Seder plate (Shutterstock) (Shutterstock)
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Rabbi Ari Enkin

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, rabbinic director, United with Israel

There are five mitzvot (commandments, or obligations) that every Jew must perform at the Seder. Two are biblical in origin, and three are mandated by the rabbis.

The first biblical mitzvah is simply to relate the story of the exodus from Egyptian captivity as is recorded in the Haggadah. This mitzva is based on the verse “And you shall relate it [the story of the exodus] on that day.” Even a person who is alone for the Seder would still be obligated to recite the Haggada audibly to his or herself. Although it is ideal of course, to read and sing the entire Haggada, one must be sure at the very least to recite the portion of the Haggadah that begins with the words “Rabban Gamliel used to say.”

The second biblical mitzva is to eat matzah at the point in the Haggada known as motzi matza, as it says in the Torah: “In the evening you shall eat unleavened bread.” The minimum amount of matza that one must eat at this point is 1.33 ounces. There are other points in the Seder where one will be prompted to eat more matza, but it is at this time that one discharges the actual mitzvah.

The first rabbinical mitzva is the obligation to drink four cups of wine at specially ordained points in the Haggada. These four cups of wine represent the four different expressions used by the Torah to portray our redemption. All wine glasses should ideally hold at least 3.3 ounces. While it is preferable to drink the entire cup, it suffices to merely drink a majority of the cup. Using white wine at the Seder is acceptable, but red wine is to be preferred.

maror

Bitter herbs, or “maror”

Eating bitter herbs at the Seder is another rabbinical and slightly enigmatic mitzvah in terms of what is acceptable to be used as maror. Many people mistakenly use the commercial white or red horseradish that comes in a jar for this purpose. While eating this form of horseradish is truly a grueling and bitter experience, one actually does not fulfill the mitzva at all with these products because a) they are not 100% pure horseradish, often including beets and sugar and b) the ingredients in these jarred horseradishes include preservatives and the like.

The mitzvah of bitter herbs may only be fulfilled with raw vegetables, nothing processed or preserved. One should ideally use carefully washed, insect-free romaine lettuce, despite its not being particularly bitter, as the Talmud seems to prefer it from among the other acceptable species of maror. Some rabbis were known to use even the sweetish iceberg lettuce for maror. One may, of course, use the raw horseradish root as well, for a truly bitter experience. Here too, one must eat a minimum of 1.33 ounces of maror when prompted in the Haggadah.

The third rabbinical mitzva we must be sure to fulfill during the Seder is the singing of the Hallel prayer (songs of praise). In what is a break in common practice, the Hallel is divided up, with some of it being recited before the meal, and the rest after the meal. These special prayers focus on praise and thanksgiving to God for having taken us out of Egypt.

There you have it. Make sure on Pesach to “remember the five and ensure your Seder is alive.” A Seder that is experienced and fulfilled in its traditional way will truly allow us to feel the Talmudic outlook that “every person is obligated to see himself as having personally left Egypt.”

Happy Passover from Israel!

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