The Seder Plate - Passover at a Glance
Seder is the Hebrew word for "order" or "procedure." It is the liturgy of Passover-a living tradition that links the present with the past. Like the other feasts of Israel, Passover is an exciting blend of elements designed to make the story of the Exodus from Egypt as riveting as possible.
The Seder plate holds the place of honor at the Passover table. Seder plates are some of the finest and most beautiful examples of Jewish art. Families pass them down from generation to generation, and some of them are breathtaking examples of artistry. The elements found on the Seder plate all have their parts to play, and all of them are easy to obtain and prepare.
These are the elements of the Seder plate:
The Karpas - parsley, which symbolizes the hyssop used to place the blood of the sacrificed lamb on the doorposts and lintels on the Israelite homes during the tenth and most terrible plague God visited upon Egypt-the slaying of the first-born.
The Maror - bitter herbs, traditionally horseradish, which remind us of the bitterness of our slavery under Pharaoh. There are usually two kinds of bitter herbs, perhaps ground horseradish and a whole horseradish root, on the Seder plate, because this element is mentioned in the plural as "herbs" in Exodus 12:8 and Numbers 9:11.
The Charoseth - a tasty combination of apples, nuts, spices (often cinnamon) and a little wine or grape juice. When mixed, it is meant to have a consistency that reminds us of the mortar that the children of Israel used to make the bricks as they labored for Pharaoh. Charoseth is easy to make in a food processor or blender.
The Z'roah - (lamb shankbone) a symbol of the sacrifice, which can no longer be made because the Temple no longer stands.
The Beitzah - a brown, roasted (or hardboiled) egg. It too represents sacrifice-as a symbol of the daily Temple sacrifice, or the life that sacrifice brings to us through reconciliation with God.
There are just a few other elements that make the Passover table complete:
- The Matzah - three cakes of unleavened bread are wrapped separately in a special, three-part pouch called a Matzah Tash.
- Salt water - which reminds us of the tears of suffering that our ancestors shed in bondage. The parsley is dipped into the salt water at the appropriate moment.
- A laver or bowl of water for the ritual handwashing.
- Red wine or grape juice - enough for the Four Cups of Passover.
The Seder - An Order of Worship and Table Fellowship
The Passover Seder is structured around Four Cups of Wine (grape juice is fine) that represent the four "I wills" of Exodus 6:6-7. We shall meet each of them along the way. One essential tool for the Passover celebration is the Haggadah. The Haggadah is a book that outlines the order of the evening. Like the Seder plate, Haggadahs come from all parts of the world, and some of them are centuries old. Haggadah means "telling the story." A Haggadah may be simple or ornate, but its purpose is to guide us through the order of the Passover service.
The Passover unfolds in this manner:
1. Candle lighting and prayers
2. Drink the First Cup - The Cup of Sanctification
(the first "I will") "I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians" (Exodus 6:6).
3. Hands are washed - representing the purity required to enter the Lord's presence in His Holy Temple.
4. Karpas is dipped in the salt water and eaten.
5. Breaking of the Middle Matzah. The leader of the Seder breaks the middle of the three cakes of unleavened bread (matzah) and hides half of it. This hidden half is called the afikomen. It is a Greek word, meaning "dessert," or "after-dinner." It also means "He who comes."
6. The story of Passover is narrated from Exodus 12.
7. The youngest child asks the "Four Questions of Passover."
8. Drink the Second Cup: - The Cup of Judgment: "I will rescue you from their bondage" (Exodus 6:6). The Ten Plagues are recited, and a drop of wine is spilled for each one.
9. Matzah is eaten. The unleavened bread reminds us of the haste with which the children of Israel left Egypt.
10. Maror is eaten with matzah, symbolizing the bitterness of the forced labor of the Israelites and the oppressiveness of slavery.
11. Charoseth is eaten with matzah.
12. The Passover Meal is served - During the meal, the children search for the Afikomen.
13. The Afikomen is "ransomed" by the leader of the Seder and shared by all. This is the Body of Messiah in the Lord's Supper (Luke 22:19).
14. The Third Cup - The Cup of Redemption: "I will redeem you with an outstretched arm" (Exodus 6:6). This is the Blood of the Passover lamb, and the blood in the Lord's Supper (Luke 22:20).
15. The Z'roah and Beitzah are noted above, as is the empty place setting for Elijah the Prophet, who will herald the coming of the Messiah.
16. Praises are read from the Psalms.
17. The Fourth Cup - The Cup of Praise: "I will take you as my people" (Exodus 6:7). Jesus gave praise to God before His suffering.
18. The Seder concludes as all declare together, "NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM!"
A Living Testimony of God's Faithfulness
The Passover is a living testimony of God's faithfulness to His people. It teaches us to look back at the past with gratitude, to accept the present with trust and to anticipate the future with hope. The Passover teaches us that the same God who rescued His children from the bondage of slavery in Egypt will also bring us into the fullness of His Kingdom at the return of Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah.