THE MODERN PASSOVER SEDER
(or Order of Service).
Much of the material about the modern Passover Seder is abstracted from the book Christ in the Passover, by Ceil and Moishe Rosen, published by Moody Press, 1978, and distributed by Jews for Jesus, 60 Haight St., San Francisco, CA, 94102.
Other good books on this subject are The Miracle of Passover and The Seven Feasts of Israel, by Zola Levitt. Levitt also has an excellent one-hour video called The Passover, that shows many of these same items and costumes, with good explanations. These are sold by Zola Levitt Ministries, P.O. Box 12268, Dallas, TX, 75225.
Don’t look to a Temple or Synagogue for a Passover service; neither is it led by a priest or rabbi. Just as the first Passover was in the homes in Egypt, the modern service is held in homes, and is presided over by the head of the house, the grandfather or father. The woman of the house also has an important part.
The first preparation is a thorough house-cleaning by the hostess, and a ceremonial search (the Bedikat Chametz) for leaven by the host. (NOTE: In the Bible, leaven is usually a symbol of sin.) He uses a lighted candle, a wooden spoon, a feather and a napkin. When he finds the last bits of leavened bread, he wraps it in the napkin and says the Kal Hamira — “Now I have rid my house of leaven.” The napkin and its crumbs are burned. Paul must have had this in mind when he wrote, in I Corinthians 5:7,
“Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.”
The normal dishes are all packed away, and a special set that’s used only once a year is brought out. The hostess cooks a festive meal, but doesn’t set it on the table until later in the service. The hostess begins the actual seder by lighting the candles and chanting a blessing. The table is set with several prescribed items, as follows:
1. The Seder Plate, a blue-enameled brass dish that has six compartments for the following foods:
A. The Zeroah, or shank bone of a lamb (no meat),
B.. The bytzah or haggigah, a hard-boiled egg roasted brown,
C. Three kinds of “bitter herbs” — the chazereth (whole horseradish root), the maror (freshly ground horseradish), and the karpas (lettuce, parsley or celery),
D. The charoseth, a sweet mixture of chopped apples, nuts, raisins, cinnamon and wine.
2. A bowl of salt water.
NOTE: For the first 1500 years, they actually sacrificed a lamb, then ate its meat in the Passover meal. But when the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed by the Roman Titus in A.D.70, proper sacrifices became impossible. Thus now the bone is placed on the plate as a memorial. The bitter herbs were to remind them of the misery their ancestors suffered; the charoseth represents the mortar they used in making bricks in Egypt; the salt water is a reminder of the water of the Red Sea and also of their tears. The egg was not there originally; it is a Babylonian symbol of fertility and may have started during their Babylonian captivity during the 6th century B.C.
3. There are also three matzohs (unleavened cracker-like wafers of bread, pierced and striped during baking). These are in a matzo tash, a square white silk bag having three sections.
4. The host has four wine goblets. Sometimes the other celebrants also have four, or sometimes their goblets are refilled several times instead. The four goblets represent the four verbs in Exodus 6:6,7, “I will bring you out; … I will deliver you; … I will redeem you; … I will take you to be my people.”
5. There is also an ornate book, the Haggadah, describing the service and containing the prayers. This was compiled in the 13th century A.D., from much earlier fragments.
6. Each chair has a pillow, and guests recline or sit comfortably (to show that they’re not slaves).
The host wears a kitel, a long white robe-like outer garment, symbol of purity. On his head is the miter, a white silk crown-shaped headress. He chants the prayer of sanctification, or kiddush,
“Blessed are thou, Lord our God, King of the universe, creator of the fruit of the vine.”
Everyone drinks from the first wine-goblet, the “cup of sanctification.”
The hostess brings in a small towel and bowl of water for ceremonial hand-washing, used several times in the service. (Do you remember that Jesus washed the feet of His disciples at the Last Supper?)
The leader passes out bits of karpas to each person. They all chant,
“Blessed art thou, Lord our God, King of the universe, who created the fruit of the earth.”
Everyone dips the karpas into salt water and eats it.
Now the leader takes the matzoh tash with its unity (the three matzohs). He removes the middle matzoh, breaks it in half, and hides or buries one half by wrapping it in a white napkin and placing it under a pillow, or under the table. The other half is replaced in the matzoh tash. The buried wafer is called the aphikomen. He doesn’t explain why he does this. (There’s a great deal of significance in this “burial,” and its later “resurrection,” especially for Christians. We’ll explain it later.)