Layl ha’Seder: Order for Life

Pesach.  Layl ha’Seder.  An evening of commemoration, celebration, freedom, family and friends.  Sedorim around the world begin, not with Kaddesh/Kiddush, but with the recitation of the order of the Seder itself.   

R’ Yisrael Meir Lau teaches that the order of the Seder is the order for one’s life, from which we can derive moral lessons, not only for Pesach, but for the entire year.

Kadesh/Urchatz – Hashem says to us, you want to be mekadesh, sanctified?  Then you must wash your hands (Urchatz) – you must be clean from sin (such as extortion and theft), as King David says ‘Mi ya’aleh b’har Hashem u’mi yakum bm’kom kadsho? Niki kapai’im uvar lei’vav’ – Who shall ascend into the mountain of the Hashem…? One who is of clean hands… (Ps.24:3).

Karpas/Yachatz – Hashem continues and says to man: Even if you are not wealthy or a person of means, and all you have is karpas – vegetables – but no meat or fish, nevertheless you must divide (Yachatz) what you have, and give to those less fortunate than you, to those who don’t even have karpas.

Maggid/Rachtzah – not only must you be honest, but you must recite (Maggid) and tell this to your family and to all those over whom you have influence as well, teaching them that they too must wash their hands (Rachtzah) and keep them pure.

Motzi Matzah – R’ Lau notes that Matzah can also mean strife, and figuratively then, this means to ‘remove all strife’, and to act to maintain peace and quiet.

Marror-Koreich (sandwich wrap) Shulchan Oreich – Even if your life is unpleasant and wrapped with bitterness, be sure to fulfill your obligations as a Jew, as outlined in the Shulchan Aruch, the standard code of Jewish law!

Tzafun Bareich (the hidden, blessing) – It is G-d Who is “Hidden” (Tzafun), as it were, and it is Him to whom we have to thank (Bareich) and bless for all that happens to us, whether we feel it is good or bad.

Hallel Nirtzah (praise, all accepted) – Even if we are enveloped in bitterness, we must praise G-d, for that is the most accepted praise of all in Hashem’s eyes (The Passover Haggadah, Around the Seder Table, R’ Lau, p.16-17). 

R’ Norman Lamm relates: In the first generation of the Chasidic movement, there was a great saint known as Der Shpoler Zeide (Rabbi Aryeh Leib of Shpola, d.1811).  R’ Aryeh Leib of Shpola was a loyal spokesman for the Jews before Heaven.

It once happened that on layl ha’Seder, he called upon his youngster to recite the Order of the Service, the kaddesh ur’chatz, with which we open the Seder.  In those days – the youngster would not just recite the list of items but would explain each one in Yiddish.  He would say – “Kaddesh: az der tate kumt aheim fun shul, makht er kiddush balt, kedei die kinder zolen nisht shlafen un zei zolen fregin mah nishtanah, Kaddesh means that when Father comes home from shul on Seder night, he must make Kiddush quickly so that the children not fall asleep and that they be able to ask the Mah Nishtanah.”  Now, when the Shpoler Zeide invited his son to recite, the child did not say the entire thing!  Instead, he merely said: “Kaddesh – when the father comes home from shul, let him make Kiddush immediately.”  His father was upset that his son had not been taught the entire explanation of Kaddesh.

The next day, when questioned, the child’s teacher said that he did not think that the rest of the recitation was important.  At this, the Shpoler Zeide rebuked him and said: “You have no idea of the great meaning of this simple little Yiddish explanation!  What does it mean?  It refers not only to the father of the house – it refers to the Father in Heaven.  When G-d, our Father in Heaven, leaves shul on layl ha’Seder and sees His Jews so overcome with fervor and piety, He performs the Kiddush – not the recitation of Kiddush, but kiddushin, marriage.  He remarries, re-betroths the people of Israel.  He recites once again the vow of His love for us:  וְאֵרַשְׂתִּיךְ לִי, לְעוֹלָם; וְאֵרַשְׂתִּיךְ לִי בְּצֶדֶק וּבְמִשְׁפָּט, וּבְחֶסֶד וּבְרַחֲמִים (Hos.2:21).  And why does He do that?  Here the metaphor switches, and Israel is no longer the bride, but the child, the delightful child of the Almighty Father.  G-d turns to us ‘so that the children not fall asleep’ in their exile, so that we do not become moribund and comatose, and fall into an everlasting sleep.  G-d seeks us out lest we become vanishing Jews.  G-d wants us, His children, to rise up and say to Him, Mah nishtanah ha’laylah ha’zeh mi’kol ha’lay’los!?  Why is this night different from all the other nights of the year?  Why is this exile so much colder and darker and longer and more heart-rending and more agonizing that any other exile ever was before?  Mah nishtanah ha’laylah ha’zeh does not mean merely ‘Why is it different?’ but ‘Wherefore (Mah For what reason) is this night so different?’  What purpose is served by the exile that is so long and dark, the night that is so endless, the blackness that is so bitter and so frightening?  Kedei die kinder zolen nisht shlafen un zei zolen fregin mah nishtanah – G-d wants us not to question Him, but to inquire after the purpose of our suffering so that we might use it creatively and nobly” (Festivals of Faith, p.244-245). 

As we prepare to sit down with friends and family around the Seder table, as we commemorate liberation and freedom once again, we will remind ourselves of our survival through the centuries, of our adherence to the “Seder way of life”, of our finding meaning in the madness of exile and this world… And all the while, we continue to yearn for the ultimate redemption, may it be speedily and in our days.  בניסן נגאלו בניסן עתידין ליגאל (R”H 11a).

בברכת חג כשר ושמח,


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