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As each mitzvah is performed at the Seder, it is imperative to be conscious of it. In fact, according to many opinions, a mitzvah that was performed thoughtlessly does not fulfill the requirement!1 To that end, it is helpful to pause before each Seder Step to think about the mitzvah that is about to be fulfilled. This will go a long way in assuring that the mitzvos are performed properly, as well as adding more purpose to the Seder.
Let’s review the unique mitzvos that we will be performing – two are Midioraisa (Biblical), and three are Midirabbanan (Rabbinic). The Torah mitzvos are eating matzah and Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim (recounting the Exodus from Egypt). The mitzvos Midirabbanan include drinking four cups of wine, eating marror, and reciting Hallel.
To fulfill this mitzvah at the Seder, it is not enough to use “kosher for Passover” matzah! Rather, it is necessary that the matzah is also shemurah (protected). From its earliest stages of production, shemurah matzah is proactively shielded from water with the purpose of using it for the Seder.4 Shemurah matzah is identified as such somewhere on its packaging.
Matzah that contains any liquid other than water is not the matzah that the Torah commands us to eat.5 In fact, Ashkenazic custom forbids a healthy person from eating this type of matzah on Pesach.6 If one is too weak to eat regular matzah, a rabbi should be consulted to see if egg matzah is an appropriate option.
Sometimes it is unclear how measurements in halacha convert into modern day quantities, and a classic example of this is the volume of matzah that must be eaten at the Seder. Nonetheless, the generally accepted volume is 1/2 of a hand matzah and 2/3 of a standard machine matzah. This volume should be eaten at both the Motzi Matzah step as well as for the Afikomen. The full volume of matzah is to be chewed in a normal, continuous manner within nine minutes, and if possible, within two minutes. 7 Those who have difficulty eating due to age or illness should also consult a Rabbi for any relevant leniencies.8*
The Seder-step of Maggid is when we fulfill the Torah obligation of recounting Yetziyas Mitzrayim. The narrative begins with the ignoble origins of our nation and describes our slavery in Mitzrayim, Hashem’s retribution to the Mitzrim (Egyptians), and His miraculous deliverance, which culminated in giving us the Torah. The haggadah text is not an “end all”! It is to be used as a springboard for further discussion of Yetzias Mitzrayim.
If the entire Maggid text is too difficult to read or be present for,9 three paragraphs near the end entitled “Rabban Gamliel Haya Omer”, “Rabbi Gamliel would say” are the minimum requirement to be read or heard.10 Second to this in importance are the Ten Makkos (plagues).11 To that end, it is a good idea to translate these paragraphs in case someone present does not understand them.
Marror reminds us of the bitter affliction we experienced in Mitzrayim.12 Today, the obligation to eat marror is Rabbinic, since the Torah commandment applies only when it can be eaten together with the Korban Pesach.13 Two types of marror are commonly used – romaine lettuce and freshly ground horseradish. Of these, romaine lettuce is the ideal halachic choice.14
Note that romaine lettuce often harbors tiny insects. Since eating an insect is a Torah prohibition,15 the lettuce must be inspected before it can be eaten. These insects are not readily apparent, so see page xx of this Pesach Guide or search at www.ASKcRc.org for guidance.
Packaged romaine lettuce is also often available with a reliable kosher certification. If horseradish is used, it must be ground into small pieces and eaten raw. Jarred or cooked horseradish does not fulfill the obligation.16
Marror is eaten during two of the Seder Steps: Marror and Korech.
For the Marror step, the necessary volume is slightly more than one fluid ounce.17 Grated horseradish can be measured quite easily; the volume of romaine leaves is slightly larger than one large leaf18 (approximately the surface area of 8 x 10 inches).19
For the Korech step, it is sufficient to use 0.7 fluid ounces of horseradish, but the romaine lettuce should be the same as above.20
For both Marror and Korech, the full volume of marror is to be chewed in a normal, continuous manner21 within nine minutes, and if possible, within two minutes.22 Those who have difficulty eating due to age or illness should also consult a Rabbi for any relevant leniencies.*
Charoses is a mixture of ground fruit, nuts, and red wine.23 Before marror is eaten, it is dipped into charoses. The charoses is then shaken off to preserve the marror’s taste.24 (An explanation for this procedure can be found in the commentary of most haggadahs.)
