The Fifteen Steps
1. Kadesh – reciting Kiddush
We start the Seder with Kadesh (to separate, to make holy) to enter holiness and separate from the mundane. Our separation is a tzimtzum, a contraction that creates space for our journey
On a cosmic level Kadesh is the counterpart of Hochmah (wisdom), the first of the ten sefirot – the beginning of a new order, the first step in a process.
2. U’rhatz – washing the hands
U’rhatz: washing your hands before dipping a vegetable (Karpas) in saltwater. This is our physical cleansing in preparation for our process of spiritual cleansing.
U’rhatz begins with the letter vav, connecting Kadesh to Rahatz. Kadesh is Hochmah and U’rhatz is binah (understanding), two sides of the same sacred coin. Kadesh is the aha moment of wisdom and U’rhatz is the thoughtful dissection (binah) of the aha of Hochmah.
3. Karpas – eating a vegetable dipped in salt water
Karpas consists of dipping parsley in salt water. This is the salty hor de’oeuvre to the Seder. It wets our appetite for a more spiritually filling meal. Karpas leads us to a metaphoric understanding of the challenges of life. That which is “created from the fruit of the earth” is dipped into salt water, the cleansing tears of our soul.
Karpas brings us into contact with our physical soul our nefesh. We strip ourselves of material entanglements and return to our simple needs, some greens, salt and water. With that recognition, we can begin our spiritual journey. It is a blending of Hochmah/wisdom and Binah/dissected understanding. We call it Da’at, the wise understanding that we can finally speak.
4. Yahatz – breaking the middle matzah
Yahatz: We break the middle of the three matzahs. Matzah symbolizes bitul, not thinking outside the box but rather losing the box altogether. The simple Matzah of water and flour represents the soul and body of Torah. There is no bloating Hametz involved, no ego puffing. Simple flour and water, body and soul.
Breaking the matzah (Yahatz) emphasizes this bitul. Even this simple fare, I share with all who are hungry, with all who need a Pesah, an overpass. There is a compassion for others and self expressed in Yahatz. The Sefirah for it is Hesed (compassion)
5. Maggid – reciting the Haggadah
We now bring ourselves down the Sefirotic tree and relive the story of Exodus.
Maggid (telling) – begins with Four Questions. What better metaphor is there for freedom than questions? We are commanded to ask, commanded to grow, commanded to be free.
After the youngest child asks the Four Questions, we begin the answer by telling the story. Maggid is not just telling a story-tale; it is reliving the nightmare and the dream, we re-experience in our lives what our ancestors experienced in theirs. This re-experience requires some discipline as do most worthwhile things in life. The Sefirah is Gevurah.
6. Rahatzah – washing the hands
Rahatzah: After the story has been told we dip deeper into the waters of meaning. We have a holy frame of mind that is liberating. Actual freedom is about minds and hearts as well as bodies. Reading about freedom is not enough we have to ingest it into our bodies, into our souls. Then we can manifest it in our lives. As we pour the water over one hand then the other in a disciplined manner we feel the warmth and coolness of the compassionate flow of the next Sefirah, a blend of Hesed/compassion and Gevurah/discipline brings us down to Tiferet which is a balance, quite beautiful.
7. Motzi – reciting the blessing HaMotzi
Motzi: G has brought everything from the earth and we get to have a share in formation if not creation. G creates the wheat and we form it into bread. This earthy blessing is a nefesh (physical soul) blessing. Flour and water, and with it we bake and then break bread together. Indeed, Kabbalah teaches us that the highest Divine sparks fall to the lowest places. Earth – symbol of all materialism – contains the greatest spiritual energy. Hidden in the Klipot (shards) of Mitzayim (the narrow places) which we liberate with blessings.
Strangely Lechem (bread) also means ‘battle.’ How many battles were fought over bread, sustenance? Inside of us is found the battle between nourishment and gluttony, feeding the soul and feeding the body, between indolence and industry. It is a good struggle, a life affirming conflict. This struggle is the doing, the action that is life. The Sefirah is Netzah/the doing, the struggle and the victory that is life
8. Matzah – reciting the blessing on the matzah and eating it
Matzah, the second blessing moves from the generic to the specific. This is a blessing of Mitzvah, of sacred connection. By following the Mitzvah of eating, the simple Bitul bread we dissolve into G. As the matzah dissolves in our mouths so we dissolve into G-liness. As the Rebbe MaHaRash writes, “eating matzah is like ‘eating G-dliness.’ On the first night of Passover matzah is called the ‘bread of faith.’ On the second night it is called bread of healing’” for surely one follows the other.
