The Key Parts of the Hagaddah by Aviva Meshwork, Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel
While living in Toronto, I learned with my teacher and friend Dvora. One year before Pesach, Dvora shared with me a Hagaddah that she created based on her own Torah learning. Together we explored the key parts of the Haggadah and my Seders have forever been changed for the better. The following is based on what I learned with Dvora and it is my hope and prayer that you too will have meaningful Seders!
1) Kadesh– We commence the Seder by reciting Kiddush over wine or grape juice.
All those present at the Seder stand for Kiddush while the leader of the Seder raises the Kiddush cup and recites the appropriate blessing, “…Praised are You, Eternal our G-d, Ruler of the Universe, Who chose us from all the peoples and exalted us among all nations, by making us holy with His commandments.”
What a time to remind ourselves, before the story of Passover is even told, that we are a separate people, unique and special in our own right, and we were made so by the Creator of all things. This is not to say we are better than anyone else, but simply different and distinct via the commandments we are meant to keep. The Kiddush blessing reminds me of who I am and from which cloth I was cut. I am reminded that I am part of a holy nation, regardless of the fact that I don’t always act in a holy way. I am reminded that I have the potential to achieve loftier aspirations, and the same applies to my people. I am reminded that I was chosen, (by Hashem Himself!) to be part of this great nation and that I have a unique and special mission to complete in this lifetime. When my husband raises the Kiddush cup before he begins to recite Kiddush, I am symbolically reminded that I too need to raise myself. Raising myself comes easier when I know in my heart that I was given the best possible start straight from the beginning.
2) Urchatz- Washing our hands without a blessing…the power of the question ‘Why?’
Washing our hands in a ritual way is typically followed by a blessing. However, in the case of ‘Urchatz’, we ritually wash our hands without a blessing. If you are wondering why this is so, than you have just uncovered the answer!
Judaism values uncovering deeper understanding and meaning. All the information we could ever need is available to us, and asking questions is the key to discovery. We see this with children as they have a strong desire to learn, experience, and grow, and therefore ask questions. As adults, we tend to get jaded over time, accept the status quo and often stop asking why. At Urchatz I remember the inner child in me, the seeker that I ought to be. The most successful, creative, ingenious and happy people are those that ask ‘why’.
3) Karpas- Dipping the vegetable into the salt water.
Before we can relate to the Exodus from Egypt it is important to understand how we got there in the first place and for this we need to go back to Jacob and his twelve sons. Jacob seemed to favor his son Joseph over his other sons. As a result, jealousy brewed in the hearts of Joseph’s brothers. The jealousy had grown so strong that for various reasons, the brothers actually sold Joseph to Ishmaelites who took him to…EGYPT. In order for their father Jacob to think that Joseph was dead, the brothers dipped the coat of many colours that Joseph was wearing (a special gift from his father) in animal blood.
We dip the karpas (symbolic of the coat dipped in blood) into salt water (tears) to demonstrate the sadness of infighting along with the bitterness it causes and the destruction it does to us as individuals and as a nation. The sale of Joseph began the decent to Egypt which was eventually followed by hundreds of years of bitter slavery for Jacob’s family- the soon to be born Jewish nation.
4) Yachatz- Breaking the middle matzah and separating half for the Afikoman to be used later.
The key to freedom is anticipation of a better future and making it a plausible reality in our minds and deeds. Cutting the middle matzah in half is symbolic of anticipation and future planning. Let’s bring this into every day life for a moment. Let’s say someone is saddled by an addiction such as alcohol, over eating or a characteristic such as poor anger management. Make no mistake about it; we are enslaved by the things that hold us back. The goal of freedom is attainable and requires a journey, the first step being the anticipation that freedom is indeed possible. Without hope for a better future there is nothing. The breaking of the middle matzah is symbolic of saying that I want to break away from the enslavement that I am under. Saving it for a later part of the Seder is symbolic of reward in the future.
5) Maggid– The Passover story is told. This is one of two Torah Mitzvot commanded on Passover.
Maggid means to speak. Speech, as we all know, carries a lot of power and it is incumbent on all of us to strive to speak with purity. We have all heard that ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me’. It’s a lie. Just ask anyone who has been spoken to harshly, overly criticized or chastised with words- the result is (lasting) hurt. Maggid is a time not only to reflect on the story of our Exodus, but also on how we use our own speech.
6) Rachtza– Washing our hands in preparation for eating Matzah for this first time.
We wash our hands and recite a blessing thereby sanctifying the act of eating matzah. One might think that a blessing should be required on actions with much more substance rather than a base activity such as eating. However it is just the opposite for us Jews as it is our mission to sanctify everything we do in life and in that way we connect the physical realm to the spiritual realm. There is even a blessing we say after using the bathroom!
7) Motzei Matzah- (Eating Matzah is the second of the two Torah commanded Mitzvos on Passover)
Here we are expressing our gratitude towards the Almighty for bringing forth bread from the earth. However, one might say that it’s not bread that pops up from the earth but rather the raw ingredients. Good point, but it’s this very system that we are thankful for. Hashem provides the raw materials (grain) and the gift of ingenuity given to those who created the tools of transformation (hoes, grinders, ovens…) and the rest is up to us! In this way G-d empowers us to be productive and useful, and enables us to utilize and grow our talents. What a gift!
8 and 9) Maror and Korech- Dipping the bitter herbs in the sweet charoset and then making a sandwich from it and eating it.
Many hardships and bitterness befell the Israelites in Egypt. Things that are unimaginable to us were experienced by many during those horribly bitter times. However, sweeter times did prevail. No matter what we are going through in life, no matter how difficult, we are reminded at the Seder that sweetness is to follow eventually. Even more than that, the mixing of the bitter and the sweet symbolizes that the bitterness in our lives facilitates and is closely related to the sweetness that comes! During Korech, when I eat the bitter sweet sandwich I try to reflect on past challenges that at the time seemed insurmountable together with the sweetness that I feel knowing that I would not be the person that I am today without having not gone through them.
10) Shulchan Orach- The Set Table (The meal)
Jews eat- a lot! It’s even a mitzvah to eat 3 meals on Shabbat- not snacks but actual meals! As Jews we do not deny ourselves from the physical pleasures that exist in the world. We marry, have children, eat and partake in permissible pleasures. In other words, we are free to enjoy life, including the act of eating delicious and rich foods. However, this freedom has boundaries. Think of it like driving. I love driving, especially here in Israel where the weather is good and the country is gorgeous. I love the freedom that my car affords me as I can come and go as needed. However, I am bound by the rules of the road that keep me and other commuters safe and essentially make space for me to drive. The rules are there for my own good and keep me from experiencing constant chaos on the roads. Order and proper boundaries are is the essence of real freedom.
11) Tzafun- Means ‘hidden’ Here we eat the Afikoman that was hidden.
The Afikoman is the last thing we eat on Seder night and we do so once it has been found from its hiding place. Up until now, the Seder has (hopefully) been inspiring and energizing for your body and soul. All the steps before this one has prepared us for thinking about the most important step in our liberation… the opportunity to dig deep. Uncovering the hidden issues within that hold us back and keep us enslaved to them while making commitments towards our self –growth takes a lot of hard work and requires good support. While it is helpful to our spiritual growth to be inspired and energized, if one wants to truly be free from that which confines (on a metaphysical level), then one needs to crawl out of one’s ‘hiding’ place and take on the challenges of change. Our sages ask, “Who is mighty? The answer is, “He who conquers/controls his desires”. Not easy, and maybe unpleasant at times, but attaining freedom is a journey that leads to the fulfillment of our personal potential.
12) Barech- Saying Grace after the meal
By now you are full to the brim and you may be ready to roll yourself to bed, but not before we say a proper “Thank You”. Imagine you prepared the entire Seder yourself and it was beautiful, delicious and downright perfect. Once it is done, everyone gets up from the meal, and says “Thanks”. Thanks?! That’s it? What about a thank you for the gorgeous flowers you picked out, and thank you for making the brisket that everyone loves, and thank you for the fun games you prepared for the Seder?! Somehow a mere ‘thanks’ just doesn’t seem to cut it! The same is true for us when it comes to thanking G-d. In truth, G-d doesn’t need our gratitude, but it is good for us to give thanks because an ingrate can never fully appreciate the gifts he is given. By Barech, we thank G-d not just for the nourishment but also for sustaining the world, the Land of Israel and more. We deeply and personally acknowledge He who takes care of us constantly.
13) Hallel- We sing out for joy and gratitude to be able to serve Hashem!
When the Jews came out of Egypt and crossed the Red Sea, they sang out in joy! They were free! Free from their oppressors and free to serve G-d in peace. This warranted a joyous song and that is what we re-live on Passover night. We are reminded that while we are free to do as we please, real freedom is the freedom to be who we truly are and strive to do our best to follow G-d’s commandments and therefore live authentically. Take any Jew who comes from a country where the freedom to be a Jew is denied and ask him/her what it is like to finally attain the freedom to be Jewish! I think you may find amongst other things, that this person feels an overwhelming spiritual energy and joy from this freedom- which we attempt to express when we sing Hallel.
14) Nirtzah- The conclusion of the Seder- Next year in Jerusalem!!
Jerusalem (Yerushalyim) is the focus of our hopes and aspirations as the Jewish people. When we examine the word ‘Yerushalyim’, we can see why.
Yeru- embracing a common vision
Shalem- of a perfected (peaceful) world
Have a meaningful Passover and I look forward to seeing you in Jerusalem!!!