Every year, the Pesach Seder opens with a table of contents. Many sing this list, but its purpose goes beyond a simple song to open the Seder before the serious rituals begin. Its main purpose is to refresh our memories of the order of the Seder. Unfortunately, many people are familiar only with the order and the words and not with the meanings, symbolisms, and interpretations of the fourteen parts of the Seder. This article will help attempt to combat this unfortunate situation by delivering a short Dvar Torah on each of the fourteen parts of the Seder. (Note: The following Divrei Torah are not Halacha Lemaaseh and do not represent all opinions on any particular topic. Any questions should be referred to one’s local Rabbi.)
קדש, Kiddush, is the first part of the Seder. Kiddush is recited on Shabbat and on all biblical holidays (except Yom Kippur). Therefore, it is no surprise that we recite Kiddush on Pesach during the Sedarim. However, it is surprising that the Beracha on wine is recited (according to Ashkenazic practice) three more times (a total four cups of wine) throughout the Seder; why is this so?
The most common explanation may be found in the Talmud Yerushalmi. The Yerushalmi explains that the four cups correspond to the four expressions of redemption used by Hashem in the opening of Parshat Vaera (6:6-7): a) I will take you out from the burdens of Egypt, b) I will save you from their slavery, c) I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and d) I will take you to Me as a nation. Though the people, who were still slaves, were unable to comprehend or absorb the ideas Moshe had presented, their descendants demonstrate their thankfulness to Hashem for redeeming the Jews by drinking four cups. But what do four cups of wine have to do with redemption? The Gemara states (Sanhedrin 38a) that wine has the ability to bring to the surface things that we would ordinarily not say, think, or express. Wine is used because it helps bring out our feelings of gratitude towards Hashem for freeing our ancestors. Because it is not simply enough to thank Hashem, we must also feel the freedom as an emotion rising from our heart and soul.
ורחץ, the washing of the hands, is a most peculiar part of the Seder. Usually, one’s hands are washed prior to eating bread. Why, here, are the hands washed for no apparent reason? This washing is in order to purify one’s hands from any impurities because before eating any foods that had been dipped in water or certain other liquids, the washing of the hands for the purpose of
purity was required in the time of the Bait Hamikdash. However, if we no longer have the Bait Hamikdash and no longer are able to attain a full level of purity, why do we still wash our hands?
Indeed, some rabbinic authorities do not require us to wash nowadays. Nonetheless, it is customary for the person conducting the Seder to wash one’s hands before eating the Karpas at the Seder as a reminder of the procedure of the Bait Hamikdash, which will hopefully be restored with the coming of Mashiach. Today, many rabbinic authorities state that when food is dipped into a liquid one’s hands should be washed. According to them, all participants at the Seder should wash their hands.
כרפס, the eating of a green vegetable. The procedure of eating a piece of green vegetable is taking the vegetable, dipping it in salt water, making a Beracha, and eating it. The section of Karpas is very interesting because it displays two opposite ideas at the same the time. The eating of the Karpas represents freedom and the bitterness of slavery, as the dipping of food is considered a luxury yet the salt water it is dipped into is a reminder of bondage. Ironically, the same act that represents freedom represents oppression.
יחץ, the breaking of the middle Matza and hiding of the other half for the Afikoman. During Yachatz, the leader of the Seder breaks the middle Matza in two, the larger half is placed aside to serve as the Afikoman, and the smaller is returned to its place between the other two Matzot. One of the reasons the Matza is broken in half is to remind us of the extreme poverty Bnai Yisrael experienced in Egypt. Like the very poor, they only had a broken Matza, never a whole one.
But why is the middle Matza broken and not the top one? To discover this answer one must look ahead to the rest of the meal and notice that the first Beracha after Magid is המוציא לחם מן הארץ. As at all Yom Tov and Shabbat meals, this Beracha must be made over two unbroken loaves of bread or Matza. Only afterward do we make the Beracha that denotes the Matza as a bread of poverty. Therefore, the Matza is arranged in the order in which it will be used, leaving the top Matza unbroken to be used later.
מגיד, recitation of the Pesach story. Perhaps the most known section of the Seder is the מה נשתנה and its answer, עבדים היינו. However, the answer does not seem to fit the question. How does saying we were slaves in Egypt answer how this night is different from all others? The answer of עבדים היינו makes sense because the father is instructing the child that the observances mentioned in מה נשתנה must be performed because Hashem is our master, because He took us out of Egypt. However, the answer of the father also explains the observances the child asked about as well. The practices of the Seder reflect both slavery and freedom because on this night Bnai Yisrael were freed from slavery.
רחצה, the washing of the hands before the meal. Usually when one washes his hands, it is in order to eat bread, but on Pesach it is to eat Matza. In הא לחמא עניא, Matza is referred to as לחם עוני, poor man’s bread, which our ancestors ate in Egypt. Later, this “poor man’s bread” is contrasted with the bread of Eretz Yisrael, as the Pasuk in Devarim (8:9) states: ארץ אשר לא במסכנת תאכל בה לחם, “a land in which you shall not eat bread in poverty.” Beneath this contrast there is a profound spiritual distinction. When Bnai
Yisrael left Egypt with their Matza, they had no part in their own liberation. In this sense, it was a liberation of poverty not sustained by their own merits. However, when they entered Eretz Yisrael, they were charged with a new mission to serve Hashem in a Torah atmosphere. In reward for following Hashem initially, Bnai Yisrael were given the opportunity to follow Hashem in a Torah environment.
