The Passover (Pesach) Seder
The Passover seder (meaning order) is probably the most celebrated and beloved of Jewish home rituals. Most Jews have cherished memories of past family times spent at a seder. It is believed that the obligation to tell the story of the Exodus was observed by Jews' ancestors ever since the actual Exodus itself. The scriptural command (Exodus 13:8) to tell the story of the exodus to our children is interpreted as a positive commandment (mitzvah).
One of the four names for Passover--and sometimes the aspect most emphasized--is Hag ha-Herut (The Feast of Freedom). Freedom is the primary theme of the seder, with numerous other recurring themes and motifs. The seder permits Jews to worship God through prayer, study, and learning by taking part in what is essentially a lesson of Jewish history, literature, and religion. Participation in the seder lets one symbolically and vicariously relive the Exodus, where past and present merge.
There are some essential elements to the seder that underlie the retelling of the Exodus. The three fundamental patterns of the seder are the family, the individual, and the nation. As a home event involving the full family as well as guests, the seder draws together all age groups. It requires the participation of the old and the young. On the individual level, the seder requires every participant to feel as though he or she personally left Egypt. The national pattern of the seder symbolizes the first step toward the final redemption from the slavery and the formation of the Jewish nation that did not exist as a nation before Exodus from Egypt.
Photo credit: Josh Jackson, nautical2k
In order to tell the story, Jews have created an ingenious work of pedagogy. The "script" for this central ritual of Passover is the Haggadah (literally, "telling"). It contains questions and answers, stories, show and tell, song, food as reward and symbol, pathos, and suspense. The creation of this script took place over hundreds of years at the beginning of the Common Era. There is evidence that parts of the seder were in a fixed format by the time of the Mishnah (second to third century CE). Midrashim were added and the current traditional version was fixed soon after.
Because every generation has managed to find its own significance in this wonderful teaching tool, there is now a plethora of Haggadotwith added stories, songs, games, and pictures, to suit every political, spiritual, and religious point of view. You can now find liberal, mystical, feminist, ecological, children's, and even atheist Haggadot.