קדש ורחץ כרפס יחץ
מגיד רחצה מוציא מצה
מרור כורך שלחן ערך
צפון ברך הלל נרצה

     Purim now being over, we slowly begin our preparations for Pesach (Passover). In that spirit, I’ll be doing several posts (not consecutive) on the haggadah. I hope that you’ll find these informative, without mandating that any particular interpretation be followed.

     Although the seder begins formally with the “kiddush” (“Kaddesh”), it’s often introduced by reciting a siman (poem) containing the steps through which we’ll be proceeding (Hebrew above; transliterated Hebrew below). The most widely accepted siman was arranged either by Rashi or by Rabbi Shmuel ben Shlomo of Falaise (12th-13th c. CE). [1]

     Musically, the recitation of the siman functions as a kind of “overture” to the seder. It can be chanted by one person alone, by the whole group in unison, or even responsively (if no one is in a hurry).  I haven’t heard it sung with harmony, but — with a particularly musical group — why not? Mainly, it serves to turn people’s thoughts to the seder that’s about to begin; in particular, to the “Kaddesh” that’s about to be said immediately. I imagine that it could be very effective done as a group-chant, followed without pause by the leader beginning the kaddesh/kiddush.

     What makes it a “poem,” rather than simply a recitation of the names of each section? The use of rhyme, certainly. Perhaps also that in Hebrew, each noun or name in a list, which in English would be separated by a comma, would in Hebrew ordinarily be preceded by the letter “vav” (sometimes pronounced as “v’,” other times as “oo,” depending on the appropriate grammatical rule; e.g. “u’r’chatz”). The recitation of “Kol Nidre” on Erev Yom Kippur retains the “v'” for each of the types of “oaths” mentioned. In the seder, by contrast, except for the second in the list, the names of the sections are read without the “vav,” as if each were separated in English by a “period.” As a poetical device, it focuses our attention on each distinctly, as its being said.

     In this poem, there are 15 distinct steps.

     However, the “Me’am Lo’ez Haggadah”  mentions 14 steps. [2] Rabbi Shlomo Riskin [3]  likewise mentions 14 steps.

     Yet, the same things are done at a seder using either haggadah.

     Where’s the difference?

     At the 7th step — “Motzi Matzah”: Some take it as a single step; others as two separate steps — i.e. “Motzi” and “Matzah.” If considered a single step, the total number of steps is 14; if as two separate steps, the total comes to 15.

     It leads to differences in explanation and commentary.

     On 14 steps, for example, some commentators, like the Maharal, explain that “14” is written in Hebrew with the letters “yud” and “dalet.” These two letters together spell the Hebrew word “yad” or “hand.” With reference to G-d, “hand” is a metaphor for “act” or “power.”  “14” steps would then be a remin-der that G-d took us out of Egypt “b’yad ha-g’dolah” — with a “great hand” (or “wondrous power” or even “great work”; e.g. Ex. 14:31). I’ve also heard it connected with “b’yad chazakah” — with a strong hand (e.g. Ex. 6:1).

     On 15 steps, however, it’s explained that the L’vi’im in the Temple ascended 15 steps to the duchan, from where they sang during the Avodah — worship — there. “15” would then suggest that we emulate them:  “On Seder night, we are to seek to ascend to such heights of Divine service.” [see footnote 1]

     “15” also corresponds to the Divine Name made up of “yud” and “hay”  (often written with a “tet” and “vav” — which, as “9” and “6” also equal “15” — to help avoid writing the Divine Name when possible). What else is the Y’tzi’at Mitz’rayim – the Exodus – if not the display of G-d’s ultimate directorship of the world?

     In a simplified haggadah I prepared some years ago, I tried to circumvent favoring either format by numbering “Motzi” as step “7a” and “Matzah” as step “7b.” This allowed me to refer to comments on both numberings. For children, I also prepared and included the following:

                       SEDER  SCORECARD

 (check off each step as it happens during the Seder!)

     1. KADESH                                                                       

      2. U’R’CHATZ

      3. KAR’PAS

      4. YA’CHATZ

      5. MA’GID

      6. RACH’TZAH

   7A. MO’TZI

   7B. MA’TZAH

      8. MA’ROR

      9. KO’RECH

    10. SHUL’CHAN O’RECH

    11. TZA’FUN

    12. BA’RECH

    13. HA’LEL

    14. NIR’TZAH

    Originally, I’d imagined children just checking off each step as we progressed. One year, however, I said that each child (there were 3) could write a note or draw a picture next to or under each title as we completed that step, describing it or saying something that they learned. Each note was only a sentence or two. Then, at the end of the seder, the children read their notes to us. It didn’t add much time to the whole seder and it successfully kept the kids’ attention all the way through. I noticed that it also helped the parents, as they guided their children in doing it! At the end, the children took their “score cards” home with them as mementos. In these days of “i-pads” etc., I could even forward the scorecard to each child by email. They could then write their notes (drawing pictures is possible, too) and maintain the record digitally almost forever.

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[1] Passover Haggadah; ArtScroll Publishers; commentary by Rabbi Joseph Elias; p. liii
[2] The Me’am Lo’ez Haggadah; ArtScroll Publishers; translation and commentary by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan
[3] Riskin, Rabbi Shlomo; The Passover Haggadah; The National Ohr-Torah Society, 1979; p. 7