A Transfiguration Seder Meal by Dave Fragale
“L’Shana Haba a Biryshalayim!” Forward: I am not a biblical scholar. I am a guitar player in the church choir. The reason I say this is because it needs to be clear that I offer the following discussion as a layman’s explanation of a Catholic’s observance of a Jewish festival. I have researched the Seder Meal thoroughly and I promise that I have not “made up any of this stuff!” But, there will be times, and I will tell you when those times are (like, when you see: “Note: Dave’s two cents”), that what I am saying is MY OWN interpretation of an aspect of the ritual that helps me understand my own faith at another level. I also want to remember Bill Jascomb. Bill has done many wonderful things for our parish in his lifetime. His legacy very much reflects on our day-to-day parish life at Transfiguration. Bill told me shortly before he died that he wanted me to start every Seder meal by chanting The Shema, which is a Jewish profession of faith, as an opening prayer. So, in remembrance of, and in the spirit of Bill Jascomb, let us begin. The Shema: Hear, Oh Israel ! The Lord your God, is God alone, God Alone. You shall love Yahweh your God! With all your heart, with all your mind, with all your strength. I love you Lord! With all my heart, with all my mind, with all my strength. I love you Lord, I love you Lord, I love you Lord.
1. Introduction What is Passover? Passover is the oldest and most important of Jewish religious festivals, commemorating God’s deliverance of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt and the start of Israelite history. It is based on the rituals of ancient Israel preserved primarily in Exodus 12-14 in which Israelites celebrated their deliverance by God from slavery in Egypt. The term Passover (Pesach in Hebrew) refers to the last of ten plagues God brought upon the Egyptians to persuade Pharaoh to let the Jews go. This tenth plague was the death of the firstborn male in every family of Egypt. In obedience to God’s instructions, those who believed placed the blood of a sacrificial lamb (the pesach or paschal lamb) on the door posts of their homes, so that the angels of death would "pass over" those homes. The festival celebrates the entire sequence of events that led to the Israelites’ freedom from slavery. While thoroughly based in those historical events, the celebration becomes a vehicle to celebrate the very nature of God and His gracious works in our world. Prayers at Seder Jews and Christians shape most of our prayers into forms of giving thanks: Thus you often hear “Blessed are You…” in Jewish prayer, and, Eucharist (a Greek word for “thanks and praise”) in Christian prayer. At Seder, this all pervading thanks and praise goes beyond words and on to song, gestures (lifting of wine glasses, passing bread), reverent silence, simple and beautiful table settings and surroundings and hospitality that blends formality and informality. All of these things become forms of thanks and praise to God.
Chametz – “Leaven” In the days preceding Passover, it is tradition in Jewish homes to clean the house thoroughly, and the evening before the Passover Seder any trace of chametz (pronounced ka-méts), or leaven, is removed from the house. Leaven (yeast) is a necessary element in baking and wine making. However, it is viewed somewhat ambiguously because it also has the power to decay and destroy. In Jewish tradition it came to have more of the negative connotation as a religious symbol, signifying the potential for corruption and sin. As a result, the removal of leaven carries with it a deeper significance in Passover than simply its connection with the exodus. Its removal, and the symbolic removal from the house before the beginning of the Seder, signifies the attitude of penitence, the willingness to remove any corrupting influence in one’s life and submit to God in obedience. So in removing the chametz, we symbolize our willingness to obey God in preparation for celebrating the deliverance He has already brought to His people. Note: Dave’s two cents: the concept of Chametz helps me with my Lenten reflections. Like “Spring Cleaning” for my soul !
2. The Seder meal! The Passover meal is known as the Seder, which means "order," because the meal and service are done in a prescribed sequence. This sequence is presented in the Haggadah or the "telling" which outlines the steps of the meal as well as the readings and songs for the participants. While there can be a great deal of variety in how the service is conducted, the basic elements of Seder and Haggadah have remained unchanged for centuries and need to remain so.
This blend of tradition and innovation conforms to the purpose of the celebration: to tell the story of God’s actions in history in a way that brings those actions out of the past and make them a present reality for everyone in the community, young and old, as if they personally are part of the story. As such, the Passover Seder meal can be a very effective teaching tool, as it utilizes all of the senses and involves everyone present to tell the story. In Jewish tradition, a new day starts at sundown. So the Seder is held in the evening of the first day of Passover. It should be a joyful, festive event where everything is seen and shared by everyone. But in large gatherings, like our Transfiguration Seder, there are some parts of the ritual, like washing of hands and pointing out the Seder plate that will be done only at the head table. So Let’s Start. I. Kadaysh - Sanctification The actual Seder begins with the lighting of the Passover candles. Traditionally, the mother of the home lights the candles, just as she lights the candles that signal the beginning of Shabat (Sabbath). The candles symbolize the presence of God and mark this as sacred time. The wine is then poured out by the father of the house. The opening blessing is proclaimed and … The First Cup of Wine is drank.
