They had been slaves to the Egyptians for 400 years. It had all started because Joseph’s 11 brothers had quite enough, thank you very much. They were tired of how Joseph lauded it over them; tired of him being their father’s, Jacob, spoiled favorite.
Their anger toward him spilled into a rage and they sold him into slavery to a group of itinerant traders. They thought that was the end of it. But Joseph persevered; thrived even. Ultimately reconciling with his family many years later — and with his father, Jacob (aka Israel).
Upon the entire family moving to Egypt, they settled in a rich part of the land known as Goshen. But the joy would not last. After Jacob and Joseph had long passed on, the Hebrews grew in number.
Soon they were so numerous the Egyptians feared they would take up arms against them. To prevent such a tragedy, they brutally enslaved the Hebrews.
By now we all know the story of Moses, the burning bush, and his return to Egypt to free God’s people. Through Moses and his brother Aaron, God sent a series of plagues to convince Pharoah to “let my people go.”
But Pharoah was having none of it. Then…the last plague was coming. The firstborn of every household was to die. Unless…
God ordered Moses to have each Hebrew household slaughter a lamb. On the night of the dreadful plague on the firstborn, they were to slaughter a lamb without defect.
“Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs” (Exodus 12:7).
The angel of the Lord would see the blood of the lamb and pass over that household.
God also gave Moses specific instructions on what they were to eat(Exodus 12:8-11).
The Lord’s Passover: eaten in remembrance of the night they escaped from 400 years of slavery. Eaten in haste — bread without yeast because there was not enough time to let the bread rise — the Seder meal.
Specific Food in a Specific Order
The Seder is the traditional Passover meal celebrated on this day by Jews — particularly Orthodox Jews, or even those who remain observant of the traditional holidays and feasts.
As with all traditions, it seems as if over the decades — or centuries, or even millennia — down through different generations, some traditions get altered slightly, or added to. The Seder has not been immune to this. Each family or synagogue has many of its own traditions.
The Hebrew word “seder” translates to “order.” Indeed, the Passover Seder is a home or synagogue tradition blending religious rituals, four cups of wine, particular foods, songs, and storytelling.
The “Haggadah” means telling, and it is a book that dates back to the Middle Ages. The Haggadah is read by Jews today at the Seder — you can even download and print one off the internet now.
The intent of the Seder is that every person would feel as if they were escaping from Egypt themselves. It begins with the story of the patriarchs — Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — and recounts the Hebrew descent into Egypt, recalling their suffering and persecution.
The people are with them as God sends the 10 plagues to punish Pharoah and his nation. And as they eat the bitter foods of poverty and affliction, the Exodus feels real — as real as a festive meal and celebratory toasts will allow.
The “order” of the Seder is important — both in what is served as well as the progression of the rituals. The traditional foods are often served on a “seder plate” or platter. The foods and the rituals each represent a particularly important aspect of the Exodus.
While eating and drinking the wine, the participants recline on their sides — accentuating their freedom — as in ancient times, only free people had such a luxury.
The Seder menu consists of a few basic foods:
- Four cups of wine, veggies dipped in saltwater (the saltwater representing the parting of the Red Sea).
- Matzah: a flat, dry cracker-like bread (made without yeast).
- Bitter herbs: often pure horseradish and bitter lettuce, dipped into a paste of nuts, apples, pears, and wine (called charoset).
- A hardboiled egg, an “entrée” of favorites such as chicken soup or gefilte fish. Many also now include some type of beef dish.
The wine is used as a symbol of joy and happiness, representing the four expressions of freedom and deliverance in the Torah, in connection with liberation from Egypt.
Here are the 15 steps of the Seder:
The Benediction, Kadesh: a proclamation of the holiness of the holiday — with the drinking of the first cup of wine.
Washing, Urchatz: participants wash their hands in the ritually prescribed manner, as done before any meal, but without the blessing.
The Appetizer, Karpas: a small piece of vegetable dipped into saltwater and eaten.
Breaking the Matzah, Yachatz:the pieces set aside for later use.
Reading from the Haggadah, Maggid: “why is this night different from all other nights?” A second cup of wine is poured.
Second Washing, Rachtzah: hands are ritually washed again, but this time with the customary blessings.
Eating of the Matzah, Motzi Matzah (done in two specific steps): Some of the Matzah is consumed — with some left for a later step.
Bitter Herbs, Maror:take some of the bitter herbs and dip them in the charoset. Eaten without reclining.
The Hillel Sandwich, Korech: some of the broken pieces of matzah, with the bitter herbs.
The Passover Feast, Shulchan Orech: the holiday meal is served. The feast begins by eating the hardboiled egg dipped in saltwater. A reminder that the meal is missing the sacrificial lamb.
Out of Hiding, Tzafun: the last piece of matzah which had been set aside (hidden) is taken out and eaten.
Blessings after the meal, Berach: a third cup of wine is filled, and after-meal blessings are recited. Then, the fourth cup of wine is filled. The cup of Elijah, the harbinger of the coming Messiah.
Songs of Praise, Hallel: singing the praises of the Almighty. Reading blessings over the fourth cup, which is consumed.
Acceptance, Nirtzah: the final blessing. “Next year in Jerusalem.”
Jesus in the Seder
Jesus and his disciples called it their Passover meal. We call it the Last Supper, but to them, it was a celebration. We know the events well:
- The breaking of the bread represents the body of Christ.
- The drinking of wine represents his blood.
- Jesus washed the feet of his disciples.
- Judas, understanding that Jesus knew what he had committed to doing, barged out the door.
- Jesus predicted Peter’s denial. All the while, Peter claimed he would die for Jesus first.
It wouldn’t be long before he and his disciples were headed up to the nearby garden, known as Gethsemane.
But clearly, the Passover meal, the Seder, contains messages of Christ throughout. It is certainly no coincidence that Jesus — the perfect, unblemished Lamb of God — was sacrificed for us at Passover.
The Hebrews’ Exodus from the slavery of Egypt is a direct picture of our escape from our slavery to sin. Our baptism is akin to the Hebrews’ escape through the parted waters of the Red Sea.
“Why is this night different from all other nights?” It would be Jesus’ last night on earth. While the disciples celebrated their Passover — Jesus knew what was coming.
This was the first Eucharist — the Holy Communion — the commemoration of Jesus’s last supper with his disciples and his sacrifice for us. Then…the fourth cup of wine.
The fourth cup of wine — the very cup that Jesus would not drink again until the Kingdom of God comes.
Can you just imagine what our first Passover dinner in the kingdom of God will be?