Let us not forget that despite the disturbing news concerning the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, we Jews are a people of hope and the Pesach Seder is all about hope and the promise of redemption and peace. As an Israeli friend, Yaron Shavit, once shared with me – “B’Yisrael y’ush lo optsia – In Israel despair is not an option!”
Here is the 2nd of 5 blogs on the parts of the Passover Seder:
Purpose of the Seder – The Seder’s goal is for each participant to personally experience and empathize with our people’s historic struggle for liberation, for each one of us to confront the spiritual and psychological enslavement that stands in the way of our growth as individuals and a people. The ultimate spiritual and metaphysical goal is to glimpse sh’leimut (i.e. wholeness –the unity of humankind, the people of Israel, the world and cosmos, and the unity of God’s Holiest Name – YHVH. Mystics teach that the ultimate goal is to empty oneself entirely into God’s Oneness – Achdut.
Chometz – Leavened bread is forbidden during Passover so that the Jewish people may recall the hasty exit of the Israelites from Egypt. Chometz symbolizes “sin” (using classical language). Essentially, sin is an alienation from one’s self, from the community and from God. It is the fomenting of the evil impulse in our hearts (yeitzer ha-ra), and our task is to cleanse ourselves and our homes during the Passover festival. Technically, kosher matzah for Passover must be mixed, kneaded, and put in the oven to bake within 18 minutes. Any dough that stands longer than 18 minutes is presumed to be chometz and unfit for Passover consumption.
B’dikat Chometz (Search for Chometz) – This is a tradition conducted the day before Passover. All chometz is gathered and either burned publicly (bi-ur chometz), sold or given away to non-Jews. Some people collect all their chometz and remove it from the house (i.e. put it in the garage) until after the conclusion of the Passover festival. On the night before the first Seder, children take a spoon, feather and candle and search the house for chometz crumbs. Five grains are considered chometz during Passover: wheat, spelt, barley, oats, and rye. The following are forbidden to be consumed during Passover: whiskey, beer and bourbon because of the fomenting process. In some Sephardic homes, rice is permissible during Passover but not so in Ashkenazi homes, because of the principle of “mar’it ayin – how it appears” (i.e. rice may in some form look like one of the other forbidden grains). Rice is not considered chometz. Many Sefardim consume rice during Pesach. Ashkenazim do not consume rice for fear that if it is ground into flour, it might appear to be not kosher for Pesach.
14 Sections of the Seder – Kaddesh – urchatz – karpas – yachatz – maggid – rachtzah – motzi/matzah – maror – korech – shulchan orech – tzafun – barech – hallel – nirtzah. At the beginning of the Seder, Sephardim (Jews originally coming from Spain) pass the Seder plate over the heads of all the guests symbolizing the passing of the angel of death over the Israelite homes. While the plate is passed, the sections of the Seder are sung.
Biblical Story of the Exodus – At the end of Genesis, the Israelites had settled in the land of Goshen after a severe famine in the land of Canaan. Joseph had brought his father and the 12 sons and 1 daughter to Goshen. But then (at the beginning of the Book of Exodus) there “arose a Pharaoh in Egypt who knew not Joseph” and put all the Hebrews into slavery and hard labor to build his cities. The story is believed to have taken place around the year 1250 B.C.E. Jews, therefore, did NOT build the pyramids, which date from the middle of the 2nd millennium B.C.E. Though the Biblical story says our people were slaves for 400 years, it is likely that they were slaves for a generation (perhaps 40 years). The Bible also says that over 600,000 men (including women and children the figure would have been 3 to 4 times greater) were freed from slavery. An unruly number, it is more likely that between 10,000 and 15,000 Hebrews and others (i.e. mixed multitude) came out of Egypt. A people used to slavery, they would be condemned to wander for 40 years (a generation) until the generation of slaves died. Moses himself never entered the land of Israel primarily because of his defiance of God at the incident of M’ribah. The Exodus story is completed by the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, the building of the Tabernacle, the period of the wandering for 40 years in the desert, and the entering and settling of the land of Israel ultimately resulting in the building of the Temple in Jerusalem. For Jews, Freedom is tied in with Law and the Covenant.
The Very First Seder – The first Seder was held in Egypt before the Exodus itself. Consequently, the Seder is not a celebration of redemption because the redeeming event had not yet taken place. Rather, the Seder is an expression of faith that there will be redemption in the future, that the world is not yet perfected and that there is to be a more peaceful and just order of human affairs.
To be continued…