“The order of the Pesach service is now completed in accordance with all its laws, its ordinances and statues. Just as we were found worthy to perform it [this year], so may we be worthy to do it in the future. O Pure One, Who dwells on high, raise up the congregation which is without number. Soon, and with rejoicing, lead the offshoots of the stock that you have planted, redeemed, to Zion.”

Concluding Prayer of the Seder

The Hasidic Master, Avraham of Slonim, teaches that the order of the Pesach Seder is the order of the whole year. [1] The Seder, which means “order” in Hebrew, provides us with guidelines for our spiritual life. It lays out the roadmap by which we can move from slavery to freedom.


There are fifteen steps to the Seder, which the tradition compares to the fifteen steps that the Levites ascended in the Temple and for which King David composed the fifteen Psalms of Ascension. The Seder, then, is a process of spiritual ascension that leads us into the House of the Lord.

Kaddesh (sanctify): We begin with kaddesh – a desire to sanctify ourselves. This is the starting point of our spiritual journey. Unless we have a yearning to sanctify our lives all our efforts will be in vain. From this desire for sanctification all the other aspects of the spiritual life evolve.

U’rechatz (wash): Once the longing for holiness arises within us, we see ourselves and our lives with different eyes. We begin to perceive the limitations of our personality existence. We realize that our lives are meaningless and without direction. We recognize how selfish and material we are. This awakens in us a desire to purify our lives, to wash ourselves clean of all the dross.

Rebbe Avraham points out that the Seder process contains two levels of cleansing – a lower and a higher cleansing: u’rechatz, which is done without reciting a blessing, and rachtzah (washing), where a blessing is recited after washing the hands.

U’rechatz is the ordinary level of purity: to live a moral upright life, to show love to family and friends, to bring God into our daily existence.

Rachtzah is a deeper level of purity where we bring God into every act and experience. We strive to feel the Divine Presence at every moment. We aim to live in the consciousness of holiness. We make God the center of our lives.

These two levels of purification, Rebbe Avraham explains, will lead us to two different levels of eating, two separate qualities of spiritual nourishment – two distinctive states of consciousness.

U’rechatz leads to karpas (simple greens). On this level, the food that we receive is mochin dekatnut, sustenance for the lower mind. We have a general sense of security, faith and meaning. We feel we are leading a good life. We dwell in a state of consciousness where we are both with God and with the world.

Rachtzah leads to Motzei (blessing over bread) and Matzah (unleavened bread): Matzah is compared to the manna that the Israelites ate in the desert. The Torah tells us that the manna fell with the dew and had to be collected before it was melted by the sun. It was food of a very refined, barely tangible nature. Manna was called “food for the angels.”

According to the Baal Shem Tov, the manna was God’s vehicle to prepare the Children of Israel for life on a higher spiritual level. In this sanctified life, the focus of eating is the Divine livingness in the food and not the outer physical form. [2] The manna was the Israelites’ training in seeing the spark of God that is in every living thing.

Matzah, then, represents the ability to recognize the Divinity in everyone, to see their beauty, instead of their imperfections; to emphasize their strengths and not their weaknesses. To perceive the Divinity in every human being means to feel love for all, because we know that we and they are one. This is the blessing of mochin degadlut, the higher more expansive awareness of matzah, the universal vision of God.

The truth is that most of us remain at the way-station of karpas. We live upright but materially-orientated lives, where we bring God in, whenever we can. We are content with this type of existence and will happily continue on this path for many gilgulim or incarnations. It takes a dramatic and unexpected event to move us beyond this point, to motivate us to make the leap from karpas to motzei matzah.

There are three stages between u’rechatzkarpas and rachtzahmotzei matzah in the Pesach Seder. Each stage is symbolic of a different aspect of the transition from karpas to matzah – a stop along the route that ascends from the lower to the higher path.

The first of the three stops is Yachatz (dividing the matzah). In Yachatz, we break the middle matzah in two and put aside the larger half for later. At this juncture, our life is still divided between God and the world. But now we are no longer contented with life as it is; we have begun to want something more.

We make a decision to try and make the spiritual life a priority. We strive to give the greater part of ourselves to God. We achieve some halting progress, moving several steps forward and then falling back again, until God intervenes and takes over the process, suddenly catapulting us ahead onto the higher path.

