness." The Pharoah refused and, incensed, gave his taskmasters new orders that very day. "Ye shall no more give the people straw to make brick, let them go and gather straw for themselves. But you will exact the same quantity of bricks from them as before."
Reader: The Israelites grew distraught, and they met with Moses, saying "You have brought us into bad odor with Pharaoh and his officials. You have put a sword into their hand to kill us."
Reader: Moses went once more before the Pharoah to ask of him, "Let my people go". Moses cast down his staff before Pharaoh and his servants and it became a serpent. But the Pharaoh called upon the wise men and the sorcerers: the magicians of Egypt, and with their enchantments, they did likewise with their staves. Unimpressed, the Pharaoh once more refused.
Reader: Moses went again before the Pharaoh. He lifted up his staff and smote the waters of the river in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants. All the waters that were in the river were turned to blood. The fish died, and the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink of the water. But the magicians of Egypt did likewise with their enchantments, and the Pharaoh remained obstinate.
Reader: Moses brought forth a plague of frogs from the river, and they swarmed over the land of Egypt. But by their enchantments, the magicians of Egypt were able to do the same. The Pharaoh said "Entreat Yahweh to take the frogs from me and my people, and I will let the people go." But when the frogs had died, he hardened his heart and refused to free the Hebrews.
Reader: Moses struck the dust of the desert, and they became swarms of lice that plagued the Egyptians. The magicians attempted to produce lice in the same way, but failed. They beseeched the Pharoah to let the Hebrews go, but he would not listen.
Reader: Moses brought forth this time a plague of insects, beetles and biting flies. They swarmed over the whole of Egypt. Once again, as with the frogs, the Pharoah bade Moses to lift this plague, promising to let the Hebrews go once he had done so. And so the insects left the land of Egypt, but once again the Pharaoh refused.
Reader: Next, Moses threatened a pestilence on the livestock of Egypt, but the Pharaoh would not be swayed. And so a terrible murrain settled on the animals of Egypt and they died, but the livestock of the Israelites remained healthy. But still, the Pharaoh remained obstinate.
Reader: Moses cast a handful of soot into the air, where it became a great cloud that filled the land of Egypt. Where it landed, on man and beast, it brought forth boils and sores. The magicians of Egypt could not compete with Moses in this, for they too were afflicted with boils. But the Pharaoh would not relent.
Reader: Moses stretched his staff toward heaven, and there was hail, and fire mingled with the hail. And the hail smote throughout all the land of Egypt all that was in the field, both man and beast. Again, the Pharaoh promised to free the Hebrews if the plague was lifted. But once again, though Moses removed the plague, the heart of the Pharaoh was hardened, and he would not let the children of Israel go.
Reader: Moses stretched his staff over Egypt, and brought an east wind which blew all that day and night. By morning the wind had brought a swarm of locusts. They covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened. They ate every herb of the land, and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left, until there remained not any green thing through all the land of Egypt. Once more, the Pharaoh made his false promise, and once more, after the locusts had left the land of Egypt, he would not let them go.
Reader: Moses stretched forth his hand toward heaven and there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. They saw not one another, nor rose any from his place for three days. But the Pharaoh would not let them go.
Reader: But Moses went one last time before the Pharaoh, to tell him that all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, and there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt. But the Pharaoh would not listen.
Reader: Moses went amongst his own people, and instructed them to sacrifice a lamb and take the blood, strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it. For the blood shall be a token upon the houses where ye are: and when the LORD sees the blood, He shall pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you when He smites the land of Egypt.
Reader: And it came to pass that at midnight the Lord smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians, for there was not a house among them where there was not one dead. And the Pharaoh called for Moses and said, "Rise up and get you forth from among my people, both ye and the children of Israel, and go."
Reader: And he made ready his chariot, and all the chariots of Egypt, and captains over every one of them, he pursued after the children of Israel. As the Egyptians caught up to them, the Israelites grew afraid.
Reader: But Moses bade them be calm, and stretched out his hand over the sea, and the waters were divided. The children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground. The waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.
Reader: The Egyptians pursued, and went in after them to the midst of the sea, even all Pharaoh's horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. And Moses stretched forth his hand over the sea, and the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them.
The second cup of wine is filled.
Leader: We now spill a drop of wine in remembrance of each plague, for though they opressed and subjugated us, the suffering of the Egyptians lessens our joy.
Spill a drop of wine on your plate for each plague.
All: Blood. Frogs. Lice. Flies. Murrain. Boils. Hail. Locusts. Darkness. Slaying of the firstborn.
Leader: Before we can partake of the Seder meal, we must discuss the Mitzvot, the primary symbols of Passover.
Leader: The first mitzvah is Zeroa, traditionally a roasted shank bone of the lamb, which reminds us of the sacrifice made by the Hebrews on the night of the tenth plague. On our seder plate, we have not a bone, but a beet, whose color reminds us of the blood, without the enslavement or suffering of animals.\
Leader: The next is the Matzoh, by which remember the haste of our ancestors to get out of Egypt. For though we partake of the matzoh in memory of the slavery from which the Jews escaped, it is also a reminder that our ancestors were able to escape their bondage.
Leader: The final mitzvah is the maror, bitter herbs that recall for us the bitterness of that slavery.
Raise your cup of wine.
All: Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, borei p'ri hagafen.
(Blessed art thou, the LORD our God, who createth the fruit of the vine)
Drink your wine.
The Leader passes around one of the sheets of matzoh. Each participant takes a small piece.
All: Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, asher kidishanu b'mitzvotav vitzivanu al a'chilat matzoh.
(Blessed art thou, the LORD our God, King of the Universe, who hath santified us and commanded us to eat matzoh)
All eat their matzoh.
Leader: We now partake of the bitter herbs, of which there are two symbols on the seder plate, the maror and the chazeret.
Take a small amount of horseradish and eat it on a leaf of lettuce.
All: Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, asher kidishanu b'mitzvotav vitzivanu al a'chilat maror.
(Blessed art thou, the LORD our God, King of the Universe, who hath santified us and commanded us to eat bitter herbs)
Leader: Now we partake of the Charoset, which symbolizes the mortar with which our enslaved ancestors worked. Though the labor was bitter, it was made bearable by the sweetness of hope. We now include charoset with the maror and matzoh to soften the bitterness of suffering.
Create a "Hillel sandwich", matzoh with both maror and charoset, and eat it.
Leader: We are now ready to eat the seder meal! In some Jewish traditions, we begin by eating eggs and salt water. The egg on the seder plate, Beitzah, has many meanings. It is a symbol of Spring and rebirth. It is also historically a symbol of mourning, and represents the fall of the great Temple in Jerusalem. There are also some who say it represents the Jewish people, for the more it is boiled, the harder it gets.
Leader: There are some who say that the salt represents tears once again, and others who claim it is in memory of the crossing of the Red Sea.