Raanana Community Kollel
Guide to the Seder
Rabbi Dovid Horwitz
As the Seder night rapidly approaches, we take this opportunity to review the laws pertaining to the Pesach Seder.
Pre Seder Preparations
The Charoset and grated horseradish should be prepared before going to shul on Pesach night. The maror (horseradish) should be covered well so that it will not lose its sharpness with the passing of time. It should however, be uncovered before the start of the seder, despite the fact that it will lose some of its sharpness by the time it is eaten during the seder. The lettuce should be washed and cleaned before the seder. The table should be set in a manner befitting royalty, with ones finest dinnerware to adorn the table.
Red wine is preferred over white wine for all of the four cups. Although grape juice is considered to be a sufficient substitute for wine for kiddush during the year, on Pesach one should fulfill the mitzvah of the four cups with wine only. The four cups are meant to symbolize our freedom and therefore only wine, which is intoxicating, is appropriate. Nevertheless, if one cannot tolerate wine and it makes him ill, then he can drink grape juice instead. Only for health reasons is one allowed to opt for grape juice. Otherwise a person, even if he dislikes wine, must nonetheless force himself to drink wine on seder night. Women and children are more lenient and may drink grape juice even out of mere preference.
It is customary for all participants to recite the kiddush together with the leader, as opposed to on a regular Shabbat night when only the leader usually recites kiddush. After completing the kiddush, one must lean to the left while drinking the wine.
All present wash their hands without reciting a bracha. The purpose of the washing is to purify the hands before they come into contact with a wet vegetable. Although we do not adhere to this practice of washing before eating vegetables throughout the year, on Pesach night we fulfill this unusual custom in order to inspire the children to ask questions.
There is a species of radish that is known as karpas. Therefore, some have the custom to use radish for karpas. Others use parsley, as the Talmud Yerushalmi seems to refer to karpas as parsley. Many argue that the bracha over parsley is shehakol and not ha’adama and therefore it cannot be used for karpas since karpas must be of a vegetable whose bracha is ha’adama. Some say that the Talmud is referring to celery and not parsley and therefore many use celery for karpas. The least rational of all customs is the use of a potato for karpas. Nevertheless, each household should observe according to its custom, provided that the vegetable warrants a bracha of ha’adama. Because it is unclear whether the eating of the karpas requires a bracha achrona, one should only eat a small piece, less than a kezayit. It should be dipped in saltwater before eaten.
The one leading the seder should break the middle matzah and put aside the larger half for afikoman. This halachah is derived from the fact that the hagadah refers to matzah as “lechem oni”, the bread of the poor. Just as a poor person does not eat his or her only loaf of bread in one meal, but rather rations it and saves a portion to be eaten at a later time, so too do we break the matzah, saving half to be eaten at a later time. It is customary for the children to “steal” the afikoman away from their father during the course of the seder, to be returned after much bartering.
The main body of the hagadah describing the Exodus from Egypt is read and studied. Remember to make it inspiring, fun and exciting!
Everyone washes his hands with a bracha. If a person is sure that he or she did not touch any parts of the body or shoes that would invalidate the washing he did prior to karpas, then he should wash without a bracha. Preferably in such cases, he should touch his shoes or a covered part of the body, in order to wash with a bracha.
As by all other Shabbat and Yom Tov meals, one must say the hamotzi on lechem mishna, two whole loaves of bread. On Seder night, it is therefore necessary to recite the bracha on two whole matzot. Since the middle matzah has already been broken, two additional matzot must be used, bringing the total of matzot used on seder night to three. The bottom matzah, which is merely present to provide the lechem mishna, is saved for korech. The top and middle matzot are used for motzi matzah. Because there is a dispute as to which matzah is the “main” one, either the top or middle, one should break off a piece from each matzah and eat them simultaneously. One must eat at least one kezayit of matzah within the time span of 2-4 minutes. We are more stringent in calculating the measurement of a kezayit when it comes to mitzvot of Biblical origin. A kezayit of matzah is approximately 27 grams or about half a round hand matzah. Some authorities maintain that it is sufficient to eat 15 grams of matzah, about a quarter of a hand matzah. Remember to eat quickly and to lean to the left. Because of the above dispute, it is preferable to eat 15 grams, a quarter of a hand matzah from both the top and middle matzah, bringing the total amount to 30 grams. Because the brachot that are recited over the matzah are needed for the korech sandwich as well, one should not speak from the moment he or she washes netilat yada’im until after finishing the korech sandwich.
Because maror is only a rabbinic mitzvah, it is enough to eat 15 grams of maror, amounting to two large leaves of lettuce. The maror should be dipped in charoset and then shaken off so that the maror will be eaten alone. Because we eat this to remember our enslavement, we do not lean when doing so. The bracha of al achilat marot is recited before eating the maror.
Because the matzah and maror sandwich are customary in origin, we can suffice with the most lenient measurement of kezayit, 9 grams. Therefore a sixth of a hand matzah is certainly enough, together with one and a half leaves of lettuce. Once again remember to shake off the charoset and lean to the left when eating.
Because the obligation to eat afikoman is rabbinic, due to the absence of the Beit Hamikdash and Korban Pesach, it is enough to eat a third of a hand matzah, rather than a half. Remember to save room for the afikoman, for a person who eats it on an overly full stomach to the point that one is force-feeding oneself does not fulfill the mitzvah of afikoman. One should try to eat the afikoman before chatzot, 12:40 am.
Complete the seder by reciting and singing the remainder of the hagadah. Wrap up the seder with a heartfelt rendition of Shir Hashirim and you’ve performed a mission that even the angels themselves would be proud of!