practical Guide to the
By Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon
Translated by David Strauss
THe four cups of wine
The four cups of wine were enacted to attain two goals: a) in order to
publicize the miracle of the exodus from Egypt in a way that
symbolizes freedom; b) to recite the Haggada to the accompaniment of cups of
wine. The cup used must contain at least a revi'it (86 milliliters; the
more meticulous insist on a cup containing 150 milliliters, especially for the
first cup). Ideally, one should drink the entire cup, or a least the majority of
the cup. The wine must be drunk while reclining on the left side.
It is preferable to use wine, but if a person does not like wine, or if
it causes him a headache or drowsiness, he may drink grape juice.
According to the Ashkenazi custom, a blessing is recited over each of the
four cups. Sefardim recite a blessing only over the first and third cups.
One should hold the cup in his hand and recite the blessing with joy and
gratitude to God for the miracles that He performed for us. He should have in
mind to fulfill the mitzva of drinking the four cups of wine (and with
the first cup, also the mitzva of Kiddush). When he recites the "shehecheyanu"
blessing, he should also have in mind the other mitzvot that will be
performed that night.
(washing the hands)
One should wash his hands (in the ordinary manner, with a utensil and a
revi'it of water) without reciting a blessing, because one will
immediately afterwards eat a vegetable that had been dipped in a liquid.
Ideally, all of the participants at the seder should wash their hands.
When there are many guests and it is difficult for them all to wash, there is
room to be lenient so that only the seder leader washes his hands. If by
mistake a person recited a blessing over the washing, he should be careful to
eat at least an olive-sized portion of karpas.
A vegetable appetizer
One takes any vegetable (some are accustomed to use parsley or celery;
many are accustomed to use a potato or some other vegetable), and dips it into
salt water. One recites the "bore peri ha-adama" blessing, and eats the
The authorities disagree whether or not the karpas must be eaten
while reclining, and many are accustomed to do so, but in any case it is not
It is customary to eat less than the volume of an olive (a piece that is
smaller than the size of an ordinary matchbox), so as not to enter into a
situation of doubt whether or not to recite a blessing after the eating. If one
ate more than the volume of an olive, one should not recite a blessing after the
eating. Some are accustomed to eat more than the size of an olive; if one wishes
to follow this custom, one may do so, especially if one is hungry and it will be
otherwise difficult for him to focus on the Haggada.
Breaking the matza
The middle matza on the seder plate is broken into two
pieces. The larger piece is put aside for the afikoman, and the smaller
piece is put between the two whole matzot, and the Haggada is recited
over it, with the intention of reciting the Haggada over “bread that is fit for
a poor person,” who is accustomed to eat his bread broken and not whole.
Maggid – the Haggada
One of the central duties at the seder is telling the story of the
exodus from Egypt. Telling the story of the exodus
is a mitzva from the Torah. One is obligated to relate the story
slowly and in detail, and to include both our suffering at the hand of the
Egyptians ("We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt") and our rescue at the hand of
God ("And the Lord, our God, took us out from there"). Telling the story of the
exodus from Egypt is meant to bring the entire
family to offer thanks and praise to God, who performed these miracles for our
forefathers and for us.
One must try to personally experience the exodus from Egypt, to feel as
if he himself has just left Egypt, to be a free man who is subservient only to
God, and not to any external bondage.
The Haggada should be recited slowly, happily and respectfully, with awe
before God and immense gratitude to Him.
One must encourage one's children - through questions and other means of
stimulation – to participate in what is going on around them, and thus turn them
into a part of the story of the exodus.
Rochtza – washing before the
After completing the first part of the Haggada, one must wash one’s hands
and recite a blessing. There is a widespread custom that the head of the house
has someone else wash his hands, as a symbol of freedom (Vayaged Moshe
– Eating the matza
The mitzva to eat matza is a Torah commandment
even in our time. One should eat the matza with joy and while
reclining, and have in mind to fulfill the positive precept of eating matza.
The amount of matza that must be eaten (for the first two olive-sized
portions) is three quarters of a machine matza (if this is difficult,
there is room to be lenient and eat half a matza).
The matza that is eaten for the mitzva should be
matza shemura (guarded matza). It is commendable to eat an
olive-sized portion of hand-made shemura matza.
Ideally, one should eat his portion of matza within four minutes. It
is not necessary to time it, but one should eat it in a normal yet quick-paced
manner, without talking or occupying oneself with other matters until one
finishes eating the required amount.
One should take hold of the three matzot (with the broken one in the
middle), and recite the "ha-motzi" blessing. One should then release the
lower matza, and recite the "al akhilat matza" blessing. One
should then take an olive-sized portion of the whole matza and an
olive-sized portion of the broken one, and eat them both in a reclining
The seder leader should give out an olive-sized portion of matza
to each of the participants, or he should give out a small piece and each person
will complete the olive-sized portion on his own (or other people should have
three matzot before them).