Charoses should have a thick, mortar-like consistency, 25 and its ingredients are selected from the fruits and nuts that the Jewish People are compared to. These include apples, figs, dates, pomegranates, walnuts, and almonds.26 Some have the custom to add cinnamon and/or ginger in their unground form.27 At the Seder, additional wine is added just before the marror is dipped into it.28
We are obligated to drink four cups of wine during the Seder which commemorate the four levels of redemption29 that Hashem provided for us.30 It is a mitzvah to use a beautiful cup,31 and if
at all possible, it should not be a disposable one.32 As a display of nobility, the leader of the Seder does not fill his/her own cup,33 and many homes apply this tradition to all in attendance. The cup is filled to the top for each time it is consumed.34
The cups must be drunk at the designated intervals of the Seder. One who is unable to remain present throughout the Seder must still recite or listen to the necessary haggadah texts in between each cup.35
Two measurements need to be considered: the cup volume, and the consumption volume. The cup volume generally must be a minimum of 2.9 fluid ounces.36
[Note that if the first Seder night is Friday night, the obligation to recite kiddush is from the Torah and for the first cup, the minimum volume is approximately 4.5 oz. fluid ounces.37]
As far as the consumption volume, the basic obligation for the first three cups is 1.5 fluid ounces.38 If this is too difficult, one should consult a Rabbi.39* Ideally however, either 2.9 fluid ounces or the majority of the cup – whichever of the two is greater – should be consumed if possible.40 (For this reason, it is wise to use a small cup so that drinking the majority of the cup is a small amount.41)
For the fourth cup, the minimum consumption amount of 2.9 fluid ounces should always be consumed.42 In all instances, the wine is to be consumed in a normal, continuous manner without interruption.
|First Three Cups||Fourth Cup|
|Minimum Cup Volume||Approximately 3 ounces [In years when the Seder is on Friday night, the 1st cup should be approximately 4.5 oz.]||
Approximately 3 ounces
|Basic Consumption Volume||1.5 fluid ounces||Approximately 3 ounces|
|Ideal Consumption Volume||Approximately 3 ounces, or the majority of the cup – whichever of the two is greater|
Red wine is the ideal beverage for the Four Cups, unless the available white wine is of better quality.43 If necessary, the wine may be diluted with grape juice or a very small percentage of water;44 even using wine for a portion of the four cups is virtuous. If wine is not an option, grape juice is also acceptable.45 If necessary, the grape juice may also be diluted with a very small percentage of water.46 If neither wine nor grape juice are feasible, speak to a Rabbi for further possible leniencies.47*
More ideal…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………Less ideal
|White Wine||Wine diluted with Grape Juice||Wine diluted with a small amount of water||Grape Juice||Grape Juice diluted with a small amount of water|
When children are old enough to comprehend a mitzvah’s concept (usually at age five or six.49), their parents are obligated to train them in its performance,48 and on the Seder night, there is a particular mitzvah for parents to teach their children about Yetzias Mitzrayim (Shemos 13:8). Corresponding to their age and ability, they are to be encouraged (never forced!) to consume the required
amount of foods and recite the necessary haggadah texts.
The Seder may not begin before nightfall50 which is 8:02 PM in the greater Chicago area in 2023. In addition, eating matzah and marror must be completed before the middle of the night51 – 12:53 AM in the greater Chicago area in 2023.
Ideally, the entire Seder through Hallel should be concluded by this time as well.52
During the Seder, we eat while reclining on pillows and cushions.
This is the manner of free, aristocratic people, and it commemorates the freedom that Hashem provided for us on this night.53 Women do not have to recline (even if they are leading the Seder),54 but they should at least be in a seated position when eating foods that would require reclining.55 Reclining is specifically towards the left side56 (and left-handed people recline in this direction as well57).
One who is in the presence of his or her Torah teacher reclines only if the teacher has given specific permission,58 and one who is within the mourning period for a close relative reclines in a subdued manner.59
*See also the Dietary Needs article in our cRc Pesach Guide 2023