Seder in Seattle 4

Jews are the People of the Book, and for more than 5,700 years our scribes have been amazingly accurate in bringing the Lord’s holy deeds and the secular history of his first People forward for all to know.

Today, I share the contents of the Passover seder (which means the consistent, ordered telling) of the complex series of events thousands of years old surrounding the Jews Exodus from slavery in Egypt.

“Remember the day on which you went forth from Egypt, from the house of bondage, and how the Lord freed you with a mighty hand.” So begins the story of the Exodus of the Jews from their enslavement in Egypt, about 4,500 years ago. Each generation of Jews recounts the deliverance to the new generation, and we remember, with Gratitude, as if we ourselves had been given Freedom.

When you attend a seder, whether you are Jewish or not, you will be struck by the human way in which this story unfolds and is shared, always around a family table, as it is the true altar.

First the sacred candles are lit and a Blessing said, which partitions the profane days from the holy days. Next, the first cup, the Wine of Sanctification, is poured and Blessed.

Then, the Blessing in which we thank the Lord for keeping us well, and letting us bear witness to this day, in Joy.

Next, we say the Blessings over the fruits of the Earth. And, we eat the first greens (usually parsley) and the charoset (symbolic of the mortar — as a mix of apples, wine, nuts and cinnamon).

Then, the congregant leader (usually the father or grandfather) breaks the piece of the middle matzo on the ceremonial plate into 2 pieces. One piece is taken “away” for the children to find later. It is called the Afikomen.

And, at that time, we say: “This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in the Land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry, come eat. Let all who are in want share the Hope of Passover. … Next year, may all be free.”

Then, the topmost matzo is shared among the celebrants with the Blessing for the Bread said before eating.

Next, the bitter herb (usually pureed horseradish) is placed on another piece of matzo, and the Blessing is said that we follow the commandments to eat the bitter herb to remember our affliction and our salvation from it. It is also to remember the pain of the stranger as they come into our lives now and our willing response to help them.

The bread of Freedom and the bitter herb of slavery are combined in what is called a Hillel sandwich after Hillel, the great Rabbinic sage. Freedom and loss of it are always linked.

Then comes the part of the order of service (seder) when we learn about 4 children’s different perceptions of what is going on: the wise, the wicked, the simple and the one unable to ask.

During the seder, the youngest child present is given the responsibility to ask 4 Questions about ‘Why is this night “different” from all other nights?’ and the adults reply. This engagement is fundamental to making sure that the traditions are passed onward, and clear information is given in a way which the child understands.

Then comes the Maggid, the story of the Exodus from Egypt, and also a discussion by some of the ancient sages. The Lord used divine power and did not let the children of Israel take retribution or vengeance and the importance of this is not lost — with its implications for human wars.

Another cup of wine is filled and ten drops are taken out of it by dipping in one’s little finger and discarding the wine — as the name of each plague which the Lord took to the Egyptians is said. And, in this act, Jews remember that the Egyptians are people too, and so the cup of Joy is diminished by the hardship self-imposed by their callous Pharaoh choices.

And, then we acknowledge the Greatness of the Lord, and our Gratitude.

The seder service then turns to the “Pesah”, the roasted lamb shankbone, representative of the pascal lamb offering sacrificed at the Temple in Jerusalem, in ancient times, when the lamb was eaten. The lamb is used for the commandment was to mark the doorposts of Jewish homes in Egypt with lamb blood so that the Angel of Death would not kill the first-born within, as the 10th plague.

In a little while, the second cup of wine — the Cup of Redemption is drunk after the Blessing is said.

Next, the meal is served, and at it’s conclusion, the children seek the Afikomen. Whoever finds it brings it to the seder leader and bargains for a reward. The leader very carefully confirms this is indeed the correct piece of matzo by matching it up with the reserved second matzo on the ceremonial plate. Of course, allegorically, this is the search for the Hidden Mysteries of Life. All eat of the Afikomen, and after it, nothing is eaten until morning.

Praises for the Lord continue, and then the third cup of wine is poured, Blessed and drunk. It is the Cup of Blessing.

Then, we come to learning about and welcoming the prophet Elijah. We open the door, physically and symbolically, for him to come into our home and celebrate with us. Elijah is the one chosen to bring good news.

Next, we sing “Hallel”, Songs of Praise to the Lord. And, finally, the fourth cup of wine is sanctified and drunk as the Cup of Acceptance when we recall the Covenant between the Jewish People and the Eternal One, made with Abraham.

And, the seder concludes with the yearning wish and hope … “Next year, in Jerusalem!”

The more we understand one another, the more chance there is for Peace in this world. Hopefully, when you travel, you will always try to learn more about the peoples in whose lands you visit, in whose midst you dwell.

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