Your Complete Guide To Making A Passover Seder
by Rivi Rotenberg
Passover is a holiday steeped in tradition. The overarching theme of the Seder night is the mitzvah (Torah commandment) of transmitting our heritage to our children. The Seder night emphasizes the link between generations. It’s all about family and tradition.
It’s the one you go home for.
Home for the Holidays
April 2020 brought home a reality for many Jews worldwide- how different it is to simply partake in a Passover Seder versus actually creating a Passover Seder.
There is a great deal of cleaning, shopping and cooking that culminates at the Seder night. All that preparation is typically behind the scenes for the perpetual house guest or hotel-program attendee. Many Jews were thrown into the task without the mental preparation or experience. And they did the best that they could.
Without minimizing the loss and sadness of that time, I’d like to shine a light on a very specific phenomenon. There were other takeaways from this novel Passover experience.
Many people loved it. They didn’t necessarily think that they would, and they may have never opted for it. But they learned that there is nothing quite as gratifying as enjoying the fruits of your own labor in the comfort of your own home. They want to do it again- minus the anxiety and the stress. If you want to learn how to simplify the preparation for hosting your own Passover Seder, read on. We are here to help.
Shopping List for the Passover Seder
Seder Items to buy in advance:
Shopping for Passover looks different for the first-timers. This is a list of items that you will need to buy once and can be stored for yearly use:
Haggadah (singular) is the text recited at the Passover Seder. It serves as a guide of the nights’ rituals and as a narrative of the historical events of Exodus.
Many Haggadot are illustrated for (adults and children) and annotated with insights and explanations. Every participant at the Seder will need their own Haggadah to follow along with the Seder sequence.
- Seder Plate
The Seder plate or ke’arah is the focal point of the Seder. It includes six unique items that symbolize different aspects of the Seder story.
- Matzah Holder
There are three whole matzahs that are placed underneath the Seder plate in the Matzah holder. The middle matzah is cracked and designated for the Afikomen (matzah that is served as the dessert).
- Afikomen Bag
This is any bag designated to hold the afikomen dessert (see above).
- Basin with cup and hand towel
Having a readily available basin and cup keeps the ritual hand washing smooth and efficient.
- Seder pillows
Many Jews have the tradition to manifest royalty by reclining and leaning on pillows during the Seder. This is symbolic of the holiday of freedom when the Jews were liberated from slavery.
- Kiddush kos (wine goblet)
Each family member and guest at the Seder should have their own kiddush cup for the four ritual cups of wine.
Holiday candle lighting is similar to Shabbat candle lighting. A special blessing in honor of Passover is recited with an additional Shehecheyanu Bracha (Prayer of gratitude).
- Cup of Elijah
The cup of Elijah has a prominent place at the center of the Seder table. Traditionally, it is a wine filled goblet that remains untouched and designated for Elijah the Prophet.
A kittel is a white linen or cotton robe traditionally worn by religious Jews when leading the Passover Seder.
One great way to simplify this process is by ordering a Passover Seder Essentials Kit. The Seder includes a lot of paraphernalia, so this is affordable and easy. You’ll know that it is done and done right.
Seder Food Essentials:
These items can be bought in bulk and in advance.
Shmurah matzah is made from grain that has been under special supervision from the time it was harvested.
Hand made round matzah is typically pretty expensive ($20-$30 per box). Regular matzah or the square machine-made kind is very affordable to buy in bulk.
While machine matzah is sold in most local supermarkets around Passover, hand-made matzah usually can’t be purchased locally.
Passover.com is offering a high-value, hassle-free special. They are including a free 5lb box of machine matzah with every purchase over $100. They also include hand-made Shmurah matzah as part of their Passover Seder Essentials Kit.
In addition to kosher certification, wine requires a Kosher for Passover certification. Since you will be drinking a lot of it during the Seder, make sure to order an alcohol content that you can tolerate well.
- Grape Juice
Grape juice is a great option for children, pregnant women or anyone else who will not be drinking alcohol.
Seder Items to buy and prepare fresh:
- Lettuce (for Maror portions)
- A shankbone or chicken wing (to be roasted for the Zroah, an item on the Seder plate)
- Egg (to be boiled and then roasted for the Beitzah, an item on the Seder Plate)
- Grated horseradish (for the Maror)
- Salt water (for the Seder plate and for Karpas dipping)
- Karpas vegetable (The custom is to use celery, radishes or cooked potatoes.)
- Charoset (for the Seder plate and Maror dipping)
If you are preparing this on your own, the Charoset has the texture of applesauce, and the ingredients typically include:
- Grated apples
- Almonds or other nuts
- Red wine
All items needed for the Shulchan Orech menu:
A traditional menu might look something like this:
- Gefilta fish
- Chicken Soup with Matzah balls
- Brisket, potatoes and a cooked vegetable dish
- Macaroons with Tea
Setting the Passover Seder
Traditionally, Jews go all out when setting the table for the Passover Seder. Passover celebrates our freedom from slavery and we manifest that freedom by personifying royalty. The ambiance should be one of luxury, grandeur and refinement. If your family has any heirloom serving pieces, the Passover Seder is the perfect setting to showcase them.