This sudden change can occur in one of two fashions. The next two phases of the Seder symbolize the two potent catalysts that create this inner transformation.

Maggid (recounting): The custom of making a Pesach Seder arises out of the fact that God commanded us in the Torah to gather together with our family and friends on the first night of Pesach and tell the story of the Exodus. Even if we are wise and learned, even if we already know the story by heart, we are still commanded to recount the events of our redemption from Egypt.

According to Rebbe Avraham, the reason for this commandment is that a holy gathering has the power to transform our consciousness and deepen our faith. Talking about God, talking about His miracles and the power of His glory, brings God closer. It awakens a longing to live a life of purity and holiness within us. And the more we speak about God, the more love and awe we feel for Him or Her, and the more we yearn to be in His or Her Presence.

Spending time in the company of other seekers helps to raise our own state of consciousness. As we pass the hours in spiritual conversation, a special sanctified atmosphere begins to build up. Absorbing the rarified energy of this holy environment, our mind is lifted onto an exalted plane.

Maror (bitter herbs): The other catalyst that propels us toward the higher spiritual life is suffering. Suffering forces us to look for answers to the great questions of life. It compels us to search for meaning and purpose. Suffering leads us to seek out God. It sets us on the path of higher purification and awareness.

Having completed the ascension from the lower path of u’rechatz-karpas to the higher life of rachtzah – motzei matzah, we arrive at the next way station along our journey: shulchan aruch (the spread table or festive meal).

Once we have embraced the spiritual life wholeheartedly, God begins to bestow His blessings on us. We eat at the Divine banquet. We taste of the delights in the Kingdom of Heaven. We experience the sweetness of the Spiritual Realm.

Before we can eat at the banquet, however, there is one intermediary step that we need to take: korech (sandwich). Following the custom of Rabbi Hillel, we take matzah, maror and the meat of the Passover offering and make them into a sandwich in order to fulfill the Divine command, “They shall eat it [the Passover sacrifice] with unleavened bread [matzah] and bitter herbs [maror].”[3]

Before we sit down at the festive table, we need to take a few moments to integrate all that we have gone though in our spiritual process. We need to join our knowledge of suffering (maror), with the higher consciousness of seeing the Divine in all (matzah), and the willingness to make sacrifices for others (pesach). Then we are ready to participate in God’s feast.

When shulchan aruch is completed, we reach the marker of tzafun (hidden). After tasting of God’s blessings, we are ever more deeply drawn into the inner life. Our energies are increasingly focused on the hidden reality of spiritual experience. We now want nothing else but a life in God.[4]

Barech (blessing) and hallel (praising) are the signposts that we are nearing the end of our quest. Once we have experienced the beauty, love and power of the Divine Presence our only desire is to bless and praise our Beloved. The Hasidic Master, Shlomo of Radamsk, explains that this why Moses and the Children of Israel broke out into spontaneous song after they crossed the Red Sea. The Divine revelation that they experienced at the Sea was so powerful that all they wanted to do is sing and praise God. As the Midrash tells us, “a handmaid saw at the Red Sea, what even [the great prophet] Ezekiel, son of Buzi, did not see.”[5]

The Seder culminates at its ultimate destination: Nirtzah (accepted). We are accepted into the House of the Lord. We are taken into His Divine service. We dwell ever in the light of the sacred Divine Presence. We become His perfected instruments to help others along the path “from slavery to freedom, from sorrow to joy, from mourning to festivity, from darkness to great light, and from bondage to redemption. Therefore, let us sing a new song before Him. Hallelujah!”[6]

Copyright © 2011, by Yoel Glick

 


 


Acknowledgements    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Avraham of Slonim, Beit Avraham: section on Pesach.
  2. Baal Shem Tov, Keter Shem Tov, p. 18B, quoted in Shub, Baal Shem Tov al haTorah, Torah portion Ekev # 2
  3. Today we do not eat the Pesach sacrifice, but we do make a sandwich of matzah, maror and charoset.
  4. During the stage of tzafun, we eat the affikomen, the part of the matzah that we put aside earlier. The affikomen is supposed to be the last item that we eat at the Seder, to keep the “taste of matzah” in our consciousness.
  5. Mechilta Exodus 13
  6. from the text that is recited with our glasses raised before the second cup of wine at the Seder.

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