Last weeks post, we discussed the Maggid, or telling of the Exodus story. This week we will look at the different elements that comprise the Pesach Seder. The Seder plate has many items that allow us to experience the Pesach using our senses.
Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household...The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Exodus 12:3-8 NIV
The elements of the Passover Plate in Exodus consisted of lamb, bitter herbs and bread. Over the years several other items were added to enhance the story telling and remembrance of the celebration.
Zeroah - roasted shank bone, usually chicken, representing the sacrificial paschal lamb made the night the Hebrews fled Egypt. The meat is removed and the bone is roasted over fire. Since the destruction of the Temple, there is not place to sacrifice the lamb, so other meat is eaten during the meal.
Maror - bitter herb, usually grated horseradish, bringing tears to the eyes to represent the bitterness of slavery. The seder refers to the slavery in Egypt, but people are called to look at their own bitter enslavements, whether addiction or habit.
Charoset - a mixture of apples, honey, nuts, cinnamon and wine, representing the mortar used by the Hebrew slaves while enslaved in Egypt. While the bricks are symbols of harsh labor, the Charoset is a sweet symbol of the LORD’s faithfulness to take what is hard and flavor it through His blessings. (For a recipe to make your own, visit Chabad.org)
Karpas - parsley, watercress, or celery leaves, symbolizing new life. Historically parsley was used to clean the palate between course.
Salt Water - symbolizes the tears of afflictions and the sweat from the harsh labor inflicted by the Egyptians. Often a single bowl of salt water sits on the table into which each person dips their karpas during the seder.
Chazeret - second bitter herb, Romaine lettuce, like the Maror it representing bitterness in life.
Matzah - the most important symbol on the seder table is a plate that has a stack of three pieces of matzah (unleavened bread) on it. The matzot (that’s plural for matzah) are typically covered with a folded cloth. The bread is usually either square or round with holes and markings from the baking. Matzah can be purchased from most groceries.
Beitzah - a roasted egg, symbolizes the continuity of life the coming of Spring, was added to the Seder during the Babylonian exile period. The egg symbolize death and new life.
Other items used during the Sedar are a feather, to sweep away any food containing leavening; a water bowl with a towel to wash hands during the meal; and wine.
The celebration of Peach [Pesach] is a holy ceremony requiring preparation. In a traditional Jewish home, a thorough cleaning would commence to remove all leavening from the home, which is symbolic for sin. The night before Pesach, the Father of the house, with one of the children would thoroughly inspect for any chametz [food containing leavening]. It is tradition that a small amount of crumbs be placed where it can be found. The feather is used to sweep up the chametz. Before we can celebrate Pesach we must make sure all the leavening has been removed. Prayer and fasting are part of our Lenten observance, like the house cleaning, we should seek the chametz in our lives.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:8-9 NIV
Washing the hands by the priests during the Tabernacle and Temple periods at the laver was a time for self-examination. The polished bronze was like a mirror to help them see what needed washing. During the Sedar, the hands are washed to acknowledge any unrepentant sin while praying for G-D to cleanse the heart in preparation for participating in the celebration.
There are four glasses of wine taken during the course of the evening. The glasses represent the four "I WILLs" that G-D spoke in Exodus 6:6-7:
The first is the Kiddush cup, representing Sanctification: “I will take you out of Egypt.” Yehovah rescued the Children of Israel from slavery. For the believer this means freedom from the burden of sin.
Second is the cup of Praise and Deliverance: “I will free you from being slaves.” Egypt and the former lifestyle has been removed from us. There are none so enslaved as those who are slaves to sin.
Next, the third cup, is the cup of Blessing and Redemption: “I will redeem you with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” The work of redemption is G-D’s alone since we are unable to earn our salvation through our own efforts.
The fourth and last cup is the cup of Hope and Completion: “I will take you for My people and I will be your G-D.” We have a hope and a future in G-D’s plan.
Holy One, LORD Almighty, You are teaching us to follow Your commands, not for the sake of activity, or as a burden, but in humble submission to what You know is best for us. The Pesach Seder is a feast for the senses as we are reminded of Your everlasting love and our rich heritage of faith. May we savor Your goodness as we experience Your abundant love for each of us today and forever more. Amen