How Passover Works

The Seder: Steps 1 – 5

matzo, Seder matzo, Seder
Omri Brandes, Nitzan Brandes and Bentsi Brandes (L-R) eat matzo during a community Passover Seder at Beth Israel synagogue in Miami Beach, Florida. The community Passover Seder has been held for the past 30 years and is open anyone. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Seder opens much like any other dinner, with a prayer over wine. Unlike any other dinner, though, this prayer is one of many, many steps. It goes like this:

1. Kaddesh – The leader of the Seder says the traditional blessing over wine. Each adult drinks a glass of wine (the first of four).

2. Urechatz – This is the first washing of hands, during which no blessing is said.

3. Karpas – Each person dips the leafy green vegetable in salt water (signifying tears) and eats it.

4. Yachatz – One of the three pieces of matzo from the napkin is broken in half. One half goes back into the napkin, while the other half is set aside for later.

5. Maggid – This is the recounting of the story of Passover. It begins with the Four Questions, or Ma Nishtana ("What is different?"). The youngest person at the table (of reading age) traditionally does the asking, though the task may be broken up among a few participants:

  • Why is it that on all other nights during the year we eat either bread or matzo, but on this night we eat only matzo? (It reminds us of the hasty escape from Egypt.)
  • Why is it that on all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables, but on this night we eat bitter herbs? (It reminds us of the bitterness of slavery.)
  • Why is it on all other nights we do not dip even once, but on this night we dip twice? (The salt water into which we dip the karpas represents the tears we cried while in Egypt. The haroset which we dip the bitter herbs in reminds us of the cement we used to create bricks in Egypt.)
  • Why is it that on all other nights we eat either sitting or reclining, but on this night we eat in a reclining position? (It signifies the luxury of freedom.) [source: Chabad].

(Not everyone reclines, but making yourself comfortable is encouraged. Some people place a pillow on their chairs for added "luxury.")

Maggid continues with a retelling of the exodus from Egypt, during which we learn the four answers.