The 15 Steps of the Seder

By InterfaithFamily

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Return to the Guide to Passover for Interfaith Families

The path from slavery to liberation was crafted by the ancient rabbis in fifteen ritualized steps, each one represented by a named section of the seder. They are:

Bitter herbs
Credit: Joshua Bousel/flickr
  1. Kadesh – a blessing over wine
  2. Ur-chatz – ritual washing of hands without the usual blessing
  3. Karpas – eating some leafy greens or green vegetables
  4. Yachatz – raising up and breaking the middle Matzah (more on this later)
  5. Maggid – the telling of the Exodus story (the longest section of the Seder)
  6. Rach-tzah – ritual washing of hands before the meal, with the blessing
  7. Motzi – the blessing over the Matzah and the meal
  8. Matzah – another blessing over the Matzah, this time emphasizing the special nature of eating Matzah as a Passover ritual act
  9. Maror – eating bitter herbs
  10. Korech – eating a sandwich of Matzah and bitter herbs (and then adding a sweet, chutney-like Jewish dish called charoset)
  11. Shulchan Orech – the festive meal
  12. Tzafun – eating the Afikomen (more on that later)
  13. Barech – grace after meals
  14. Hallel – singing psalms of praise
  15. Nirtzah – conclusion

For a very accessible overview of each of these steps of the seder, including a description of what happens and the symbolic meaning of each element, click here.

Some of the most well-loved ritual elements of the seder take place within some of the 15 steps listed above. These include:
  • Drinking four cups of wine (or grape juice) throughout the evening
  • During the Yachatz section, the leader takes a ceremonial plate that has 3 pieces of matzah stacked on it, and lifts it up. Then, s/he takes the middle matzah, breaks it in half, and then has someone hide one half somewhere in the house. At the end of the meal, kids are invited to search for the hidden matzah, which is known as the afikomen. In some families, the child who finds it gets a gift, though often every child gets a gift when the afikomen has been found.
  • During the Maggid section, in which we retell the Exodus story, there are several well-loved parts, such as:

o   The “Four Questions,” often sung by young children who have learned the traditional melody for singing these questions in Hebrew. (Video of this here.)

o   The chanting of the 10 plagues that struck ancient Egypt before Pharaoh finally let the Hebrew slaves go. In sorrow that so many Egyptians suffered as part of our liberation, we remove one drop of wine for each plague, symbolizing a diminishment of our joy.

o   Singing a song called “Dayenu.” It repeatedly proclaims that if God had only provided a fraction of the goodness that God showed to our ancestors, “it would have been enough” (that phrase is the meaning of the Hebrew word,  Dayenu. Want to practice the song? Click here.

  • Tasting different varieties of charoset (more on this food below)
  • Eating the bitter herb – maror – and seeing just how hot it is. If peoples’ faces turn red, it’s especially memorable.
  • Setting a place at the table, including a cup of wine, for the spirit of the Hebrew biblical prophet, Elijah, and later during the Seder, opening the door so that his presence (or, metaphorical presence if you prefer) can come in.
  • Singing fun folk songs near the end of the Seder – you can see YouTube videos of many of them here.
  • Concluding the Seder with the words, “Next year in Jerusalem.”

The Guide to Passover for Interfaith Families is also available in PDF



mm

About InterfaithFamily

InterfaithFamily is the premier resource supporting interfaith couples exploring Jewish life and inclusive Jewish communities. We offer educational content; connections to welcoming organizations, professionals and programs; resources and trainings for organizations, clergy and other program providers; and our new Rukin Rabbinic Fellowship will provide offerings for couples in cities nationwide. If you have suggestions, please contact network@interfaithfamily.com.