Every one of the moedim is based upon the events described in the Bible and the commandments of the Most High. As such, there are traditional readings that help us to keep our focus on Scripture. The traditional readings for this moed include passages from throughout the Bible.
It is often the fashion among some believers to dismiss "traditions of men" as non-Biblical and therefore worthless but before we reject these or any traditions we should consider what Scripture says about tradition.
The main traditional element of Pesach is the Seder meal. Seder (סדר, Strong's #5468) is a Hebrew word that means "order" or "arrangement" as in the arranged order of an event or activity. The Seder, itself, is not commanded but certain elements of it are.
The Seder follows a sequence of events that focus on the attributes of the LORD who "passed over" the Israelites in Egypt and extend to the Exodus that followed.
The Hebrew word seder is only used once in Scripture in the book of Job where Job speaks of his own death and his going forth to "the land of darkness and deep shadow":
The land of utter gloom as darkness itself, Of deep shadow without order, And which shines as the darkness. (Job 10:22)
This passage in Job has nothing to do with a Passover Seder meal. It's just the same Hebrew word for "order".
The traditional Seder meal contains the following sixteen elements.
Kadesh - the Benediction
The Seder service begins with the recitation of Kiddush [a traditional prayer], proclaiming the holiness of the holiday. This is done over a cup of wine, the first of the four cups we will drink (while reclining) at the Seder.
The Four Cups of Wine
Why four cups? The Torah uses four expressions of freedom or deliverance in connection with our liberation from Egypt (see Exodus 6:6-7). Also, the Children of Israel had four great merits even while in exile: (1) They did not change their Hebrew names; (2) they continued to speak their own language, Hebrew; (3) they remained highly moral; (4) they remained loyal to one another.
Wine is used because it is a symbol of joy and happiness.
Why We Recline
When drinking the four cups and eating the Matzah we lean on our left side to accentuate the fact that we are free people. In ancient times only free people had the luxury of reclining while eating.
Urchatz - Purification
We wash our hands in the usual, ritually-prescribed manner before a meal, but without the customary blessing.
The next step in the Seder, Karpas, requires dipping food into water, which in turn mandates, according to Jewish law, that either the food be eaten with a utensil or that one's hands be purified by washing. On the Seder eve we choose the less common observance to arouse the child's curiosity.
Karpas - the "Appetizer"
A small piece of onion or boiled potato is dipped into salt water and eaten (after reciting the blessing over vegetables).
Dipping the Karpas in salt water is an act of pleasure and freedom, which further arouses the child's curiosity.
The Hebrew word "karpas," when read backwards, alludes to the backbreaking labor performed by the 600,000 Jews in Egypt. [[The Hebrew letter] samech has the numerical equivalent of 60 (60 times 10,000), while the last three Hebrew letters spell "perech," hard work.]
The salt water represents the tears of our ancestors in Egypt.
Yachatz - Breaking the Matzah
The middle Matzah on the Seder plate is broken in two. The larger part is put aside for later use as the Afikoman. This unusual action not only attracts the child's attention once again, but also recalls G-d's splitting of the Sea of Reeds to allow the Children of Israel to cross on dry land. The smaller part of the middle Matzah is returned to the Seder plate. This broken middle Matzah symbolizes humility and will be eaten later as the "bread of poverty."
Maggid - the Haggadah
At this point, the poor are invited to join the Seder. The Seder tray is moved aside, a second cup of wine is poured, and the child, who by now is bursting with curiosity, asks the time-honored question: "Mah nish-tah-na hah-laila-ha-zeh me-kol hah leilot? Why is this night different from all other nights?" Why only Matzah? Why the dipping? Why the bitter herbs? Why are we relaxing and leaning on cushions as if we were kings?
The child's questioning triggers one of the most significant mitzvot of Passover, which is the highlight of the Seder ceremony: the Haggadah, telling the story of the Exodus from Egypt. The answer includes a brief review of history, a description of the suffering imposed upon the Israelites, a listing of the plagues visited on the Egyptians, and an enumeration of the miracles performed by the Al-mighty for the redemption of His people.
Rochtzah - Washing Before the Meal
After concluding the first part of the Haggadah by drinking (while reclining) the second cup of wine, the hands are washed again, this time with the customary blessings, as is usually done before eating bread.
We eat the matzah.
Taking hold of the three Matzot (with the broken one in between the two whole ones), recite the customary blessing before bread. Then, letting the bottom Matzah drop back onto the plate, and holding the top whole Matzah with the broken middle one, recite the special blessing "Al achilat Matzah." Then break at least one ounce from each Matzah and eat the two pieces together, while reclining.
Maror - the Bitter Herbs
Take at least 1 ounce of the bitter herbs. Dip it in the charoset, then shake the latter off and make the blessing "Al achilat Maror." Eat without reclining.
Korech - the Sandwich
In keeping with the custom instituted by Hillel, the great Talmudic Rabbi, a sandwich of Matzah and Maror is eaten. Break off two pieces of the bottom Matzah, which together should be at least one ounce. Again, take at least 1 ounce of bitter herbs and dip them in the charoset. Place this between the two pieces of Matzah, say "Kein asah Hillel..."and eat the sandwich while reclining.
Shulchan Orech - the Feast
The holiday meal is now served. We begin the meal with a hardboiled egg dipped into salt water.
A Rabbi was once asked why Jews eat eggs on Passover. "Because eggs symbolize the Jew," the Rabbi answered. "The more an egg is burned or boiled, the harder it gets."
Note: The chicken neck is not eaten at the Seder.
Tzafun - Out of Hiding
After the meal, the half Matzah which had been "hidden," set aside for the Afikoman ("dessert"), is taken out and eaten. It symbolizes the Paschal lamb, which was eaten at the end of the meal.
Everyone should eat at least 1 1/2 ounces of Matzah, reclining, before midnight. After eating the Afikoman, we do not eat or drink anything except for the two remaining cups of wine.
Barech - Blessings After the Meal
A third cup of wine is filled and Grace is recited. After the Grace we recite the blessing over wine and drink the third cup while reclining.
Now we fill the cup of Elijah and our own cups with wine. We open the door and recite the passage which symbolizes an invitation to the Prophet Elijah, the harbinger of the coming of Moshiach, our righteous Messiah.
Hallel - Songs of Praise
At this point, having recognized the Al-mighty, and His unique guidance of the Jewish people, we go still further and sing His praises as L-rd of the entire universe.
After reciting the Hallel, we again recite the blessing over wine and drink the fourth cup, reclining.
Nirtzah - Acceptance
Having carried out the Seder service properly, we are sure that it has been well received by the Al-mighty. We then say "Leshanah haba'ah bee-rushalayim -- Next year in Jerusalem."1
There are numerous variations on the details and observance of each of these sixteen elements but all sixteen are present in every traditional Seder meal.
The Four Cups
There are four cups of wine that are consumed during the Seder. Each cup has a special significance and carries a special name:
The Cup of Blessing- the cup that is used for the kiddush that begins the Seder.
The Cup of Plagues- the cup that is used to recount the ten plagues that G-d placed upon the Egyptians.
The Cup of Redemption- the cup that is used to recount the blood of the lamb whose blood was spilled to mark the Israelites doorposts.
The Cup of Praise- the cup that is used to recount the songs of praise that were given to G-d when He saved them from the Egyptian chariots (Exodus 151-21).
Before the Cup of Plagues is consumed, it is customary to dip one finger (usually the smallest finger) into the cup, take a drop of wine, and place it on the plate for each of the ten plagues. This is done while saying the name of each plague. This comes from Exodus 8:19 where the magicians of Pharaoh declare "This is the finger of G-d". The smallest finger is used to represent the weakest finger because even in visiting the plagues upon the Egyptians G-d was merciful and did not bring His full power to bear upon them.
