I really like the aish.com article by Rabbi Shraga Simmons, Seder Plate – 15 Steps. He tries to show how each of the 15 steps of the seder is a step towards the ultimate freedom of the mind and soul. Using lots of his ideas, I am going to go through all the steps here. Though I connected to a lot of what he wrote, there were some I didn’t connect to so here I am trying to give my own explanations. I definitely love the idea of the seder being a 15-step process towards freedom. I hope you’ll share your thoughts on this topic as well.
1. Kadesh – We say kiddush over a cup of wine (or grape juice). Kodesh is often translated as holy but it can also be translated as special or unique.
Focus: You are unique in this world, filling a position that no one else can fill.
2. Urchatz – We wash our hands without a blessing before eating vegetables dipped in salt water. We do this strange act in order to bring out questions in the children.
Focus: Always keep the curiosity of a child, continually asking and learning. “Who is the wise person? The one who learns from everyone.” (Talmud)
3. Karpas – Eat a vegetable dipped in salt water with a blessing beforehand. The vegetable honours spring which has just arrived.
Focus: Feel gratitude for everything you have and experience in your life. “Who is the rich person? The one who’s satisfied with what he’s got.” (Talmud – I’m quoting through the article, please forgive me for not being more academic.)
Why the salt water? Because things are not always fresh like vegetables. The salt water symbolizes tears. Even within hardship, we can try to appreciate the goodness that does exist.
4. Yachatz – Break the middle matza and save the bigger half for later, for the afikoman (which we eat as dessert – yum yum).
Focus: We must plan for the future. Planning is part of the maturing process. We are capable of pushing off an immediate pleasure for a greater future pleasure. “Who is the wise man? The one who sees the future.” (Talmud) Freedom is not just about this moment.
5. Maggid – We tell the Passover story (and lots of over stuff).
Focus: God created the world through speech (“Let there be light.”). Speech was given to humans alone and it is a tool we can utilize for either good or bad. We need to use speech in order to build. Pessach = pe sach (the mouth speaks). Pharaoh = pe rah (bad mouth). (What is the freedom factor here?)
6. Rachtzah – Washing (with a blessing) before eating the matza.
Focus: We can, and should, raise ourselves and our actions up. Make things kadosh (holy, unique). We choose what we do/see/experience. We can choose in a way that makes us kadosh.
7. Motzi – Saying the blessing over the matza. The blessing we say over bread or matza is one that teaches us about the partnership between God and humans. God gives us the raw materials (wheat berries) and the tools to transform them.
Focus: We should try to recognize the materials and tools that we have, do as much as we can with them, and be able to recognize where our job ends. In other words, recognize where we have control and where we don’t.
8. Matza – Eat the matza. Two of the differences between matza and bread are that matza is baked much more quickly and that it is much flatter.
Focus: Take time seriously. The matza has to be baked within 18 minutes of the water touching the flour. 18 = chai (life). We must remember the sanctity of our moments in this world. As for the flattness, of course, don’t let your ego get blown out of proportion. Work on seeing yourself for who you are, no more, no less.
9. Marror – Bitter herbs are eaten.
Focus: Mount Sinai is where the Jews received the Torah and as a result, the legacy of morality and justice. This is very possibly one of the things that has led to plenty of anti-Semitism. But we must always continue in our mission to bring morality and justice into this world.
10. Korech – Eating the Hillel sandwich of matza with marror and charoset (the sweet mush that reminds us of the mortar used by the Hebrew slaves in Egypt).
Focus: This sandwich can symbolize Jewish, or human, unity. Broken pieces of matza are held together by the sweet charoset while the pieces of marror are stuck inside. One of our community’s biggest problems today is probably unity. We must try to connect to each other, figure out ways to make that happen, even if there is also bitterness involved.
11. Shulchan orech – Eating the main meal
Focus: The Torah does not teach us to abstain from worldly pleasure but instead to live fully in this world and raise the physical up to a more spiritual level. We should try to remember to raise up the physical and not let it pull us down.
12. Tzafun – Eat the afikoman for dessert (yum yum, still!)
Focus: At this point, we eat the afikoman not because we want it but because we’re supposed to. We should listen to the One who knows better. “Who is the strong person? The one who can subdue his personal inclination.” (Talmud)
13. Barech – This is one of my favourites (as far as freedom is concerned). We make the blessing after the meal.
Focus: Of course there is the gratitude aspect of this step. But this is also something that connects us with Avraham Avinu (Abraham, or forefather) who, tradition says, instituted grace after meals. He was called an “Ivri” (a Hebrew) which means, “the one who stands on the other side.” He stood alone, was a social outcast, in order to do what he thought was right. We should work towards the goal of doing what is most right, without dwelling on questions such as, “What will ‘they’ think?”
14. Hallel – Singing praise.
Focus: Hallel is a non-intellectual experience of singing expressions of the soul. We need to realize that not everything is intellectually quantlifiable. We must be willing also to move beyond the intellect and trying to understand everything – and “go with the flow.” We must face facts that there is no way we can ever understand everything while we’re in this world. Hallel also is about feeling joy and hope, seeing the possibilities of goodness happening. Of course having four cups of wine in your system helps with this step.
15. Nirtzah – We say, “Next year in Jerusalem.”
Focus: on Jerusalem, the place where it is believed, the creation of the world began. Try to sense the process of redemption, see us all working towards perfecting this world.