Hebrew Language Blog

Thank you! Please check your inbox for your confirmation email.
You must click the link in the email to verify your request.

Celebrating Passover – Part 3 – Seder Posted by on Apr 4, 2012 in Celebrations and Holidays, Cultural Awareness, Learning Hebrew

It is traditional for Jewish families to gather on the first night of פסח (pe-sakh) (outside of Israel it would be two nights) for a special dinner called a סֵדֶר (se-der – Seder). The table is set with the finest china and silverware to reflect the importance of the meal. During this meal, the story of the Exodus from Egypt is retold using a special text called the הַגָּדָה‎ (ha-ga-da – Haggadah). Four cups of wine are consumed at various stages in the narrative. There are fifteen steps in the סֵדֶר (se-der – Seder), described in the הַגָּדָה‎ (ha-ga-da – Haggadah) and are followed step-by-step. They are usually sung, to a special melody, at the beginning of the סֵדֶר (se-der) and sometimes when beginning the next step in the process.


1. קִדֵּשׁ (ki-desh) – Recital of Kiddush blessing. The first glass of wine is drunk.

2. וּרְחַץ (ur-khats) – Here the hands are washed to be clean for the eating of the vegetable dipped in salt water. No blessing is recited here.

3. כַּרְפַּס (kar-pas) – Eat the green vegetable dipped in salt water. The salt water is symbolic of the tears shed by the people of Israel in Egypt during slavery and throughout their history.

4. יָחָץ (ya-khatz) – Break the middle matza and hide half for אֲפִיקוֹמָן (‘a-fi-ko-man). The smaller piece, representing the “bread of affliction,” is returned to the פסח (pe-sakh) plate to be eaten later for the Mitzvah of Matza. The larger piece, representing the Passover Sacrifice, to be eaten at the end of the meal.

5 מַגִּיד (ma-gid) – Tell the story of פסח (pe-sakh). This is the part where the youngest child asks the four questions (given below). The second cup of wine is drunk at this time. Miriam’s cup is filled with water and the story of how she helped find water in the desert and how women have helped the Jewish people are told.

6. רַחֲצָה (ra-kha-tsa) – The hands are washed again. This is the regular blessing recited before every meal in which bread (or in this case, matza) is eaten.

7. מּוֹצִיא (mo-tsi) – Say הַמּוֹצִיא (ha-mo-tsi – Hamotzi) (The blessing for bread) while holding the remaining Matzot.

8. מַצָּה (ma-tso) – Special blessing for the מַצָּה (ma-tsa). Everyone eats a part of the top and the middle מַצָּה (ma-tsa).

7. מָרוֹר (ma-ror) – Eating of the bitter herb. Everyone eats lettuce leaves or celery stalks dipped into חֲרֹסֶת (kha-ro-set) (a mix of nuts, apples, cinnamon, and sweet wine ).

10 כּוֹרֵךְ (ko-rekh) – Eat the מָרוֹר (ma-ror – bitter herb) and מַצָּה (ma-tsa) together.

11. שֻׁלְחָן עוֹרֵךְ (shul-khan o-re-kh) – lit. “set table”—Serve the festive meal.

12. צָפוּן (tsa-fun) – Eating the אֲפִיקוֹמָן (‘a-fi-ko-man). The אֲפִיקוֹמָן (‘a-fi-ko-man) symbolizes the Passover Sacrifice and is eaten at the end of the meal. Some traditions put the אֲפִיקוֹמָן (‘a-fi-ko-man) into a pillow case to symbolize that when the people of Israel left Egypt, they carried everything they could on their backs. The pillow case is passed around the table during the סֵדֶר (se-der – Seder).

13. בֵּרֵךְ / בֹּרַךְ (be-rekh -or- bo-rakh) – Saying of grace after meal. The third cup of wine is drunk at this time. The cup of Elijah the prophet is filled.

14. הַלֵּל (hal-lel) – Reciting of the Hallel. This is a recitation of Psalm 113, Psalm 114, Psalm 115:1–11,12–18, Psalm 116:1–11,12–19, Psalm 117 and Psalm 118. The fourth cup of wine is drunk.

15. נִירְצַה (nir-tsa) – Concluding the סֵדֶר (se-der). We conclude with an additional prayer that we conduct the next סֵדֶר (se-der) in Jerusalem.

Self published work by Gilabrand

These 15 parts parallel the 15 steps in the Temple in Jerusalem on which the Levites stood during Temple services, and memorialized in Psalms 120-134, known as שִׁיר הַמַּעֲלוֹת (shir ha-ma-‘a-lot – “Songs of Ascent”).

