A special Seder plate is displayed during the Seder, containing the key elements of Passover. The plate is carefully prepared and placed before the head of the household, or the one conducting the Seder, who dispenses the Seder foods to each of the participants. The following items appear on the Seder plate:
A. Three whole matzot – unleavened ‘bread’ (either on the plate or next to it);
B. Maror – bitter herbs, usually horseradish or romaine lettuce;
C. Charoset – special mixture of apples, nuts, wine and cinnamon symbolizing mortar;
D. Karpas – a vegetable, preferably parsley or celery;
E. Zeroah – a piece of roasted or boiled meat or poultry, preferably a shankbone, recalling the Paschal sacrifice of the original Exodus. Before the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple the Paschal sacrifice was the central feature of the Seder;
F. Baytzah – a roasted or boiled egg, commemorating the festival sacrifice that was brought at the Jerusalem Temple. An egg is used because it is a traditional food for mourners, reminding us of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem;
G. There are other items that can be placed on Seder plates depending on the customs followed by the family.
There are five basic obligations (mitzvot) performed by each Jew, in the course of the Seder conducted according to the traditional Haggadah:
- Eating matzot
- Drinking four cups of wine (Arbah Kosot)
- Eating bitter herbs (maror)
- Relating the story of the exodus (Haggadah or Magid)
- Reciting Psalms of praise (Hallel)
A. There are three times during the course of the Seder when matzah must be eaten ‘ at the beginning of the Seder meal, when the special blessing over matzah is made, for Korech (Hillel sandwich) together with the maror, and at the end of the meal for the afikoman.
B. For the appropriate minimum quantities of matzah, and the time period in which it must be consumed, please refer to the following section on Shiurim.
C. Three unbroken matzot are required for the Seder plate for each Seder. Each individual must consume the minimum specified quantity of matzah during the course of the Seder. If the matzot from the Seder plate are insufficient, they should be supplemented by additional matzot.
D. The matzah is eaten while reclining on the left side as a symbol of freedom. The piece of matzah called afikoman should be eaten before midnight, and no solid food should be eaten thereafter.
E. To fulfill the mitzvot of the Seder, one must use shmurah matzot, which are produced under a special standard of supervision, beginning with the harvest of the grain (rather than with its milling into flour, as with regular matzot for Passover).
F. According to Ashkenazic practice, matzah made with fruit juice or eggs, including egg matzah, chocolate covered egg matzah, and white grape matzah are permissible on Passover only for the elderly, sick, or young children who cannot digest regular matzah. Under no circumstances should they be eaten by others at any time during Passover, nor can they be eaten to fulfill the mitzvot of the Seder. Sephardim should consult their Rabbi.
Four Cups of Wine
A. Each Jew is obligated to drink four cups of wine at these specific times during each Seder: the first at the start of the Seder, following kiddush; the second before the meal, after reciting the Haggadah story; the third following the grace after the meal; and the last after completing psalms of praise (Hallel).
B. Please consult the following section on Shiurim for minimum volumes necessary to be consumed and time limits for each of the four cups.
C. Red wine is the preferred beverage for use during the Seder. If a person has difficulty drinking wine, it may be diluted with kosher grape juice. If one wishes to dilute the wine with water, an Orthodox Rabbi should be consulted to determine the minimum acceptable proportions. If someone cannot drink even diluted wine, kosher grape juice may be substituted. If an individual cannot drink any grape product, then a Rabbi should be consulted on another substitute beverage in order to fulfill the mitzvah of drinking the four cups.
D. One should drink the wine reclining on the left side, in order to symbolize freedom.
Bitter Herbs (Maror)
A. All persons are obligated to eat bitter herbs twice at each Seder. According to most authorities, the bitter herbs may consist either of romaine lettuce, horseradish or endives.
B. When using romaine lettuce, one may use the stalks or leaves for maror. When horseradish is used for maror, it should be chopped, ground or grated to reduce its strength, but it must be covered so as not to be weakened too much. Cooked or preserved vegetables are not suitable for maror; therefore commercially prepared grated horseradish, which is packed in vinegar, may not be used for the mitzvah.
C. The maror is dipped in charoset, a specially prepared mixture of wine, nuts, cinnamon, and apples, symbolizing the bricks and mortar of ancient Egypt.
D. Immediately thereafter, a second, smaller volume of maror is eaten with matzah in Korech (Hillel sandwich).
E. When lettuce is used, it must be cleaned and inspected very carefully to remove the small insects which often are present in its leaves. One recommended way to clean lettuce of insects is to soak it for not more than half an hour in salt water, and rinse it in fresh water before inspection.
F. Consult the following section on Shiurim for the minimum volume of maror to be consumed each time and the time limits.
Relating the Story of the Exodus and Hallel
A. Most of the unique Seder practices are designed to stimulate interest and arouse curiosity in the exodus story. The central theme for the Haggadah is the discussion of the exodus, a timeless event which has forged countless generations of Jews into an unbroken chain through history, with each year’s Seder another link of that chain.
B. The Seder is a symbolic reenactment of the exodus, with a compelling message for young and old alike. Seder participants are encouraged to discuss the various aspects of the exodus in detail, beyond the text of the Haggadah.
C. Young children are encouraged to participate in the Seder to the extent of their ability. In addition to the Four Questions at the start of the Seder, they are encouraged to drink the Four Cups, eat the maror and matzah, and ask as many questions as they wish.
D. In addition to relating the story of the exodus, each Jew at the Seder is obligated to discuss three central elements of the Seder ritual – the Paschal sacrifice, the matzah and the maror, as explained in the Haggadah. The Seder is a miniature recreation of the exodus, and participants should imagine themselves as leaving Egypt.
E. The formal part of the Seder closes with special psalms known as Hallel, which praise the Almighty and His special relationship with the people of Israel.
F. The Seder traditionally concludes with the singing of several lively songs celebrating the relationship between God and the Jewish people.