Structure of the Seder

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Unique vs. Universal Components

The Seder is a grand banquet which, through an alternating combination of food and liturgy,1 celebrates and commemorates our Exodus from Egypt.  As several of the Seder's most basic elements (Kaddesh, Rochtzah, Motzi, Shulchan Oreikh, Bareikh) are shared by many other meals, focusing on the components which are exclusive to it can aid in better visualizing its structure.  These parts are:

  • Urchatz, Karpas, Yachatz – Appetizer and other preparatory steps
  • Maggid – Telling the story of the Exodus
  • Matzah, Maror, Koreikh, Tzafun‎ – Eating matzah2 and maror to commemorate the Exodus
  • Hallel‎3 – Songs of praise and thanks4

Core = Maggid + Matzah / Maror

A cursory glance at the list above reveals that the Seder has a dual core of Maggid and Matzah-Maror.5  These central obligations are really flip sides of the same coin, one auditory and the other gustatory, and together they enable the remembering and re-experiencing of the Exodus.6  The eating constitutes the concrete reenactment of the Paschal rite in Egypt, while telling the story through Maggid ensures that the ceremony will be a thoughtful and meaningful one.

One may go a step further and suggest that the compound of Maggid and Matzah-Maror is ideally meant to be performed simultaneously, and the steps are separated merely because of the practical difficulty of mixing them.  See also The Seder Night in the Time of the Mikdash for the position which maintains that in the time of the Beit HaMikdash, the order of Maggid and Pesach-Matzah-Maror was reversed.

In this structure, the inner core is preceded by a preliminary appetizer which is intended to whet both the physical and spiritual appetites, and it is then followed by a special combination Hallel7 which expresses gratitude for the redemption.

Eating Enveloped by Liturgy

An alternative structure is to view the eating of (the Pesach), Matzah and Maror as the central highlight of the Seder.  Especially, when the Paschal sacrifice was brought,8 this concrete action alone ensured the ability to relive the experience of the very first Passover in Egypt.  The eating (re)experience is then surrounded by two forms of liturgical praise of Hashem:

  • Maggid – This section precedes the eating, is in narrative form, and focuses almost exclusively on the past.
  • Hallel – This succeeding section is in poetic form and has an eye towards the future.9

According to this option also, the elements of Urchatz, Karpas, and Yachatz serve as an introduction to the main core of the Seder.