These four cups come from the four promises G-d gives to Israel in Exodus chapter 6:
I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. (The Cup of Blessing)
I will deliver you from their bondage. (The Cup of Plagues)
I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. (The Cup of Redemption)
I will take you for My people and I will be your G-d. (The Cup of Praise)
There is an additional "I will" in this passage: "I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession." Since the sages of Israel weren't sure if this should be a fifth cup in the Seder meal or not, they designated it as the "cup of Elijah" which is set on the Seder table but not consumed. The thought is that, when Elijah comes to herald the Messiah (see Malachi 4:1-5), he can tell us whether or not we should include the fifth cup in the Seder.
The Last Seder?
Many of the elements of the traditional Seder meal are recorded in the Gospel accounts of the "Last Supper":
Kadesh- the kiddush that begins the Seder meal was recorded in Luke 22:14-18.
Reclining at the table- this is recorded in Luke 22:14 and John 13:12.
Urchatz- the washing of hands. Rather than following the custom of a servant washing the hands of the Seder participants, Yeshua turned the tradition on its head and He, Himself, washed the disciples' feet. Thus He taught them to serve each other (see John 13:1-11). Messianic believers also often wash the feet of their family members (e.g. a husband washes the feet of his wife and children) in remembrance of the feet washing that Messiah performed for His disciples.
Karpas- the dipping of the parsley. This is recorded in Matthew 26:20-25 and Mark 14:17-21. At this point in the Seder Yeshua informed the disciples that one of them was going to betray Him.
Yachatz- the breaking of the middle matzah. Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22, and Luke 22:19 all record this portion of the Seder. When Yeshua did this, He commanded His disciples that they should "do this in remembrance of" Him. Remembering and retelling the story of the Exodus are key elements of the Passover. Here Yeshua was giving them another element to the remembrance of the Passover... His work as the Passover Lamb.
Korech- the sandwich. John 13:21-30 records the second time Yeshua revealed His betrayer. "Dipping the morsel" (in verse 26) refers to the taking of matzah and dipping it into the charoset [the apple, nut, horseradish, and wine mixture]. It is at this point in the Seder that Judas left.
The Third Cup- the Cup of Redemption. Luke recounts that this cup was taken after the meal. The Third Cup is also taken after the Seder meal. Just as the Cup of Redemption recalled the blood of the first Passover lamb and the physical redemption, Yeshua gave this cup to His disciples to recall Him as the Passover Lamb of G-d and the spiritual redemption He purchased for us. Just as with the yachatz (above) Yeshua commanded the disciples that they should do this in remembrance of Him.
Hallel- the songs of praise. Matthew 26:30 and Mark 14:26 recount that hymns were sung by Yeshua and the disciples after the meal.
Hallel- The name given in the Talmud and in rabbinical writings to Psalm 113-118 considered as a single composition, which they undoubtedly are. They are more distinctively known as the "Hallel of Egypt," as distinguished from Psalm 136, the "Great Hallel," and from Psalm 146-148.
Hallel is also recited on the night of the Passover as part of the family service, as it was in the days of the Temple2
The last section of Psalms 118 include the following words:
I shall give thanks to You, for You have answered me, And You have become my salvation [Hebrew: yeshua]. The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief corner stone. This the LORD'S doing; It is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day which the LORD has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:21-24)
He has indeed become our Yeshua—our salvation—and as we celebrate the Passover meal, we reflect on the life and work of our Passover Lamb.
Footnotes1. The Seder Service In a Nutshell, Chabad.org, taken 04/04/2010, http://www.chabad.org/holidays/passover/pesach_cdo/aid/1751/jewish/The-Seder-in-a-Nutshell.htm [back]
2. Hallel, Jewish Encyclopedia, taken 5/28/2012 from http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7109-hallel [back]