The Seder: Our Birthday Celebration!

Dear Friends,


As we discussed previously, we were born as a people through the Exodus from Egypt. The Passover Seder can therefore be viewed as our “birthday” celebration. And through the teachings, stories, rituals, and songs which are found in the Passover Haggadah, we re-live the Exodus. In this spirit, the Haggadah states, “In every generation, one is obligated to view himself as though he himself had actually gone out of Egypt.”


The Seder, however, is divided into two parts – one before the meal and one after the meal. The theme of the first half of the Seder is the birth of our people during the Exodus, and the theme of the second half of the Seder is the future rebirth of our people and all the peoples of the earth. For example, during the first half of the Seder, we chant, “We were once slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Compassionate One, our God, brought us out from there.” And in the second half of the Seder, we chant the following verse which refers to the messianic age: “Praise the Compassionate One, all nations; extol Him, all the peoples!” (Psalm 117:1).


The very first passage that we read after the meal, however, indicates that the future universal redemption and rebirth will be preceded by the downfall of certain corrupt and evil "goyim" - a biblical term for nations. This passage opens with the following words:


"Pour out Your wrath towards the goyim that do not know You and on the kingdoms that have not proclaimed Your Name. (Psalm 79:6)


Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that in biblical Hebrew, the term "goy" refers to the outer structure or body of a nation, while the term “am” refers to the people themselves. The reference to the destruction of evil "goyim" in the above verse is therefore referring to the destruction of evil national structures, but not to the destruction of peoples. (Commentary to Psalms 10:16, 67:5.)


What does the above verse mean when it refers to goyim "that do not know you"? An answer can be found in a passage from the Book of Jeremiah which explains what it means to know Hashem - the Compassionate One:


"Only with this may one take pride - contemplating and knowing Me, that I am the Compassionate One Who does lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth, for in these is My desire, spoke the Compassionate One." (Jeremiah 9:23)


The goyim that don't know the Compassionate One are those that refuse to emulate the Compassionate One by doing "lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth." A similar teaching is found in another Divine message: "If one does justice to the poor and destitute, then it is good; this is what it means to know Me, spoke the Compassionate One" (Jeremiah 22:16).


The above passage from the Haggadah also calls for an end to "the kingdoms that have not proclaimed Your Name." The kingdoms who failed to proclaim the compassionate Divine Name are those who failed to emulate the compassionate Divine ways.


After we read in the Haggadah the above passage referring to the downfall of evil powers, we begin to chant biblical passages which refer to the redemption of Israel and all humanity. The Vilna Gaon, a leading 18th century sage, explains that the reason the passage referring to the downfall of the evil powers precedes the passages referring to the future redemption is because the power of the wicked must be destroyed before the power of the righteous can arise. In this spirit, the Compassionate One proclaims, "I shall cut down the pride of the wicked, so that the pride of the righteous will be exalted" (Psalm 75:11.)


There is hope for the wicked, however, if they change their ways, as the Talmud cites the following teaching in the name of Rabbi Judah, the Prince: Biblical prophecies regarding the destruction of evil states or groups only apply to those that stubbornly refuse to return to the Compassionate One and persist in their evil ways (Talmud, Avodah Zarah 10b). 


There is a custom to begin the second part of the Seder by opening the door of our home for "Eliyahu Hanavi" - Elijah the Prophet. A reason for this custom can be found in the ancient prophecy which is read on the Shabbos before Passover. This prophecy reveals that the Compassionate One will send Eliyahu Hanavi just before the future rebirth, as it is written: "Behold, I will send you Eliyahu Hanavi before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Compassionate One" (Malachi 3:23). Since the second part of the Seder is dedicated to the future rebirth, we begin by welcoming Eliyahu Hanavi - the "forerunner" of the future rebirth.


During the second half of the Seder we chant: "Please, O Compassionate One, grant new life; please O Compassionate One, grant success" (Psalm 118:15). According to the classical biblical commentator, Radak, this is a prayer that Israel will say on behalf of the pilgrims from all the peoples who will come to the Temple at the dawn of the messianic age. Through these words, states Radak, we are praying for new life and success "for all who come to take shelter in Your shade and who return to Your service." Following this prayer, we chant:


"Blessed is the One Who comes in the Name of the Compassionate One; we bless you from the House of the Compassionate One" (Psalm 118:26).


According to Radak, the above blessing will be said by the "Kohanim" - the Ministers of the Temple - to the pilgrims from all the peoples. Radak explains that the Kohanim are blessing them in the Name of the Compassionate One Who gave Israel the light of redemption; moreover, the Kohanim are inviting them to join Israel in the service of the Compassionate One.


And we conclude the Seder with the proclamation: "Next Year in Jerusalem!" This refers to the era when, "Many peoples and mighty nations will come to seek out the Compassionate One in Jerusalem" (Zechariah 8:22).


May we be blessed with a happy, healthy, and kosher Passover.

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)


Related Teachings and Comments:


1. Towards the beginning of the Seder, we break the middle of the three whole matzohs, and hide the bigger piece, which is called the Afikomen. We eat the Afikomen at the end of the meal, before starting the second half of the Seder. The Chasam Sofer, a leading sage of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, offers the following explanation for this custom: “At the start of the Seder, we split the matzah in two to indicate that the Seder has two parts – one about the redemption from Egypt and one about the redemption to come – the final and ultimate redemption.” (Pardes Moshe - Cited in the Taleli Oros Haggadah )


2. The Afikomen – the piece of matzoh which is temporarily hidden – represents the future redemption. A leading Chassidic sage know as the “Sefas Emes” explains that the hiding of the Afikomen symbolizes that the Exodus was only the beginning of the process of redemption, as the final and ultimate stage of the redemption – the messianic age - is still hidden. This is why we eat the Afikomen before starting the second part of the Seder, which is dedicated to the future redemption. And the reason the Afikomen is the last food of the evening is so that its taste remains in our mouths for the rest of the night. (In other words, the taste of the final and ultimate redemption is to remain with us on this sacred night.) This explanation of the Sefas Emes is cited in the ArtScroll Haggadah by Rabbi Joseph Elias.


3. The following website lists individuals and groups all over the world which can help people find hospitality for Shabbos and the Festivals, including Passover:    


The above letter was sent out by “Hazon - Our Universal Vision”:

Hazon - Our Universal Vision