THE ‘DASH’ OF LIFE!
Our lives are, physically, a movement through chronological time that is encapsulated on a memorial stone as ‘year of birth’ – ‘year of death’. Our journey from cradle to grave becomes a dash!
At times, life does seem to be as fleeting as a mere dash; and in the context of eternity that may be true. One’s physical “three score years and ten” would indeed have as much meaning as a dash – even a minus sign – unless we were simultaneously undertaking an additional journey; the journey through sacred time. This journey is walked on the “highway of holiness”, which is not a dash, a straight line from point A to point B, but a line that spirals ever upwards. It is cyclical in nature, and each cycle raises one higher and instills a deeper awareness and fosters a more intimate relationship with the Beloved of our souls, the One who is the Source of Life and the reason for it all.
The progression of this cyclical journey through sacred time is mapped out for us by God in His Word. As we now walk through the deeply significant season of Passover, and then count the days of the Omer that culminate in the glorious revelation of Shavuot, we are given the opportunity to revise, relive and realize afresh the purpose and value of this journey. It is a time of strategic review and also a time of intense spiritual enrichment. We are reminded that our life is more than a journey forward to an ultimate end; rather, we are growing in covenant relationship – a relationship of deepest love and commitment. For this reason, the supreme love story Shir haShirim, the Song of Songs, is read on the Shabbat that falls during the week of Passover. The loved one, chosen by the Lover, was enslaved, unprepared and undeserving of His love. Yet, He heard her cry and came to save her, to take her from her captivity and to bring her to Himself. “Who is this coming up from the wilderness, leaning on her Beloved?” (Song of Songs 8:5)
Artwork: Marc Chagall – The Bride
Thus the unconditional covenant relationship of love was forged between God and His people Israel.
Covenant is always celebrated with a meal, and this chapter of the wondrous covenant love story is enacted on the eve of Passover at the Seder meal. Seder [pronounced say’der] means ‘order’. Each year as we celebrate the Seder meal we remember, and reinforce with deeper understanding, God’s order for the process of spiraling upwards from spiritual slavery to freedom in relationship with Him.
THE FIFTEEN STEPS
There are fifteen segments that make up the Seder. Interestingly, this corresponds with the large flight of fifteen steps in the Holy Temple that led up to the enormous brass Nikanor Gates that connected the general gathering place of the Women’s Court to the Court of Israel. The priests and Levites would ascend these steps in order to perform their duties before the altar. The Levitical choir and musicians would pause on each step and sing one of the fifteen Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 130–145).
The ‘guide book’ through the Seder, which contains the outline of the fifteen steps, is called the Haggadah – ‘The Telling’. Each participant needs a copy in order to follow along comfortably. The Seder is an enjoyable, enlightening experience, during which we celebrate our identity in the family of God and aim to communicate the richness of our inheritance to the next generation. So, relax and enjoy!
Artwork: Family Seder by N.Y. artist Lynne Feldman
The symbols around which the story is told, and the central items on the Seder table, are the Seder Plate and the Matzah.
The elements are, in clockwise order:
- beitzah (boiled or roasted egg)
- chazeret (horseradish)
- maror (romaine lettuce)
- zeroah (the bone of a leg of lamb, or a chicken drumstick bone)
- karpas (parsley)
- the plate itself!
Each element carries much symbolism and illustrates key concepts of the Passover story, and hence our own journey of spiritual freedom.
1. The Beitzah – an egg symbolizes new life. It is brown/browned to represent the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the sacrificial offerings that were burnt to illustrate the eradication of the sin of the repentant sinner.
2. The Chazeret – horseradish, and 3. The Maror – romaine lettuce, represent bitter herbs that remind us of the bitterness suffered by the Israelites as slaves in Egypt, and by all who are enslaved to sin.
4. The Zeroah – represents the Passover Lamb that was slain.
5. The Charoset – reminds us of the mortar and clay used by the slaves.
6. The Karpas – parsley, represents the hyssop used by the Israelites to paint the blood on their doorposts; a key tool in receiving a new life of freedom. The hyssop is the most humble of biblical plants and reminds us of the importance of having a humble heart.
“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief… Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded [pierced] for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes [or also translate from Hebrew as ‘in fellowship with him’] we are healed” (Isaiah 53:3-5).
Three pieces of matzah are placed in a special bag with three sections. (One can also use four cloth napkins discreetly pinned together.)
Three can represent our forefathers Abraham, Isaac (who lay himself on the altar and was prepared to be sacrificed) and Jacob.
Brief Overview of the Fifteen Steps of the Seder
1. KADESH – means to ‘sanctify’ or ‘to set apart’. The Kiddush blessing is recited over a cup of wine to indicate that we are setting ourselves apart, as well as this special time, for God’s purposes. We focus our minds on the remembrance of the miracles of salvation at the Exodus from Egypt.
