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Thought For Food: An Overview of the Seder

by

Farbrengen Magazine

  

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The Seder Plate

The Seder table is home to a group of items not usually found in the same place at the same time. At first glance they may appear rather ordinary or even downright trivial. But beneath their outer layers lies a powerful gift—precious insights waiting to be mined that transform these ordinary foods into extraordinary vessels for Holiness. To assure the gifts are received as intended, the Seder’s revelations unfold in the same order as the events which led to redemption. In fact, the very word Seder means order.

Kabbalah divides the plate into thirds, with each portion possessing a distinct Divine Light, or Sefirah. The right third corresponds to Chesed (love, benevolence), the left Gevurah (self-discipline, fear of G-d), and the middle Tiferet (harmony, compassion). The plate contains six items and is upheld by three Matzot, which according to Kaballistic tradition are handmade, round and concave to form a vessel with which to receive the Sefirah.

The Three Matzot

Combine intellectual and emotional slavery with Divinely inspired faith, and you have the spiritual recipe for matzot. The mixture inspired our ancestors to follow G-d into the desert with such haste that there wasn’t time for the bread that would nourish them rise.

Kabbalah divides the plate into thirds, with each portion possessing a distinct Divine Light, or Sefirah
At least one ounce is eaten during the Seder. The three matzot represent the entire Jewish people—Cohen, Levi and Israel. They also symbolize our Patriarchs’ Divine attributes: Abraham, benevolence; Issac, self discipline; and Jacob, harmony. The polar opposite of Matzah is Chametz, the epitome of arrogance and self-aggrandizement. Before Passover we remove all physical Chametz and seek to root out the spiritual Chametz from within.

Zeroah (Shankbone)

The Pascal Lamb, sacrificed on the eve of the Exodus as an expression of faith and self-sacrifice, is represented by the Zeroah. Mystical tradition replaces the shankbone with a chicken neck that is not eaten, as a reminder that although we approach freedom during the Seder, our ultimate freedom is soon to come with the final redemption.

Betzah (Egg)

In the days of the Holy Temple a “Festival Offering” (Korbon Chagigah) was brought to the Temple on the eve of Passover, cooked, and eaten as the entree at the Seder. Unable to do this in our current exile, the hard-boiled egg is used as a symbol to commemorate that offering. In some ways, the choice (of hard-boiled egg over any other cooked dish) reflects the nature of our people; the hotter the water, the stronger our spirit becomes.

The four cups of Wine

The Four Cups of wine are consumed during the Seder to celebrate the stages of our Exodus and Redemption. First Cup—Physical removal from the Land of Egypt (“I will release you”); Second Cup—Liberation from intellectual and spiritual slavery (“I will save you”); Third Cup—Creation of a people forever immune to permanent slavery (“I will liberate you”); and, Fourth Cup—G-d’s acceptance as His chosen people and the granting of the Torah at Sinai, which fulfill the purpose of our exodus. (“I will take you onto me as a nation”). Each cup should contain at least three and one half ounces of wine or grape juice. It is said that the Prophet Elijah, who will herald the ultimate Redemption, visits every Seder table on Passover. We greet him by filling a fifth glass of wine toward the end of the Seder, “The Cup of Elijah,” and inviting him into our homes with open doors.


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RELATED CATEGORIES

Holidays » Passover » Seder » About
Holidays » Passover » Seder » The Seder Plate

Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Chametz
Any leavened product which is produced from wheat, barley, rye, spelt or oats. This includes bread, cake, cereals, crackers, biscuits, yeast, pasta and whisky. It is forbidden for a Jew to possess or consume Chametz throughout Passover.
Matzah
(pl. Matzot). Unleavened bread which is eaten on Passover, especially at the Passover Seder (feast), commemorating the Matzah which the Jews ate upon leaving Egypt. It consists of only flour and water and resembles a wheat cracker.
Passover
A Biblically mandated early-spring festival celebrating the Jewish exodus from Egypt in the year 1312 BCE.
Kabbalah
Jewish mysticism. The word Kaballah means "reception," for we cannot physically perceive the Divine, we merely study the mystical truths which were transmitted to us by G-d Himself through His righteous servants.
Seder
Festive meal eaten on the first two nights of the holiday of Passover (In Israel, the Seder is observed only the first night of the holiday). Seder highlights include: reading the story of the Exodus, eating Matzah and bitter herbs, and drinking four cups of wine.
Matzot
(Pl.: Matzot) Unleavened bread which is eaten on Passover, especially at the Passover Seder (feast), commemorating the Matzah which the Jews ate upon leaving Egypt. It consists of only flour and water and resembles a wheat cracker.
Abraham
First Jew, and first of our three Patriarchs. Born into a pagan society in Mesepotamia in 1812 BCE, he discovered monethieism on his own. He was told by G-d to journey to the Land of Canaan where he and his wife Sarah would give birth to the Jewish People.
Jacob
Third of the three Patriarchs and father of the Twelve Tribes. Lived most his life in Canaan and died in Egypt in 1505 BCE. Also known by the name of "Israel."
Elijah
A legendary prophet who lived in the 8th century BCE, and saved the Jewish religion from being corrupted by the pagan worship of Baal. He never died, he was taken to heaven alive. According to Jewish tradition, he visits every circumcision and every Passover Seder table.
Exodus
1. The miraculous departure of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage in 1312 BCE. 2. The second of the Five Books of Moses. This book describes the aforementioned Exodus, the giving of the Torah, and the erection of the Tabernacle.
Maror
Bitter herbs consumed at the Passover Seder, commemorating how the Egyptians embittered the lives of our ancestors.
charoset
A mixture of ground fruit and nuts, flavored with a splash of red wine. During the Passover seder, the maror (bitter herbs) are dipped into the Charoset.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
Levi
1. Name of Patriarch Jacob's third son. 2. A Levite -- a Jew who is a patrilineal descendant of Levi. Levites had special duties in the Holy Temple, and are still accorded special respect.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.