The Laws of the Pesach Seder - Unleavened

by Rabbi Mordechai Becher
A bare-bones guide to conducting the Seder.
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  1. The seder table should already be set before nightfall, with the seder plate, matzot, cups etc.
  2. The seder plate should contain - starting from top left (NE) going clockwise - an egg lightly roasted, a piece of meat (chicken also OK), charoset (usually made of grated apple, ground walnuts, cinnamon, red wine and dates), chazeret (a vegetable), karpas (potato, parsley etc.) and in the middle maror (the bitter herb - horseradish or romaine lettuce). A bowl of salt water should be placed on the table but not on the plate.
  3. Three whole matzot shmura should be placed under or in front of the plate. They should be covered and separated from each other by a napkin or cloth. Matzot shmura are matzot that were made for the sake of the mitzvah and from wheat that was protected from moisture from the time of its harvest. They are the matzot that one should use for the commandments of the seder.
  4. Seats should be equipped with cushions, so that the participants can lean on their left sides while eating and reciting the Haggadah (except for eating of the maror) to imitate freemen and nobility.
  5. Everyone should have a cup that holds at least 86 cc. And there should be enough wine to fill four cups for each person at the seder. Red wine is preferable but white wine may also be used. Children and pregnant women or people who for health reasons cannot drink wine, may fulfill the obligation with grape juice (preferably, with a little wine mixed in). The cups should be filled to the brim for each of the four cups of wine.
  6. Kiddush is recited by the person conducting the seder while holding the cup in his right hand. The participants should listen to his words, keep in mind that they are fulfilling their obligation through his recitation, and say amen when he finishes each blessing. Everyone then drinks the majority of their cup while leaning to their left. (Try to finish the drink in two gulps)
  7. Everyone then washes their hands. Water is poured from a cup, twice on the right hand and twice on the left, no blessing is recited.
  8. The karpas (celery, parsley, boiled potato) is then dipped in the salt water and eaten, after reciting the blessing "borei pri ha'adama" as printed in the Haggadah.
  9. The middle matzah is broken into two. The larger part is set aside for the Afikoman which is eaten later, and the smaller part is kept with the other two matzot. It is customary for small children to "steal" the Afikoman and hide it. After the meal the father "buys" it back with offers of gifts (preferably something of a Jewish theme).
  10. The matzot are uncovered and lifted up and the person conducting the seder recites with everyone else, "Ha lachma anya." The second cup of wine is filled, the seder plate is removed (to arouse children's curiosity) and the Haggadah begins. The youngest present, and often all the children, now ask the four questions, "mah nishtanah." The rest of the Haggadah is read, sung and explained. It is the obligation of the parents to explain the Haggadah to their children and to each other. Indeed every person is obligated to delve into, and explain and relate the story of the Exodus to others and to themselves to the best of their ability.
  11. When "vehi she'amdah" is recited the cups of wine should be raised. When the plagues are recounted we tip a little wine out of the cups, and afterwards fill them to the brim. Likewise, when the Hallel is begun ("lefikach"), the cup should be raised, and when the blessing is reached, everyone (or just the leader with others responding amen) says the blessing over wine and the second cup is drunk. (Also while leaning.)
  12. Wash hands as before, but this time a blessing is recited ("al netilat yadaim"). One should not speak from the time the hands are washed until after the matzah is eaten.
  13. The leader holds all three matzot, and recites the blessing over bread ("hamotzi lechem min ha'aretz"), he then drops the bottom matzah and recites the blessing over eating matzah ("al achilat matzah"). He then distributes a small piece of each of the top two matzot to the participants (who supplement their portion from other matzah shmurah on the table.) Everyone now eats, while leaning on the left side. One should eat about 2/3 of a square machine-made matzah, or a little less than half of a round hand-made matzah. Try to eat this amount within about 3 minutes.
  14. The blessing ("al achilat maror") is then recited on the maror (grated, raw horseradish or romaine lettuce). The maror is dipped into the charoset, then shaken off and eaten (not leaning). One should eat about 27cc of maror, (about two leaves of romaine lettuce). Be sure to clean and check the lettuce carefully before the seder to ensure that there are no insects on the leaves.
  15. A sandwich is made, using a little of the bottom matzah (add from the table's supply if necessary) and maror. One should eat about the same amount of maror as before (no. 14; a little less is OK) and about half the amount of matzah as before (no. 13). No blessing is recited but the paragraph, "zecher lemikdash keHillel" is recited beforehand.
  16. The meal is now eaten. Many people have a custom to eat boiled eggs dipped in salt water. One should take care not to overeat at the meal, as one must leave room for two more cups of wine, and the matzah of the Afikoman. Roasted meat should not be served at the meal, so as not to appear as though we are bringing the Paschal sacrifice outside the Temple. The meal should be eaten while leaning, and one should discuss the Haggadah during the meal as well.
  17. At the end of the meal, the Afikoman is eaten, while leaning. No blessing is made. One should eat the same amount of matzah as in no. 13, although if this is difficult, one may eat half that amount. Nothing should be eaten or drunk after the Afikoman except for water.
  18. "Elijah's" cup is filled and the third cups are filled at this time. The Grace After Meals is recited while holding the cup of wine (until "al yechasrenu" is said). Don't forget to insert the appropriate prayer for Pesach ("ya'aleh veyavoh"). After the Grace (birkat hamazon) the cup of wine is lifted, the blessing over wine is said, and the majority of the cup is drunk, while leaning. The fourth and final cup is filled, the door is opened, and "shfoch chamatcha" is said.
  19. The door is closed and the rest of Hallel is sung or recited. At the end of Hallel, the participants say the blessing over wine, and drink the last cup. Then the blessing after wine is recited.
  20. The concluding prayer is recited, "Next Year in Jerusalem" is sung, and the Seder is concluded with the singing of the traditional songs (echad mi yodea, chad gadya, adir hu, etc.).

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