II. Urchatz This washing of hands symbolizes the preparation of “clean hands” with which one comes before God.
This is done without blessing at the head table. The leader’s hands are washed in a basin with water being poured over them. It is a sign of humility and community service. Note: Dave’s Two Cents: there is a bit correlation noted by some authors between the Urchatz and Jesus washing the feet of his disciples in a show of humility and service to the community before the Last Supper. This correlation is possibly mentioned as a way to suggest a connection between the Catholic Mass and the Jewish Seder. III. Karpas Eating of the green herb dipped in salt water This is Symbolic of our connection to the earth in the sweetness of Spring and as a reminder that sweetness can also be mixed with tears, as in remembering the slavery of our ancestors. Timing of Passover and Easter Passover is a springtime holiday; a springtime story of the hope that comes from eternal creation and the earth. Around a table from generation to generation is told a story that was first told by nature. A story told by the sun and earth and seeds and rain, that life is made new again. A springtime story that is endlessly repeated; a promise of salvation, an outstretched arm to save a people, life passing through death. BUT the interesting thing about Seder is that even though the story is a historical one, each of us here in the present can say; THIS IS ABOUT ME! This is MY story, this happened to ME! The Passover ritual says precisely that: “You shall tell your child on that day saying. ‘This is because of what the Lord did for ME when I went free from Egypt.’” THIS is the great theme of “TODAY!” that runs through all Jewish and Christian stories.
Note: Dave’s 2 cents: This great “today” is in sacred vs. temporal time. Temporal time is when you look at your watch and see that you have 10 minutes before your next meeting. Sacred time is when all of eternity is a simultaneous experience. OK, that might be a lot to get your head around so here’s an example of what I mean. Do you recall the song we sing at church on Good Friday; “Were You There (when they crucified my Lord)”? Because I believe in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, I believe that I actually was there as it happened. Just the same as any other person in history. I like to think that sacred time is like how time is measured in heaven. IV. Yachatz The ceremony of breaking the middle matzoh in two. As you start with three matzoh, one half of the middle matzoh will be placed aside to be eaten as the Afikomen (dessert) at the end of the meal In the Seder, the Afikomen/dessert is “stolen” by one of the children and will need to be ransomed back at the end of the meal. While the Seder is a celebration of deliverance already accomplished, there is a strand throughout the Seder that recognizes the yet to be fulfilled promises of God that all creation will be restored and all oppression, sin, and evil destroyed. This dimension is not negative, but is wonderfully positive. The expression of a faith and hope in our future based on what God has revealed in His past actions. We can trust that promise of future deliverance because he has delivered in the past! Jews may consider breaking the matzoh to be symbolic of the Passover sacrifice, killing the paschal lamb. By breaking the matzoh in two, as in sacrificing the paschal lamb, there is the hope that some day in the future all will be joyfully made new and complete. Note: Dave’s two cents: Jews believe that breaking the matzoh is symbolic of sacrificing the paschal lamb. Christians believe that the
sacrificing of the paschal lamb is also symbolic of the “breaking” and crucifixion of Jesus. While Jews await the reunification of the paschal sacrifice, Christians believe that the paschal sacrifice (Jesus the Christ) has already been made new and resurrected. Christians now wait for the “Second Coming”. V. Mageed – To “recite” the Passover story and the Exodus. Before proceeding let’s ask, “as Christians, why are we here tonight?” For more than a generation now, growing numbers of Christians have been looking to learn about the Jewish festival of Passover and especially about its special ritual, the Seder Meal. Motivation for this is varied but a single conclusion is common. Christians should not think of the Seder meal as a history lesson or a restaging of the Last Supper of Christ (the Seder ritual actually was not formalized for several hundreds of years after Christ’s death!). Christians should come to the Seder meal as guests participating in Seder as it is celebrated by Jews. In doing so we acknowledge our common biblical roots. We also come to find – in all the beauty, poetry and delight of the Seder – a deep, honest and strong expression of faith. Note: Dave’s 2cents: Not all Jews are “OK” with Christians having Seder rituals. It is seen as a type of encroachment on their religion. A personal example; Suzanne and I have dear friends who are devout Jews. I proudly announced to them that we were doing a Seder at our church. “But your Catholic!” they sputtered. They wanted to see the Seder booklet we give out and I gave it to them, they walked away with it and it has not been seen or spoken of again! I try to imagine what it would be like if some Jews had a Catholic Mass in their temple and invited us over to attend. Then announced at the consecration that the Catholics now believe that this is the body and blood of Christ; but we Jews know it is really just matzoh and manischewicz!
