Pesach, Matzah, Maror
Family Edition

matzah
Matzo, isolated on white with clipping path

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Seder Night Companion

Seder night is a highlight of the Jewish calendar for parents and children alike. It is the night that revolves around children, and parents are reminded of the importance of their role as educators.

Rabbi Sacks zt”l explains that on the eve of the original Pesach, at the very moment when a new chapter in the life of the Jewish people began, we found out what it means to be a Jew: “About to gain their freedom, the Israelites were told that they had to become a nation of educators” (Radical Then, Radical Now, p. 32). Being a Jew means being both a student and an educator, and Seder night is our opportunity to focus on both these roles.

This is the seventh section found in our Seder Night Guide, aimed at giving you some ideas and thoughts on several of the core pages from the Haggadah and how Rabbi Sacks understands them. We have created a PDF of the full Seder Night Guide, as well as separate PDFs, so that you can pick and choose which sections to download, print, and discuss at your Seder Table.

You will notice many extracts from Rabbi Sacks’ writings, all sourced from The Jonathan Sacks Haggadah, published by Koren. This guide is designed to be used in conjunction with a Haggadah; it is not a replacement for one.


פֶּסַח מַצָה וּמָרוֹר

PESACH, MATZAH, AND MAROR

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IN A NUTSHELL

These are the three mitzvot on Seder night which involve eating. Although we no longer eat the Korban Pesach, back when there was a Beit HaMikdash this was a biblical command. Normally, mitzvot are fulfilled by performing the required act with kavanah, with the intention of observing the commandment. To fulfil the duty of succah, for example, we do not have to tell the story of the wandering of the Israelite in the desert. We just have to plan to sit in the succah, and then we sit and say the brachah there. However, in the case of Pesach two commands coincide: the first, to eat the festive meal; the second, to tell the story. Rabban Gamliel argues that the two are connected. The story explains the food; the food allows us to relive the story.

pascahal lamb pesach haggadah sheep

The Torah states: “When you enter the land which the Lord shall give you as He promised, you shall observe this rite. And if your children should ask you, ‘What is this service you observe?’ you shall say, ‘It is a Pesach offering to the Lord, for He passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt while He struck down the Egyptians, but saved those in our homes’” (Ex. 12:25–27). Thus, from the very outset there is an intrinsic link between eating, asking, and explaining, and it is this connection on which Rabban Gamliel bases his view that all three elements of the Pesach meal must be explained.

Commentary on Pesach, Matzah, and Bitter Herbs
The Jonathan Sacks Haggada

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DEEP DIVE

matzah pesach unleavened haggadah

The Pesach lamb symbolises freedom. The bitter herbs (maror) represent slavery. And the matzah combines both. This was the bread the Israelites ate in Egypt as slaves. It was also the bread they ate when 12 leaving Egypt as free people. Why do the symbols of freedom precede the bitter herbs of slavery? Surely slavery preceded freedom? The chassidic masters explained the answer: only to a free human being does slavery taste bitter. Had the Israelites forgotten freedom, they would have grown used to slavery. “The worst exile is to forget you are in exile.”

Commentary on Pesach, Matzah, and Bitter Herbs
The Jonathan Sacks Haggada

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Reflect

Why is it important to remember and experience both slavery and freedom on this night?

maror bitter herbs haggadah
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FURTHER THOUGHTS

In the Torah, the festival of Pesach is more often called by different names. It is consistently described as Chag haMatzot, which translates as ‘The Festival of Unleavened Bread’. The name Chag haPesach, in the Torah, applies specifically to the fourteenth of Nissan, the day prior to the Seder, when the Paschal sacrifice was brought.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev gave a beautiful explanation for this dual terminology. The name Pesach signifies the greatness of God, who “passed over” the houses of the Israelites. The name Chag haMatzot suggests the greatness of the Israelites, who followed God into the desert without any provisions.

In the Torah, God calls the festival Chag haMatzot in praise of Israel. The Jewish people, though, calls the festival ‘Pesach’ in praise of God.

Commentary on Matzah
The Jonathan Sacks Haggada

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Reflect

Was the story of Exodus a triumph for God or for the Israelites?

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Questions to Think About (and Ask) at your Seder

  1. What is special about the educational methods used at the Seder table?
  2. Do any other chaggim have a similar aspect to them?
  3. Do you think our schools and other educational institutions can learn anything from the way we learn and teach on Seder night?
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Experiencing the Seder

At this point in the Seder, when we eat the matzah and maror (and remember the Pesach offering), we are experiencing the story we have been learning about. When you eat the matzah and maror, close your eyes and be mindful about what your senses are feeling and experiencing. What do these foods smell and taste like? What emotions and feelings do they create in you when you eat them? Take a moment to imagine what the generation who experienced slavery and left Egypt on the very first Pesach must have felt as they ate these.

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A STORY FOR THE NIGHT OF STORIES

Under the communist government in Russia, it used to be illegal to practice Judaism. There was once a Jew who was caught maintaining a whole network of Jewish education during these years, and in punishment he was sent to the harsh prison in Siberia. When he was finally released, he returned and told his friends:

“It was difficult to observe Pesach in the labour camp. One year we had no matzot. Another year we had no wine. But of bitter herbs, we were never short!”

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A QUIZ FOR THE NIGHT OF QUESTIONS

The ‘FOOD’ Round

Fill in the blanks for these foods eaten on Seder night:

  1. W _ _ e
  2. P _ _ _ _ h
  3. K _ _ _ _ s
  4. S _ _ _ W _ _ _ r
  5. A _ _ _ _ _ _ n
  6. M _ _ _ r
  7. C _ _ _ _ _ _ t
  8. K _ _ _ _ h
  9. M _ _ _ _ h
  10. S _ _ _ _ _ _ _ O_ _ _ h

EDUCATIONAL COMPANION

PESACH, MATZAH, AND MAROR

  1. They are experiential. We don’t just talk or learn or read about the story, but we experience it through food and other rituals (such as leaning, pouring for each other, etc.) in order to full immerse in the story.
  2. Yes, all the chaggim in Judaism do, although to a lesser extent than Pesach. For example, on Succot we sit in the succah, and on Shavuot we stay up all night learning to prepare to receive the Torah.
  3. While some of our educational institutions do practice experiential education (camp is an excellent example) and some of our schools find opportunities to do this as well (e.g. by having shabbatonim), perhaps institutions of formal Jewish education could find more creative ways to incorporate the methodology of experiential education.

QUIZ ANSWERS:

1. Wine; 2. Pesach; 3. Karpas; 4. Salt Water; 5. Afikoman; 6. Maror; 7. Charoset; 8. Korech; 9. Matzah; 10. Shulchan Orech.

Ceremony and Celebration Family Edition

The Ceremony & Celebration: Family Edition resources are designed for kids and students of all ages, to help them discover new insights within the Jewish festivals and to encourage dynamic discussion around your Yom Tov tables.