Nissan is the first month of the Jewish Year and the first food we eat in this first month is simple flour and water. It is the humble body-soul integration. It is the head start of healing. It is the place of ‘being’, of the Sefirah of Hod.
9. Maror – eating the bitter herbs
Maror; Sometimes our healing requires a little bitterness.
Eating Maror emphasizes the importance of proportion and perspective. First we eat it straight. At my Seders, I tell participants that if it doesn’t make you cry, you ‘aint et enuff.’ This is the first of two times that we eat Maror during the Seder. Maror might just be the core of the Seder, that Yin Yang duality of life. That is why the Sefirah is called Yesod
10. Koreh – eating a sandwich of Matzah and Maror
Koreh, the Hillel sandwich: Our version would be unrecognizable to Reb Hillel. We put Haroset and Maror on the hard flat matzah. His sandwich was made with soft Matzah, like a tortilla filled with lamb and Maror, horseradish shavings. Proportion and perspective. Now the bitter herb becomes a garnish. As in life, proportion and perspective can turn a wilderness into a paradise. In life we move into the wilderness and out again, joy and sadness, harshness and harmony, for that is the experience of life. Without proportion and perspective, life is a lifeless task. But the Seder has taught us, the Seder has been our council, which is one translation for Malchut the tenth and last Sefirah.
11. Shulhan Aruch – ‘Set table’ – eating the festive meal
And now, finally, we are ready… to eat. We have fulfilled the understanding of Jewish holidays. “They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.” But as we have seen there is so much more.
Shulhan Aruch: The prepared table. This is not grabbing food from the fridge and standing over the sink wolfing it down. This is not merely an exercise in self-sustenance or self-indulgence. This is part of the experience, a ‘happening” as we used to say. The Seder teaches us that our lives can be a Shulhan Aruch, a prepared table, prepared for study, prepared for awareness, prepared for service to each other.
As Moses was told that he must present the teachings to the people like a ‘set table,’ so too do we have the responsibility to set the table for others. We set the table, both physically and spiritually, sharing and teaching, sitting in council.
12. Tzafon – eating the afikoman
Tzafon concludes the meal. We eat a simple piece of matzah that has been hidden away. It is the larger of the two ‘halves’ that we broke from the center matzah. Tzafon means hidden, like the hidden matzah. There are teachers in our lives who have lessons for us and yet we do not know who these teachers are, or what lessons they have to teach us. They are hidden. We must listen well and find patience. Like the Boy Scout motto we must “be prepared.” One never knows when a sage will appear and they never appear in the guise that we would expect.
The Afikoman is eaten as a dessert; not for sustenance but for the pleasure of simplicity. The matzah eaten earlier is bitul (the emptying of all) on the conscious level (for sustenance). The Afikoman matzah is bitul on the unconscious (hidden) level. The earlier matzah helps acclimate us to the bitul experience, as we learn to tame the ‘ego’ and ‘narcissism’ of the material way. Once we have reached bitul, we than can integrate it into the pleasure of our lives, where even our pleasures become permeated with higher purpose, with seeking the oneness with G.
13. Berach – reciting grace
Berach (blessing): We conclude the meal with a Birkat HaMazon a blessing in thanks for our meal. Our meal is held together by the bookends of blessing. We elevate our meal with the spiritual energy of ceremony bringing forth the Divine sparks found within. We bring down those Holy sparks of wholeness that now fill our home.
14. Hallel – reciting psalms of praise
Hallel (praise) also means ‘to shine,’ from the expression ‘behilo nero – when his candle shone forth.’ With Hallel we enlighten our lives, we shine.
Hallel is our last act of redemption in the Seder; we redeem our world by bringing down the divine light with praise and prayer with hope and harmony.
15. Nirtzah – G’s promise to accept our service
Nirtzah is the non-action, the culmination of our Bitul as we who have filled our body, acknowledge that we are an empty vessel ready to be filled with G’s light.
NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM!
NEXT YEAR IN A PLACE OF PEACE
NEXT YEAR IN A HOME OF HARMONY
Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the Alter Rebbe, did not include at the conclusion of the Haggadah the passage ‘the order of Pesach is concluded,’ because the Passover Seder never ends. Instead, it continues throughout the year. To be sure, the illumination of every festival radiates every day; but Pesach extends continuously. Every day we must leave Mitzayim, transcend out previous limitations and reach higher levels of holiness.