But why does the Seder emphasize that Matza is the “bread of poverty?” The answer provided by the Mishna in Avot (4:11) states, “Anyone who neglects the Torah amidst wealth will eventually neglect it in poverty.” Emphasizing this characteristic of Matza teaches us a lesson. That Hashem gave us a gift and a mission but our ancestors chose to neglect creating a Torah environment in Eretz Yisrael when they had the opportunity to do so led to exile. From this we should learn to take advantage of the spiritual opportunities presented to us and create proper Torah environments.
מוציא מצה, the eating of the Matza. Matza is eaten on Pesach because the bread Bnai Yisrael were baking did not have the chance to rise due to their being rushed out of Egypt. But what was the rush? What terrible thing would occur had they not left Egypt quickly? A Midrash states that the reason they left Egypt so quickly was that had they stayed even a few minutes longer they would have been completely assimilated into Egyptian society. How? Bnai Yisrael were on the forty-ninth level of Tumah; had they stayed even a few more minutes they would have fallen to the fiftieth and then even Moshe, as charismatic as he was, would not have been able to lift them from that low level.
מרור, eating of the bitter herbs. It is usually assumed that Maror is a sad and negative note in our night of joy. However, it seems that every act in the Seder reflects our gratitude towards Hashem, even the Maror. However, this idea seems rather paradoxical: are we thanking Hashem for the bitterness Bnai Yisrael experienced in Egypt? The answer is yes: though it was a period of extreme suffering, many positive things happened as a result. One example is thanking Hashem for the hatred of the Egyptians that kept the people from totally assimilating. Even today we have to be thankful for the benefits of the suffering of the Jewish People. By eating the Maror on Pesach we are demonstrating our gratitude and belief that all our suffering is merely a prelude to the coming of Mashiach, just as Bnai Yisrael’s suffering was a prelude to Yetziat Mitzraim.
כורך, eating Matza and Maror together. What is the purpose of eating Matza and Maror together? By combining the Matza and Maror we demonstrate that Hashem is present not only in periods of freedom, represented by the Matza, but also in periods of slavery, represented by Maror. Another idea is that by eating the Matza and Maror we recognize why Bnai Yisrael did not assimilate in Egypt. The Matza, on the other hand, represents unyielding loyalty to tradition, as the ingredients of Matza have never been changed. By eating Matza and Maror together we suggest that it was the Maror’s bitterness that allowed us to attain Matza-like characteristics. If Bnai Yisrael did not adopt Egyptian culture, it was because of the Maror, bitterness, the Egyptians showed us. That Maror allowed us to keep the characteristics of the Matza.
שולחן עורך, eating the meal. Why is it customary to eat a hard-boiled egg during the meal? To answer this question it is helpful to look to a different situation where someone eats an egg, the first meal of a mourner after the funeral. The mourner is given an egg to symbolize the circle of life, which, just like an egg, has no beginning and no end. On the Seder night it is also appropriate to eat an egg because we are mourning the Bait Hamikdash. (This is especially true because the first night of Pesach and Tisha B’Av always fall out on the same day of the week.)
צפון, eating the Afikoman. Why do we eat the Afikoman? The Rosh gives the classical answer that the Afikoman was established as a reminder of the Korban Pesach. Similar to the Korban Pesach, the Afikoman must be the last thing eaten at the Seder and must be eaten before a certain time. On the other hand, the Rashbam states that the Afikoman is not a remembrance of the Korban Pesach but a remembrance of the Matza eaten with it. In fact, the Rashbam believes that this Matza, the Afikoman, is the real fulfillment of our obligation to eat Matza during the Seder.
ברך, grace after meals. Here’s a question: In Birkat Hamazon we insert the הרחמן of Yom Tov and many insert an additional statement following it which says, יום שכלו ארוך, יום שהצדיקים יושבים ועטרותיהם בראשיהם ונהנים השכינה והיה חלקנו עמהם. “That everlasting day, the day when righteous people sit with crowns upon their heads, enjoying the radiance of the Divine Presence – may our portion be among them.” What does this mean? Why is this phrase used? (E-mail suggestions to email@example.com)
הלל, recitation of Hallel. Why is the recitation of Hallel split in two; the first part recited at the end of Magid, and the rest now? The first part of Hallel deals with the deliverance from Egypt and therefore belongs in the section of Magid. The second part, however, looks ahead to the redemption of Mashiach, which is the theme of the end of the Seder.
נרצה, conclusion of the Seder. It appears that with the paragraph of חסל סידור פסח the Seder should come to an end, as it says, “The order of the Pesach service is now completed in accordance with all its laws, ordinances and statues.” Why, then, does the Seder continue; what is the meaning of the end of the Seder? According to Rav Moshe Feinstein, this introduces the informal part of the Seder. In this section, any additional praises of Hashem are expressed. Though all required observances have been completed, it is desirable to continue discussing the Exodus throughout the night or until we fall asleep.
(Ideas and thoughts taken from: The Three Festivals: Ideas and Insights of the Sfat Emet, The Hirsch Hagadah, The Artscroll Hagadah, and the Torah Anthology Hagadah.)