The four questions

Children have a very important role in the סֵדֶר (se-der). Traditionally the youngest child is prompted to ask questions by asking מה נשתנה, הלילה הזה מכל הלילות (ma nish-ta-na ha-lay-la ha-ze mi-kol ha-lay-lot? – Why is this night different from all other nights?). The questions encourage the discussion of the significance of the symbols in the meal. The four questions are:

1. שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין חמץ ומצה הלילה הזה, כלו מצה
sheb-khol ha-lay-lot ‘a-nu ‘o-klin kha-mets u-ma-tsa. ha-lay-la ha-ze ku-lo ma-tsa? (Listen)
On all other nights, we eat either unleavened or leavened bread, but tonight we eat only unleavened bread?

2. שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין שאר ירקות הלילה הזה, מרור
sheb-khol ha-lay-lot ‘a-nu ‘o-klin shar i-ra-kot ha-lay-la ha-ze ma-ror? (Listen)
On all other nights, we eat all kinds of vegetables, but tonight, we eat only bitter herbs?

3. שבכל הלילות אין אנו מטבילין אפילו פעם אחת הלילה הזה, שתי פעמים
sheb-khol ha-lay-lot ‘eyn ‘a-nu mat-bi-lin ‘a-fi-lu pa-‘am e-khat. ha-lay-lat ha-ze shtey p’a-mim? (Listen)
On all other nights, we do not dip [our food] even once, but tonight we dip twice?

4. שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין בין יושבין ובין מסובין הלילה הזה, כולנו מסובין
sheb-khol ha-lay-lot ‘a-nu ‘o-klin beyn yosh-bin u-veyn mi-su-bin. ha-lay-lot ha-ze ku-la-nu me-su-bin? (Listen)
On all other nights, we eat either sitting or reclining, but tonight we only recline?

Often the leader of the סֵדֶר (se-der) and the other adults at the meal will use prompted responses from the הַגָּדָה‎ (ha-ga-da), which states, “The more one talks about the Exodus from Egypt, the more praiseworthy he is.” Many readings, prayers, and stories are used to recount the story of the Exodus. Many households add their own commentary and interpretation and often the story of the Jews is related to the theme of liberation and its implications worldwide.

אֲפִיקוֹמָן (‘a-fi-ko-man) – Afikoman

The אֲפִיקוֹמָן is used to engage the interest and excitement of the children at the table. During יָחָץ (ya-khatz) (see step four above), the leader breaks the middle piece of matzo into two. He sets aside the larger portion as the אֲפִיקוֹמָן. Many families use the אֲפִיקוֹמָן as a device for keeping the children awake and alert throughout the סֵדֶר (se-der) proceedings by hiding the אֲפִיקוֹמָן and offering a prize for its return. Alternatively, the children are allowed to “steal” the it and demand a reward for its return. In either case, the אֲפִיקוֹמָן must be consumed during צָפוּן (tsa-fun) (see step twelve above).

Concluding songs

After the Hallel, the fourth glass of wine is drunk, and participants recite a prayer that ends in לַשָׁנָה הַבָּאָה בִּיֵרוּשָׁלַיִם! (la-sha-na ha-ba-‘a bi-ye-ru-sha-la-yim – “Next year in Jerusalem!”). This is followed by several lyric prayers that expound upon God’s mercy and kindness, and give thanks for the survival of the Jewish people through a history of exile and hardship. “Echad Mi Yodea” (“Who Knows One?”) is a playful song, testing the general knowledge of the children (and the adults). Some of these songs, such as “Chad Gadiyah” are allegorical.

Kiddush blessing:
ברוך אתה יהוה אלהינו מלך העולם בורא פרי הגפן
ba-rukh a-ta A-do-nai, E-lo-hay-nu, me-lekh ha-o-lam, bo-rei p’ri-y ha-ga-fen.

Hand washing:
ברוך אתה יהוה אלהינו מלך העולם אשר קדשנו במצותיו וצונו על נטילת ידים
ba-rukh a-ta A-do-nai, E-lo-hay-nu, me-lekh ha-o-lam a-sher kid-sha-nu be-mits-vo-tav ve-tsi-va-nu al ne-ti-lat ya-da-yim.

Photo of the Seder table is in the Public Domain. Photo of the Seder plate is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Share this:
Pin it

About the Author: Sean Young

Learning languages since 1978 and studying over 50 (achieving fluency in 10). Sean L. Young loves giving tips, advice and the secrets you need to learn a language successfully no matter what language you're learning. Currently studying Hindi and blogging his progress right here at Transparent Language - https://blogs.transparent.com/language-news.


  1. randy:

    Thanks for a great post Sean.
    Chag Pesakh Sameakh