Understanding the Passover Haggadah: Part 2

If you haven’t already, I recommend you read “Understanding the Passover Haggadah: Part 1.”

goldbergSo you want to lead a Passover Seder and you get your Haggadah out and it’s all Greek to you (okay, actually Hebrew). It’s long. Depending on your Haggadah, it may not be obvious how the parts of the Seder are divided and how they flow. It’s intimidating, so you do what many others do: take a few pieces here and there and leave most of the Haggadah out.

While abridging the Haggadah is no sin (one could wish the tradition didn’t become so long and cumbersome), this should at least be done with understanding of the meaning of the parts.

So in Part 2 of this series, “Understanding the Passover Haggadah,” I will do two things: explain the basic parts of the Seder and recommend some Haggadahs you can use this time of year.

Kadesh ur’chatz, karpas yachatz…
In many Haggadahs you will find a strange little Hebrew verse, sometimes explained and sometimes not. It goes like this:

Kadesh ur’chatz, karpas yachatz . . .
. . . Maggid rachatz, motzi matzah.
Maror korech, shulchan orech . . .
. . . Tzaphoon barekh, hallel nirtzah.

There are fifteen steps here (shulchan orekh counts as one), which some liken to the fifteen steps ascending the Temple. But what is this list all about?

It goes back to the days when there was no printing press, when leather parchment or handmade paper were vastly expensive, and when the ability to write copies of the Haggadah for millions of Jews simply did not exist. This little verse was a mnemonic, a rhyming device to help leaders remember the order of the Seder without a Haggadah.

This order of the Seder is not perfect. Many of the parts are very short in duration while others can go on for a long time. Karpas, for example, is dipping parsley, celery, or other greens into salt water. This and the blessing take a mere minute, while the Maggid, or telling the story, can go on for an hour (though it doesn’t have to go that long).

Still, in spite of imperfections, the Kadesh Ur’chatz is a nice way to understand the order of the Seder:

Kadesh ur’chatz Sanctify and wash the hands. This means a blessing of the first cup of wine (there are four in the evening) and a ritual handwashing. The handwashing ceremony should be undertaken on hands already washed for hygiene. This ceremony is a modern reenactment of the priestly washing of hands and feet before entering God’s sanctuary. The table is likened to a sanctuary, set apart for God’s purpose. Handwashing involves pouring a small amount of water on the right hand first (into a small bowl) and then on the left hand. In this first handwashing we do not say a blessing.

karpas yachatz . . . A green vegetable and breaking the middle matzah. Customs vary slightly, but a common method is to dip parsley in saltwater, recite a blessing, and eat. In Roman banquets, a green vegetable such as lettuce, cucumber, or the like, was eaten as an hors d’oeuvre dipped in vinegar or brine. For the breaking of matzah, most Haggadahs suggest three matzahs in a cloth cover or on the Seder plate or under it. The middle matzah is broken, wrapped, and hidden to be eaten as the very last food of the night (in ancient times it was a small piece of the Passover lamb that was last, according to Lawrence Hoffman in My People’s Passover Haggadah). This broken middle matzah has become a potent symbol for some Christians and Messianic Jews (since Jesus is the middle member of the Trinity and was “broken” for our transgressions).

. . . Maggid rachatz Telling the Passover story and washing the hands a second time (before the meal, the first washing was before the hors d’oeuvres). The Maggid portion is long and I will explain it in another installment. The second handwashing is followed by the customary blessing.

motzi matzah Recite two blessings: the HaMotzi for bread in general and a special blessing over the matzah (unleavened bread, the bread of slaves).

Maror korech Eat the bitter herb and make the Hillel sandwich. Most today use grated horseradish for the maror (though the tradition is diverse on this and it can even be a piece of lettuce!). Hillel made a custom of eating the sanctified lamb meat with bitter herbs on a sandwich (or burrito) of unleavened bread. This is from a literal reading of Exodus 12:8 and Numbers 9:11. Later rabbinic tradition says you should not fulfill two mitzvot at the same time, so Hillel’s sandwich is now eaten after the bitter herbs are already eaten (the sanctified lamb meat no longer possible since the Temple was destroyed). Hillel’s sandwich (korech) is sort of an extra step retained in honor of this great sage.

shulchan orech . . .This is one step: serving the meal. Passover isn’t just a little horseradish and parsley. It is a kingly/queenly meal.

. . . Tzaphoon barekh Eat the afikomen and recite Grace After Meals. The history of the word afikomen is complex, but it might be summarized a the dessert. It is not sweetened, but is a broken piece of the middle matzah (at least the size of an olive). It is to be the last food that enters one’s mouth until the morning. Since it is followed by a blessing and the third cup, it resembles and is likely the origin of the Christian communion service arising from Jesus’ Last Supper. The Grace After Meals is a lengthy blessing recited every day at least once in traditional homes.

hallel nirtzah Sing the Hallel psalms and recite the concluding prayer for God’s acceptance (nirtzah) of the Seder. The Hallel consists of Psalm 115-118 and 136 (the Great Hallel). It is always moving for me, as a follower of Jesus, when we read the lines from Psalm 118, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”

Conclusion and Haggadah Purchasing Tips
This order of service is useful, though somewhat confusing. It does not mention the other three cups of wine (though their placement is easily remembered as one before the meal, one after, and the fourth cup at the end of the Hallel). It has the virtue of rhyming, being memorable, and being analogous to the fifteen steps ascending into the Holy Place of God’s sanctuary.

I conclude this second installment with a few Haggadah recommendations for you:

For Christians and Messianic Jews who prefer an easy order of service integrated with New Testament readings: get The Messianic Passover Haggadah from Lederer at messianicjewish.net.

For Jews and Messianic Jews who want a fuller Haggadah that is simple to follow: Passover Haggadah by Nathan Goldberg available from ktav.com (for only $2.20 each!). This one is simple, affordable, and easy to read and follow.

For families with small children wanting a short, simplified Seder: Family Haggadah: A Seder For All Generations by Elie Gindi available at amazon.com or behrmanhouse.com. Though this Haggadah abridges the Seder, it does so very well and cuts the Seder time down to forty minutes before and forty minutes after the meal.

There are many other worthy Haggadot, but I have not reviewed them all. These choices are easily obtained and I know they work because I have used them.

If you are a collector, I have dozens of beautiful antique Haggadot from ebay (my favorite have the Siegmund Forst illustrations). The all-time classic is the Maxwell House Haggadah (easily found on ebay; I don’t see them in grocery stores anymore).

If you want to study Passover in-depth, one choice stands above most others (thought I wouldn’t use it to lead a Seder): My People’s Passover Haggadah, Vols. 1 & 2 by David Arnow and Lawrence Hoffman.


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Christian, Holidays, Judaism, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism, Passover. Bookmark the permalink.

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