If you do not have Passover tableware and want to create that atmosphere, there are exquisite disposable sets to purchase that are elegant and look authentic.
Prepared and Ready on the Seder Table:
- Wine decanters with wine
- Grape juice for children
- Salt water for Karpas
- 3 whole Matzahs in the Matzah cover
- Prepared Seder plate with 6 items:
The Beitzah is a hardboiled egg which is slightly roasted while still encased in its shell.
The egg serves as a reminder of the special holiday sacrificial offering during the time of Temple which was known as Chagigah.
The Zroah is a roasted shankbone. Many people use a roasted chicken wing as an alternative. In ancient times, the Israelites were commanded to sacrifice one lamb per family to eat for the Passover meal. Today, we place a piece of roasted meat or bone to remind us of the paschal lamb.
Maror refers to bitter herbs. The most common herbs used are romaine lettuce, horseradish or endives. The maror serves as a reminder of the bitterness of the Israelites’ slavery in Egypt. It is essential to taste the bitterness of slavery in order to appreciate the joy of freedom.
Karpas refers to a vegetable. (The custom is to use celery, radishes, or cooked potatoes.)
The Karpas vegetable is dipped into saltwater as a reminder of the tears that the Israelites shed during their servitude in Egypt.
Charoset refers to a sweet pudding-like substance made of fruits, nuts and wine. The Charoset is symbolic of the mortar or clay that the Israelites used when they were enslaved in Egypt.
Chazeret is a bitter herb that is distinct from the maror. Chazeret is typically romaine lettuce and used as part of the matzah sandwich served during the Korech ritual. (see below)
Every Table Setting Should Include its own:
- Table setting
- Kiddush Kos (wine goblet)
- Haggadah (text)
- Pillow to place on the chair
In the Kitchen or on Standby:
- Karpas vegetable servings for everyone
- Clean towels for washing
- More pitchers for wine
- Lots of lettuce for maror
- Cup of Elijah (you can also have this on display from the beginning of the Seder)
- Extra matzah for Motzi Matzah, Korach, and Shulchan Orach
The Running of the Passover Seder
The literal translation of the word Seder is orderly. The night of the Passover Seder is governed by procedure and precision.
We use the Haggadah to guide us through the special rituals of the night. Although the exact date is unknown, it is believed that most of the Haggadah was compiled during the Mishnaic and Talmudic eras. It is a cornerstone in Jewish faith and the medium for transmitting the story of our redemption.
The Haggadah is divided into 14 segments:
All Seder participants recite the Kiddush (sanctification) and drink the first cup of wine. Many Jews have the custom to fill each other's wine cups to manifest freedom and majesty.
Every participant washes his/her hands. According to most traditions, no blessing is said at this point in the Seder.
Each participant dips a vegetable into either salt water or vinegar. The salt water and vinegar are reminiscent of the tears shed during our ancestors' servitude in Egypt.
There are three Matzot stacked in the Matzah holder. During Yachatz, the middle matzah is broken in half. The larger piece is hidden, to be used later as the Afikoman (dessert) after the meal. The smaller piece is returned to its place between the other two matzot.
Magid is relating the story of Exodus or the recitation of the Haggadah.
By reciting these words and the ensuing passages, we declare an open invitation to all who are hungry and needy to join them for the Seder.
While all Seder participants can ask the Ma Nishtana, it is customary to begin with the young children. Each of the four questions begin with the query, “Why is this night different from all the other nights?” and then continue to enumerate the differences.
This is a focal point of the Seder night and many children practice reciting the Ma Nishtana for weeks prior to Passover.
The central Mitzvah (Torah commandment) of the Seder is to transmit the story of our redemption to our children. In relation to this, the Haggadah speaks of "four sons" – one who is wise, one who is wicked, one who is simple, and one who does not know to ask.
The Haggadah expounds on four verses from Deuteronomy (26:5–8) and explores the meaning of those verses. It describes the slavery of the Jewish people, their miraculous salvation, and the enumeration of the Ten Plagues.
The end of Magid includes:
- Songs of praise (including the classic song, Dayenu)
- The first two psalms of Hallel (Psalms of praise)
- The drinking of the second cup of wine.
The ritual hand-washing is repeated with a blessing.
The blessing on the Matzah is recited and all participants eat Matzah.
The blessing on the Maror is recited and all participants eat Maror. It is customary to dip the Maror into Charoset.
A piece of maror is placed between two small pieces of matzah and eaten. This follows the tradition of the sage, Hillel, who did this at his Seder table 2,000 years ago.
We eat a festive holiday dinner. See above for traditional menu ideas.
The hidden piece of Afikomen matzah is traditionally the last food eaten at the Seder and is the dessert of the Shulchan Orech meal.
- We recite the Birkat Hamazon (Grace after meals).
- We drink the third cup of wine.
- We open the door to our homes to welcome Elijah the Prophet for whom the Cup of Elijah is prepared.
We continue the songs of Hallel which began during Magid.
Afterwards, we drink the fourth and final cup of wine.
The Seder concludes with prayers for the Seder's service to be accepted.
The very last words echo the yearning of Jews throughout the Diaspora: