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Passover's 15 Step Program

by Rabbi Simon Jacobson


Library » Holidays » Passover » Seder » About | Subscribe | What is RSS?


The Hebrew word for Egypt, ‘Mitzrayim,’ is rooted in the word ‘meitzar,’ meaning boundaries, limits, restrictions. Egypt represents constraints and confinements: psychological, emotional and spiritual. Anything, from within or from without that inhibits our free expression is a form of mitzrayim.

Exodus is the most important element in life: The ability to free ourselves from our confines and get out of the rut. What better time to reaffirm G-d’s promise to Abraham that we will be freed from Mitzrayim? This promise was true for the first Exodus from Egypt and is true today, for in “Each generation one must envision himself as if he just left Mitzrayim.”

The Seder provides us with the keys to open the doors of freedom. “Passover Seder” is an oxymoron: The word Pesach (Passover) means to leap, to bypass the normal order, whereas Seder means order and organization! The Seder is an order that allows us to transcend order. Like music: By playing the defined musical scale we can create infinite musical combinations and songs.

The Seder connects us to our inner child, which is why the Seder focuses on children. Just as a child’s innocence is not been tarnished by adult entanglement, so, too, each of us has an inner child that is unaffected by the coarseness of the world.

The fifteen Seder steps represent fifteen keys to open doors freeing us from our confinements.

Step 1: Kaddish
Reciting Kiddush

The Seder starts with Kadesh, a blessing over a cup of wine. Kadesh means to sanctify – we sanctify G-d’s name and the wine. Kadesh also means ‘to separate’ between good and bad, holy and profane. The first step of the Seder process is to create a new space so we can begin our journey toward freedom. We separate ourselves from the enslaving past and enter the spiritual experience of the Seder which frees us.

Step 2: Urchatz
Washing the Hands

The second step is U’rchatz: washing our hands before dipping a vegetable (Karpas) in saltwater. We uplift and cleanse our ‘tools’ in preparation for the following 13 steps.

Step 3: Karpas
Eating a Vegetable Dipped in SaltWater

Our third step, is to dip a piece of onion, potato or other vegetable in salt water. We do this to provoke the children to ask: why? The Seder begins by stimulating the child to ask questions because a critical component of freedom is the encouragement and empowerment to ask.

Why Karpas? The earthy vegetable represents the body, which comes from dust, and the salt water represents the salty tears of pain. We take our earthly, physical body, and immerse it in salty tears. Salt is a cleanser, and tears are an expression of the soul. We cleanse our bodies with our soul’s tears.

Freedom comes when we realize that the material world is like a ‘vegetable’ that needs to be dipped in spiritual “salt water.” Karpas reminds us that the body is only a means, not an end in itself. Like the vegetable dipped in salt water, the body’s purpose is to transcend the world it lives in, by connecting itself to the soul, and so elevating and freeing both the body and the soul.

Step 4: Yachatz
Breaking the Middle Matzah

But even after this awareness, how do we actually release ourselves from materialism?

The answer: We break the middle matzah.

Matzah symbolizes bittul, suspending oneself for a higher purpose. Its ingredients are water and flour; water represents the soul and the Torah, while flour represents the body. The antithesis of Matzah is Chametz (leavened bread) that is allowed to rise, representing the inflated ego, which is mostly “air.” Matzah on the other hand is the bare minimum of flour and water without any airs about it.

The subjective ego blinds us from seeing a broader perspective. Matzah empowers us with the ability to transcend our own viewpoint to allow in a higher truth.

Step 5: Maggid
Reciting the Haggadah

After the first four steps, we are ready to relive the Exodus story.

Telling the story begins with the child (inner and outer) asking the Four Questions. The first and greatest freedom of all is the freedom to ask, probe, explore and challenge.

Not only are we free to ask, we must ask. Healthy questions express our striving for something higher, reaching for a place beyond. If we are complacent, we remain stuck in our space. Questions allow us to grow.


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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.
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.
(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.
A Biblically mandated early-spring festival celebrating the Jewish exodus from Egypt in the year 1312 BCE.
Hebrew word meaning "praise." Normally is a reference to Psalms 113-118-- Psalms of jubilation which are recited during the morning prayers of all joyous holidays.
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.
A Chassidic master. A saintly person who inspires followers to increase their spiritual awareness.
Prayer recited at the beginning of the Sabbath or Holiday meal--both the evening and afternoon meals. This prayer, acknowledging the sanctity of the day, is recited over a cup of wine or grape juice.
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Text read at the Passover Eve feasts. The Haggadah recounts in great detail the story of our Exodus from Egypt.
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.
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.
Established by King David to be the eternal capital of Israel. Both Temples were built there, and the third Temple will be situated there when the Messiah comes.
The Book of Psalms. One of the 24 books of the Bible. Compiled by King David; mostly comprised of poetic praise for G-d. A large part of our prayers are culled from this book.
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.
Bitter herbs consumed at the Passover Seder, commemorating how the Egyptians embittered the lives of our ancestors.
Passover. A Biblically mandated early-spring festival celebrating the Jewish exodus from Egypt in the year 1312 BCE.
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.
The larger portion of the broken middle matzah on the seder plate. The afikoman is eaten towards the end of the seder. In many families, it is traditionally "stolen" by the children and "ransomed" by the parents with the promise of a gift.