As you all know, Passover is almost here. It begins at sunset on April 22 and ends nightfall April 29.
The highlight of Passover, Pesach in Hebrew, are the seders- one on the first night and one on the second night (In Israel there is a seder only on the first night. Everywhere else two seders are conducted.) The seder is a festive meal, attended by family and friends, whose order and rituals and described in the Haggadah, the book which is read during the seder.
Before the seder we set up three matzohs, one on top of the other symbolizing the three categories of Jews-Priests, Levities, and the Israelites.
Then we arrange the seder plate, which is placed next to the seder leader. The plate consists of six items- a shankbone or a piece of roasted meat, (Zero’ah) , a roasted hard boiled egg (Beitzah) , bitter herbs (Marror), bitter greens (Chazeret), the Charoset mixture, and a non bitter vegetable (Karpas).
Here’s the explanation for these items:
The shankbone or roasted meat- Zero’ah- represents the roasted lamb that was eaten on the eve of the exodus from Egypt.
The egg- Beitzah- symbolizes the Holiday offering brought by the Jews to the Temple. It was eaten as the main course of the seder meal. We use a hard boiled egg, traditionally a symbol of mourning, to remind us of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
The Marror and the Chazeret-bitter herbs- symbolize the bitter life lived by the enslaved Jews in Egypt.
The Charoset- the mixture of nuts, apple, wine and cinnamon- brings to mind the bricks and mortar the Jews had to make when they were enslaved by Pharoah.
The Karpas-Vegetable- alludes to the very difficult work done by the enslaved Jews. The Hebrew letters for Karpas can be rearranged to spell to form an acronym for the Hebrew- samech perech, meaning 600,00 [performed} hard labor. It also symbolizes the spring harvest. This is the vegetable which is used to dip into salt water.
The Biblical book of Exodus commands each Jew to tell their children the story of the liberation from Egypt at the beginning of Passover. The Haggadah is the way we perform this commandment. The Haggadah was originally put together by members of the Great Assembly, a group of Jewish leaders who lived between 410 BCE and 310 BCE. However additions continued to be made to it through the Middle Ages. The first known printed Haggadah containing the version we use today was published in 1485 in Venice Italy.
The Haggadah tells the story of the birth of the Jewish nation. It principally discusses the events in Egypt, from slavery to liberation, but it also covers the period from Abraham to the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. Haggadah means to tell and the Haggadah is set up as a dialogue between parent and child. The child asks the four questions in the beginning of the Haggadah and the adult answers them throughout the Haggadah. Also, many of the activities performed during the seder are meant to stoke the child’s curiosity and lead to additional questions. However, all present- adults and children- are urged to ask questions and discuss the exodus from Egypt. It is a time of great joy and happiness and feelings of togetherness and everyone should participate. The last part of the Haggadah consists of songs which were mostly added during the Middle Ages.
The Haggadah consists of 14 sections:
The first is Kiddush- the blessings over the first cup of wine
Urchatz- We wash our hands, but don’t make a blessing.
Karpas- We eat a small piece of a non bitter vegetable.
Yachatz- We break the middle of the three matzohs on the seder plate. The bigger piece is used for the Afikoman, which is hidden and eaten at the end of the meal.
Magid- We tell the story of the Exodus.
Rochtzah- We wash our hands to eat the matzah.
Motzi Matzah- We recite blessings over the Matzah.
Marror- We eat the bitter herbs.
Koreich- We make a sandwich of the bitter herbs and Charoset.
Shulchan Orech- We eat the festive meal.
Tzafun- We eat the hidden Afikoman.
Bareich- We say the Grace After Meals.
Hallel- We recite Psalms of praise to the Lord.
Nirtzah- Concluding songs. Many Sephardic Jews do not recite this section.
We drink four cups of wine during the seder, a cup for each of the four expressions used to describe our redemption from Egypt.
It is also a custom to lean to the left during the Passover seder. This is how the ancient royalty, nobility and the wealthy ate. Poor people ate while seated on the floor. Reclining during eating indicates a person of leisure who can afford to dine without worrying about interruptions that would necessitate him getting up. Since we are now free, we follow the custom of the nobility who ate while reclining on a sofa or on cushions. We lean to the left as so doing frees the right hand for eating and prevents the choking that may occur when leaning right.
For the seder, the table is usually beautifully set, with many people using their best china. Everything looks so lovely. The tablecloth, flatware, dishes, serving pieces, Seder Plate, etc. All is picture perfect. But look at the pillows. The pillows used to lean on are just regular pillows taken from the bedroom. Classy, they don’t look.
Now JewTee.com and its sister site, http://www.cafepress.com/passoverpillows have a solution for that. They feature unique Passover themed throw pillows and pillow shams. Here are a few examples: