Sunday, 17 March 2013

Seder Night Guide 1 (Introduction to the Seder)

We are required to eat a meal in the evening and morning of every Shabbat and Yom Tov – so what makes the first day(s) of Pesach so different that we make such a big fuss? Seder night even has its own book – the Haggada! This guide will outline the structure and principles of what we are trying to do on Seder night.

Let’s start by looking at which of these 14 components form part of the regular Yom Tov meal: The most obvious are Kadesh (1), referring to Kiddush, and Barech (12), which is bentsching. Parts 6, 7 and 10 are also familiar as they are the Yom Tov meal. But there’s a lot different about this night.

After Kiddush, why do we wash and eat karpas - when do we ever wash before eating vegetables? And why do we not make a bracha?

When the Beit Hamikdash (Temple) stood, one washed hands before dipping vegetables in water without a bracha for reasons of purity (some still do this today, though it’s not necessary). A major principle of Seder Night is to recreate life as if there was a Beit Hamikdash and prepare for the coming of the third one. Therefore when we eat the karpas we wash beforehand without a bracha. Some Haggadot say that only the leader of the Seder should do this. It doesn’t matter who does, since the act is merely symbolic and not a Mitzvah (like Rachtza – see section 6).

However why have karpas at all? Another principle of the Seder is that every Jew should feel like nobility. Since it was the custom of the rich to have an apperatif before the meal, we all indulge in this pleasure, though in a slight reminder of the bitterness of slavery we dip the karpas into salt water. This idea is also why the Mishna in Pesachim 10:1 says that everyone should ensure that every Jew, however poor, has enough money for 4 cups of wine – because on this night, we are all rich!

In Yachatz, we break the middle of three matzot on the Seder plate, half of which is used later for the Afikoman (see section 11). We have two matzot to fulfil the standard requirement of eating two loaves for every Shabbat or Yom Tov evening meal, but why the third?

One reason is to represent hoarding provisions on the way out of Egypt – but we’re only truly free when we don’t have to ‘ration’ our food because we don’t know where our next meal is coming from. Yachatz symbolises our slave mentality and it’s only after we get redeemed through the course of the Seder that we can re-connect the two halves and feel truly free. The process of re-connecting the halves is Tzafun (section 11), which means ‘hidden’, representing how we bring out the hidden. In fact, Afikoman in Aramaic could derive from the phrase ‘afiku man’, which means ‘bring out the manna’ and refers to the miraculous continuous provision of food by Hashem throughout the Jewish people’s time in the desert.

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