The Union Haggadah, ed. by The Central Council of American Rabbis , at sacred-texts.com
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The Seder service is marked with special concern for the children. A striking contrast is offered between the ceremonies of this service of the Passover Eve and the conduct of the usual meal, so that the child is sure to ask for an explanation, and thus to give the coveted opportunity to tell the story of Israel's deliverance, and to impress the lesson of faith in Cod, the Defender of right and the Deliverer of the oppressed. These symbols aim to put us in sympathy with our forefathers of the generation of the Exodus; to feel the trials of their embittered life of bondage and the joy of their subsequent triumph of freedom.
Wine. As in all Jewish ceremonials of rejoicing, such as the welcoming of the Sabbath and the festivals, the solemnizing of marriages, and the naming of a child, so at the Seder, wine is used as a token of festivity. Mead, apple-cider, any fruit juice, or especially unfermented raisin wine, is commonly used at the Seder service.
The Four Cups. Each participant in the service is expected to drink four cups of wine. Even the poorest of the poor who subsist on charity were enjoined to provide themselves with wine for the four cups. This number is determined by the four divine promises of redemption made to Israel in Exodus VI: 6-7: Vhotzesi, Vhitzalti, Vgoalti and Vlokaḥti, that is, bringing out of bondage, deliverance from servitude, redemption from all dependence in Egypt, and selection as " the people of the Lord". The first cup serves for Kiddush as on other holy days and on Sabbath; the second is taken at the conclusion of the first part of the Seder; the third follows the grace after the meal, and the last comes at the end of the second part of the Seder.
The Cup of Elijah. The fifth promise of God (Vhevesi) to bring Israel into Canaan, which follows the four promises of redemption, gave rise to the question of the need of a fifth cup of wine in the Seder. Popular belief left the decision of all mooted questions of law and ritual to the prophet Elijah, the central hero of Jewish legend. The popular mind believed this great champion of righteousness and of pure worship of God to be immortal, and viewed him as the coming forerunner of the Messiah, whose task it will beamong other thingsto announce the good tidings of peace and salvation, to effect a union of hearts between parents and their children, to comfort the sorrowing, to raise the dead, and to establish the divine kingdom of righteousness on earth.
The fifth cup, the need of which was left to his decision, came to be known as the Cup of Elijah; and gave rise to the custom of opening the door during the Seder service, that the long expected messenger of the final redemption of mankind from all oppression might enter the home as a most welcome guest. Our fathers were thus helped, in times of darkness and persecution, to keep in mind the Messianic era of freedom, justice, and good-will. Stripped of its legendary form, it is still the hope for the realization of which Israel ever yearns and strives.
Matzo. The unleavened bread or the bread of affliction reminds us of the hardships that our fathers endured in Egypt, and of the haste with which they departed thence. Having no time to bake their bread, they had to rely for food upon sun-baked dough which they carried with them.
Watercress or Parsley. Either of these greens is suggestive of the customary oriental relish
and is used as a token of gratitude to God for the products of the earth. The purpose of dipping it in salt water or vinegar is to make it palatable.
Moror. The bitter herba piece of horseradishrepresents the embittered life of the Israelites in Egypt.
Ḥaroses. This mixture of apples, blanched almonds, and raisins, finely chopped and flavored with cinnamon and wine, was probably originally a condiment. Owing to its appearance, it came to be regarded as representing the clay with which the Israelites made bricks, or the mortar used in the great structures erected by the bondmen of Egypt.
The Roasted Shank-Bone is an emblem of the Paschal lamb.
The Egg (roasted) is the symbol of the free-will burnt-offering brought on every day of the feast, during the existence of the Temple in Jerusalem.
Aphikomon. Aphikomon is derived from the Greek, meaning after-meal or dessert. The origin of this custom must be traced to the Paschal lamb which was eaten on Passover night. It was customary to reserve a small portion of the lamb to be eaten at the close of the meal. When sacrifices had ceased, a piece of the matzo was eaten instead. The Aphikomon, hidden early in the Seder, is left to the end of the meal, in order that the children may be kept alert during the entire service. In connection with this, a sort of game of paying forfeits originated. The head of the family good-naturedly takes no note of the spiriting away of the aphikomon by the children, who do not surrender it until the master of the house is forced to redeem it by some gift, in order that the meal may be concluded.