Maror – the bitter herbs
The mitzva to eat maror was a Torah commandment when the
Paschal sacrifice was eaten. Today, it is only a Rabbinic obligation. The
maror of choice is Romaine lettuce. One should be careful that the lettuce
is free of bugs. One eats an olive-sized portion of maror without
reclining (eating in an ordinary but non-interrupted manner). One recites the
blessing over the maror, having in mind both the maror that is
eaten separately as well as the maror that will be eaten together with
the matza. The maror is dipped into the charoset, which is
then shaken off.
Korekh – the
After eating the matza separately and the maror separately
(thus fulfilling one's obligation according to the Sages), one eats matza
and maror together, in keeping with the custom instituted by Hillel, who
would eat them in this manner during the time of the Temple.
One takes an olive-sized piece of matza (half of a machine
matza, and if necessary a third of a matza suffices) from the
third matza (the lower matza which has not yet been used for
any mitzva), and then breaks it into two, and puts a piece of lettuce
between them (a small to medium piece, 28 cubic centimeters, or even 19 or 17
cubic centimeters when necessary). [The reason we use half a machine matza here
and three quarters earlier is because eating the earlier matza fulfills a
biblical commandment, and here we are recalling Hillel’s custom.] Before placing
the lettuce between the two pieces of matza, one dips it into charoset.
Some are accustomed to shake off the charoset; others are accustomed to
Before eating the matza and maror, it is customary to
recite: "Thus did
Hillel do at the time of the
recite this after the eating, based on the Bi'ur Halakha, but the common
practice is to recite it before the eating).
The "sandwich" should be eaten without interruption and while reclining
(if one did not recline, one has nevertheless fulfilled one’s obligation), and
ideally one should not speak (talk that is unrelated to the meal) from the time
one recites the "ha-motzi" blessing until after one finishes eating the
– The meal
The meal is eaten in a spirit of sincere gratitude. It is eaten in the
middle of Hallel, and it is like a meal of thanksgiving. One should take
care that this is the tone of the meal – a meal marked by sanctity, Torah
discussions and telling the story of the exodus from
Egypt. In this meal one should not eat roasted
meat, but one is permitted to eat meat that was prepared in the oven with gravy.
Many have the custom to begin the meal with eggs (and many dip them into
salt-water), as a reminder of the destruction of the Temple
(eggs are a sign of mourning) or as a reminder of the Chagiga offering in
the Temple. One should not
overeat, so as not to feel aversion to eating the afikoman.
Tzafun – eating the Afikoman
At the end of the meal, one eats the matza
that had been set aside for the afikoman, while reclining. Ideally, this
matza should also be matza shemura. If possible, one should eat an
olive-sized portion, and those who are meticulous eat two olive-sized portions
(one as a reminder of the Paschal sacrifice and the other as a reminder of the
matza that was eaten along with that offering). Therefore, if possible,
one should eat three quarters of a machine matza (about 50 cubic
centimeters), but if this is difficult, one can eat half a matza (30
cubic centimeters) or even a third of a matza (about 19 cubic
One should try to eat the afikoman by halakhic midnight.
One should not eat anything after the afikoman, but one may drink
water or other light (non-alcoholic) beverages, such as weak tea or coffee, so
as not to counteract the taste of the matza.
Barekh – Grace after the Meal
Each of the participants pours a cup of wine for Birkat ha-Mazon,
which is the third cup. The one who recites the zimmun raises his cup
(the others need not do so, though there is a custom that the others grasp their
cups without raising them). It is customary that at the seder the head of
the household recites the zimmun (but if he wishes to honor someone else,
he may do so). It is preferable that there be three people at this meal and for
zimmun, so that Hallel can be recited afterwards in the best
possible manner (one person saying "Hodu," and the other two responding
to him). It is customary that at the seder someone else fills the cup of
the person reciting the zimmun, as a symbol of freedom. One does not
recline while reciting Birkat ha-Mazon. Birkat ha-Mazon should be
recited with joy and gratitude to God for all the good that He has bestowed upon
Two chapters of Hallel were already recited before the meal. Now we
continue to say Hallel (without a blessing). Hallel is a central
component of the evening, to thank and praise God for all the miracles that He
performed for us. The sections of "Hodu" and "Ana" are recited
responsively, one person saying: "Hodu," and the others answering in
kind, and similarly with the other verses (as is the practice with the Hallel
recited in the synagogue). It is recommended that these verses be sung.
Reclining on the night of the seder symbolizes freedom, the
freedom gained upon our exodus from Egypt. The objective
of this freedom is that we should remember that a man is free when he makes
himself subservient to God. One must recline to the left when eating matza,
drinking the four cups, and eating the afikoman. It is recommended that
one use a pillow for added comfort and to enable one to recline in the manner of
freedom. If there is no pillow, one can recline on one's left side or on another
person. One should also recline for korekh, but not when eating maror,
because maror symbolizes bondage and not freedom. (For karpas, one
is permitted to recline, but one need not do so.) If one did not recline, one
must repeat the first eating of matza, the drinking of the second cup
(and Sefardim must repeat all four cups) and the eating of the afikoman
(if this is not too difficult, and one remembered before Birkat ha-Mazon).
Ashkenazi women are not obligated to recline, but they are permitted to do so
(and it is praiseworthy if they do). Sefardi women are accustomed to recline.