Meditations on the Seder Plate

Lines, Circles, & Infinity.

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Reprinted with permission from Iyyun, an institute for the exploration of the deeper dimensions of Torah.

In a self-contained and rigid paradigm of cause and affect, action/reaction, freedom is merely an illusion, a deception of what truly is. Yet, as we sit down to the Seder on Passover night, we aspire and dream of freedom, genuine freedom--what existentialists would call "radical freedom"--where we choose "just because: uninfluenced and non-reactive. But is this freedom truly attainable? Is not every choice determined by a previous choice?
seder plate
In a created evolving universe, once something is set into motion, the ripple effects are interminable. Every effect can be traced to a cause, and the cause in turn is merely an effect of a previous cause. Such is the nature of a closed system, what is referred to in Kabbalistic language as "seder histalshelut--evolving order." On Passover night, however, we are given the power to tap into a space beyond "seder hishtalshelut," beyond the "order of universe" transcendent of cause/effect and access genuine freedom. Doing so affords us the ability to articulate our beyond seder (order) freedom throughout the entire seder of the coming year.

Speaking of Freedom

Before leapfrogging to beyond order we need to secure the vessels of order, as only “a filled vessel is able to receive.” Before we begin reciting the haggadah, which speaks of freedom, we ensure that we are prepared for the experience, so that later on we are able to integrate the experience of ‘beyond order’ in real time, within the workings of ‘order’ and the natural flow of life.

Let’s begin by understanding the process of seder histalshelut on a cosmic level.

Initially there was and is only "or ein sof--the endless light," absolute oneness and unity. Thus, finite creative reality as we know it, and as we understand it to be, couldn’t have merged. To create otherness and apparent separation there was a great tzimtzum--contraction and concealment of the ein sof within itself--and finite came into focus. The first otherness that took shape was "formed" as an igul--circle. The image is of a circular space in which all potential reality was contained within as one, non-individuated, and non-distinct, no beginning and no end. Within the circle a line, a kav, was formed with distinct points and an up-and-down sequential structure with a clear beginning and a definite end.

These original points are the ten sefirot, and it is through these ten screens of sefirot that the infinite light of the ein sof penetrates our reality. The distinct ‘formed,’ ‘shaped’ and ‘colored’ sefirot serve as curtains or colored containers through which the infinite colorless, formless, unified light is reflected into our world, albeit in a way that it seems differentiated and colored.  

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Rabbi DovBer Pinson

Rabbi DovBer Pinson is the Rosh Yeshiva of the IYYUN Yeshiva, a Yeshiva for adults. He is also the founder of the IYYUN Center, a center for Jewish enrichment in Brooklyn, New York, and and is the author of more than ten books on Kabbalah and spirituality.