The Meaning of the Seder (Part 3)

After the meal until the end

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This article highlights certain elements of the seder that occur after the meal. Among the items omitted here are the songs that take place at the very end of the seder. Reprinted with permission from A Different Night: The Family Participation Haggadah published by the Shalom Hartman Institute.

Afikoman: The Hidden Matzah

Pesach is a holiday celebrating our reunion with the lost parts of ourselves. Often, hiding and separation are essential stages in our life. In the Biblical story of the Exodus, both Moshe [Moses] and God played "hide-and-go-seek." Moshe was hidden for three months from Pharaoh until he was adopted by Pharaoh's daughter. Then the grown Moshe went out to seek his brothers.

The divine face too was hidden for hundreds of years of servitude until God's revelation to Moshe at the burning bush. Initially Moshe hid his face, but eventually he helped all Israel to encounter God face to face at Mount Sinai. On seder night, we hide and then seek the afikoman, reuniting the two parts separated at the beginning of the seder. May we learn to discover the lost parts of ourselves, to become reconciled with relatives who have become distant and to find wholeness in a Jewish tradition from which we have become alienated.

Elijah's Cup

Now the seder focuses on the hope for the future redemption symbolized by Elijah the Prophet, bearer of good news.

In Egypt, the doors of the house were shut tight on the night of the tenth plague. Blood marked the lintels of the doorposts where we now place the mezuzah. However, in the contemporary seder the doors are opened wide in expectation. This is no longer a night of terror but the dawn of hope. It is, as the Torah calls it, a Night of Watching in expectation of great changes for the better.

The Hassidic rebbe Naftali Tzvi Horowitz (died 1817) used to invite all the participants of the seder--in order of their place at the table--to pour from their personal cups into Elijah's cup. This symbolizes the need for everyone to make their own personal contribution to awaken the divine forces of redemption by beginning with human efforts (hee-to-ra-ruat dee-l'ta-ta) [Aramaic for "the awakening from below"].

In some families, each participant helps to fill Elijah's cup of future redemption while expressing a particular wish for a better year.

Pour Out Your Wrath

As the seder comes to an end, not only do we recall the moment of the liberation from Egypt, but we also pray for redemption from our contemporary persecutors.

Hallel--Part 2

The Pesach seder is divided into two parts by the meal itself. In fact, Hallel (Psalms 113-118) itself is split. While the first half of the seder and of the Hallel (Psalms 113-114) is dedicated to the past, to historical memory of the redemption from Egypt, the second half looks forward to the future and ends with the wish "Next year in Jerusalem!" Messianic hope inspires the singing from now through the completion of the seder. Our mood is joyful anticipation of a better world.

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Noam Zion

Noam Zion is the Director of Shalom Hartman Institute's Resource Center for Jewish Continuity. He specializes in teaching Jewish Holidays, Bible and Art, and has edited several educational books for the Shalom Hartman Institute.

David Dishon

David Dishon has been with the Shalom Hartman Institute since 1978 and founded their Torani High School for Boys, where he currently teaches.