Meditations on the Seder Plate

Lines, Circles, & Infinity.

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Sefirot Order

The order of the sefirot are as follows:

First there are the three intellectual sefirot; chochmah (intuition and wisdom), binah (cognition and reason), and da’at (knowledge and awareness).

Next are the three primary ‘internal emotions’; on the right expansive column is hesed (love and giving). On the left restrictive column is gevurah (strength and restraint). In the middle is their synthesis, tiferet (compassion and harmony). --The idea of the ‘giver’ giving with a sensitivity of how much the ‘receiver’ could and needs to receive.

The ‘outer’ emotions are also divided into three: on the right expansive column is netzah (confidence and perseverance). On the left column is hod (humility and devotion), and in the middle is the unifying agent, connecting the ‘giver’ and the ‘receiver,’ the idea of yesod (relationship and intimacy).

Malchut (kingship) is receptiveness, as it represents the vessel that receives from the preceding nine sefirot and re-channels the energies downward, thus becoming the ‘crown’ for the subsequent partzuf (structure of sefirot).

Mimicking the cosmic unfolding of seder histalshelut, we first take hold of an igul (circle), as in a round seder plate, and begin by placing three matzot one on top of the next. The three matzot represent the three intellectual sefirot: chochmah, binah and da’at, as the consumption of wheat is connected with our intellectual and discerning development. In the words of the Talmud, “a child does not know how to call ‘father’ and ‘mother’ until it has had a taste of wheat.”

Next we arrange six items of food in two upside-down triangles, the triangles reflecting internal and outer emotions respectively. Collectively these six items represent six points of light, the six emotional sefirot. 

Shankbones, Eggs, and Vegetables

On the upper right side of the plate the zeroah (shank bone) is arranged. The Hebrew word zeroah reminds us of the zeroah netuya (the outstretched arm), the divine hesed (loving kindness) that was shown to us, that brought us our salvation. On the opposite side, on the upper left column we place the beitza (egg). The egg is a traditional food of mourning, as the oval shape represents the circle of life with its ups and downs.

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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.