The Seder Plate
Several items can be found on all Seder tables:
Three unbroken matzahs are placed on a plate and covered.
With today’s vast variety of Passover products, grape flavored matzah, chocolate covered matzah, and other assorted flavors of matzah may be readily available. For the Seder, however, plain matzah, made only of flour and water, must be used.
Why Three? Three matzot are placed on the Seder table in order to properly fulfill two separate mitzvot (commandments). Two whole, unbroken matzot are necessary to make the Festival motzee (blessing over bread). The mitzvah of eating matzah, however, is fulfilled with a piece from a broken matzah, symbolizing that matzah is “the bread of affliction.”
Traditionally, the three matzot represent the division of the Jewish nation into Kohain (priests), Levi (priestly assistants) and Israel (the remaining tribes). By representing all Jews at the Seder, one is reminded of the importance of Jewish unity.
Wine (grape juice) and wine glasses — All participants should be given a glass or cup (minimum size of 3.3 ounces) from which to drink the required Four Cups of Wine (preferably, or grape juice if necessary). Of course, only Kosher for Passover wine should be used. While many are only familiar with the wine sold in supermarkets before Passover, there are many exotic varieties of kosher wine available appealing to all wine drinkers’ tastes.
The requirement of four cups of wine at the Passover Seder is based on the four stages by which G-d redeemed the Jews from slavery, as described in Exodus 6:6-7: “Therefore say to the Children of Israel: ‘I am G-d and I will take you out from beneath the burdens of Egypt, and I will save you from their servitude, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and great judgements, and I will take you for Me for a people…'”
One must drink each of the four cups in its appropriate place in the Seder:
The First Cup – is designated for Kiddush, the prayer said over wine or grape juice to sanctify the holiday.
The Second Cup – is consumed after maggid, the section in which we tell the story of the exodus, as a way of praising G-d. A second blessing on the wine is made because significant time has passed since the first cup.
The Third Cup – is blessed after bentching (birkat hamazon), the Grace After Meals. It is customary that after bentching as a group, a cup of wine or grape juice is blessed and consumed by the person who leads the bentching, but only at the Seder does everyone drink the wine.
The Fourth Cup – is consumed at the conclusion of Hallel, the section psalms praising G-d.
A fifth cup of wine, known as the Cup of Elijah, is filled towards the end of the Seder, representing the fifth language of redemption, “and I will bring you to the land” (Exodus 6:8).
If kosher wine varieties are not available in your locale, visit www.kosherwine.com.
The Shank Bone — The ancient Egyptians considered the lamb to be a holy (Divine) animal. Before the tenth plague, the slaying of the first born, Jews were instructed to prepare a lamb for a feast and to smear some of its blood on the doorpost of their house so that they would be “passed over.” This symbolizes the people’s trust in G-d and rejection of idol worship. The offering brought to the Temple on Passover was, therefore, a lamb. Because we do not have the Temple today, we place the shank bone of a lamb or the bone of another kosher animal or fowl on the Seder plate to symbolize that offering.
Charoset — A tasty mixture of chopped walnuts, wine, cinnamon and apples that represents the mortar the Jewish slaves used to build Pharaoh’s cities (recipes may vary by community).
Karpas — A vegetable, usually a piece of celery, parsley or potato, which is dipped in salt water as required for the Seder ritual.
Salt Water — in which to dip the Karpas. The Talmud states that a main reason for dipping the karpas is to stimulate the children to ask questions. Salt water also represents the tears of the Jewish slaves.
Roasted (hard boiled) egg — The egg is included as a symbol of the cycle of life, because of its rounded shape. Passover marks the formation of the Jewish nation, as well as the beginning of spring and a new cycle of the earth’s growing seasons. It is also symbolic of the nature of the Jewish people — the more you boil it, the harder it gets. The more the Jewish people are persecuted, the more resistant they become, and their loyalty to G-d increases.
Maror — Bitter herbs are part of the Seder to remind participants of the bitterness and pain of slavery. On the Seder plate, many people place both fresh horseradish and romaine lettuce (which has a bitter tasting root).
Elijah’s Cup — Not actually part of the Seder plate, Elijah’s cup is a central feature of the Seder ritual. It represents the fifth language of redemption cited in Exodus 6:8 “and I will bring you to the land.” Toward the end of the Seder, this cup is filled with wine, the door is opened, and Elijah the prophet, the harbinger of the Messianic age, is invited to come and begin our final redemption.