2. URCHATZ – means ‘washing’. A cup is used to pour water twice over each hand. This is a sign of purifying our intentions and preparing our hands to receive all that God has for us.
A jug of water, and a cup and bowl and a towel can be taken around the table to the participants.
3. KARPAS – The blessing for food is recited and the green vegetable (parsley or celery) is dipped in the salt water and eaten. The simple vegetable is a sign of humility and the water symbolizes tears of repentance. The journey to new life and holiness must begin with repentance and a humble heart.
4. YACHATZ – The middle matzah of the three in the bag is removed and broken in two uneven pieces. The larger one is wrapped in a white napkin and hidden as the Afikoman, which, when found later at the end of the meal, will complete the ‘big picture’ of the redemption story. The smaller piece, which represents all the intervening steps of the Seder, reminds us that in order to successfully complete our journey of freedom and holiness we need to take one small step at a time.
5. MAGGID – The telling of the Passover story begins with four questions asked by the children. In order to move forward we need constantly to be aware and to always question and examine the progress have we made, by asking ourselves: Where am I now? Where am I heading? and, Why am I doing what I am doing?
6. ROCHTZAH – Before the meal we wash our hands again, this time we dedicate them to God, desiring that all we do will be for His glory and the building of His Kingdom. We are reminded that we need to take creative action if we are to grow and move forward in the plans He has for us.
7. HAMOTZI – Bless God for the meal.
8. MATZAH – Special blessing before eating the matzah.
9. MAROR – Eating the bitter herbs.
10. KORECH – Eat the matzah and bitter herbs together, like a sandwich.
11. SHULCHAN ORECH – Enjoy the festive meal!
12. TZAFUN – At the end of the meal, the children prepare to hunt for the hidden Afikoman. The lights can be dimmed, which adds to the suspense, but also is a reminder of the darkness and hopelessness of a world without the Light and the Presence of God. The children can search with flashlights, or partially dimmed lights, and when the Afikoman is found the lights can be raised with a cheer! With deep gratitude at the realization that the “large piece” of the Redemption picture has been put into place, it is broken and shared amongst all participants. It is the last thing eaten by all before Grace is said and Praises are sung.
13. BARECH – Express gratitude to God for the meal.
14. HALLEL – Praises. “…Thou art holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel” (Psalm 22:3). Our praises prepare the Throne of the King. We offer a place where He can be seated in our midst. Traditionally, Psalms 113-118 are recited or sung.
FOURTH CUP – ELIJAH’S CUP
During this time of praise the cup set for Elijah is raised and the children go to the door to see if Elijah has arrived! According to the Scriptures, the prophet Elijah will announce the coming of Messiah.
15. NIRTZACH – The conclusion.
The Seder ends with a message of hope. We can go forward with the understanding that a new cycle of growth has begun in our lives. The path that stretches before us is filled with opportunity because we are in the hands of the One who is infinite and whose will it is that His children achieve the potential for good and for holiness that He has planted within each one.
We proclaim with all Israel, “Next year in Jerusalem!” God is restoring His Land and rebuilding His holy city, the City of the Great King, and He is drawing many of His people home to physically participate in the building. Wherever we are we can actively support and participate in this great restoration and proclaim in faith and with hope in our hearts, “Next year may we celebrate in Jerusalem, rebuilt and prepared for her King to take His place on His Holy Throne!”
Le’Shanah haba’ah b’Yerushalayim!
Checklist of Items Needed for the Seder
- Haggadah for each person.
- At the leader’s place: A Seder plate with the elements: boiled egg, horseradish, lettuce, bone, charoset, parsley; a Kiddush cup with wine, a small bowl of salt water.
- Small bowls of salted water, parsley, horseradish, lettuce and charoset to place on table – enough for the participants to share.
- A cup to use for the Kiddush and wine glasses at each place, as well as water/juice glasses.
- A special cup with wine for the prophet Elijah, which is placed on the table. Sometimes a place is set for him in case he arrives before the meal!
- A matzah ‘bag’ with sections to hold three pieces of matzah. Containers of matzah on table for eating.
- A prize, e.g. a bag of candy, for the child who finds the Afikoman.
- A jug of water, cup, bowl and towel – for hand washing.
- Bottles of wine and/or grape juice and jugs/bottles of water.
Yummy, Easy Recipe for Charoset!
- 3 apples – cored, finely chopped or grated. (It can be allowed to become brown, as it is intended to resemble the mortar used by the Israelites to build the pyramids for Pharaoh.)
- 3⁄4 cup walnuts or almonds or pecans – finely chopped.
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 1⁄2 tsp cinnamon
- 3 Tbsp grape juice or red wine
- Mix all ingredients together.
Enough for 6 people.
You can find helpful and delicious Passover recipes for cakes, desserts etc. on Aish in the Holidays section. Also fun coloring pages to print for the children!
Be’taya’von! Bon appétit! Enjoy the meal!