OK, back to the matter at hand: The Mageed is the HEART of the Seder ritual. It follows a biblical “command” to recite the Passover story. It is usually presented in the form of a child asking four questions and the parent recounting the story in answer to those questions. Note: Dave’s Two Cents: The 4 questions are actually started by a 5th question since it all begins with asking “Why is this night different than any other night”. Answers to the 4 questions are considered according to 4 levels of maturity. The first question is from the child too young to understand any but the most basic answer, the second is the child who can understand a bit more of the situation, the third is an adolescent who will actually question and challenge the adult (ex, “what does this mean to YOU?”). The fourth is a young adult who is accepting the answers and heritage into his own personal philosophy and the answer becomes more complex and thoughtful. And so, The Mageed: 1. The Four Questions: - Why do we eat only matzah tonight? - Why do we eat bitter herbs tonight? - Why do we dip the herbs twice tonight? - Why do we recline at the table? 2. The Lord’s Promise - Recounting God’s promise to deliver Israel from slavery. 3. The Story of Israel in the land of Egypt – told by participants in the Seder - The Jews were originally wandering Arameans who settled in Egypt and became quite an important part of Egyptian society as their numbers grew. Under a new pharaoh, the strength and numbers of the Jews was seen as a threat. So, pharaoh had
the newborn males drown and put the Jews in slavery. One of these newborn males was a child named Moses who was saved by members of pharaoh’s household and to whom God gave his promise to deliver the Jews from slavery in Egypt.
4. Ten Plagues - When pharaoh refused to release the Jews from bondage, God brought on the 10 plagues. Each plague in itself was intended to convince pharaoh to release the Jews but pharaoh persisted through each. Finally, the tenth plague, the killing of the firstborn son of every family did the trick. Thus came the evening of Passover or Pesach in Hebrew. - God instructed that the Jews brush blood from a sacrificial lamb over their doors on that night to allow death to pass over their house. It is here where the remembrance of “Pesach” began, and the sacrificial lamb became known as the Paschal Lamb. Note: Dave’s two cents: you can see how a connection can be made to Christ as the “Paschal Lamb” whose blood was shed to save God’s people. The matzoh, also a symbol of the paschal lamb to the Jews, is broken in order to be reunited and made new. The sacrificial paschal lamb gives its broken body (in the form of bread) and its blood (in the form of wine) for the salvation of all God’s people. God gave His Son as the Paschal Sacrifice to save Christians from the plague of sin. 5. Dayenu - A song of thanks to God for all of His gifts. Translated roughly; “that would have been enough”. - If He had just given us the Sabbath or the Torah or the land of Israel and nothing else, that would be enough.
6. The Three Symbols - Rabbi Gamiliel, a noted Jewish philosopher stated. “He who has not explained the three symbols of Passover has not fulfilled their responsibility to pass on the story of Passover.” - The roasted lamb shankbone is a reminder of the Lord’s Pesach or Passover of Jewish homes on the night of the tenth plague - The Matzoh is unleavened bread which the Jews ate during their flight from Egypt when they did not have time to use yeast and allow bread to rise before baking. - The Bitter Herbs remind us of the bitter life of slavery endured by the Jews before deliverance. 7. B’chol – Personal Deliverance - This is a reminder that in every generation each Jew must consider that they themselves, personally was among those who escaped from slavery in Egypt. - Cups will be raised as in a toast but not drank 8. Hallel - Psalms of praise - During this segment the cups are raised again as in a toast. - At the completion of the Hallel the second cup of wine is drank
After the Mageed, we return to the Seder ritual order VI.
- This is the washing of the hands before the meal. It is done while reciting a blessing. VII.
Motzee Matzoh – blessing over the matzoh - Matzoh is distributed to all at the table and eaten with thanks and blessing to God for brining forth bread from the earth
VIII. Moror - The bitter herb and the sweet charoset are placed between two pieces of matzoh and eaten. Reminds us of the bitterness of slavery and the sweetness of God’s redemption. IX.
Koraych - The bitter herb is placed between two pieces of matzoh and eaten. This is the “Hillel Sandwich” to fulfill a literal biblical command. By tradition it is preferred that the bitter herb (horseradish in our case) be strong enough to actually cause tears to come to the eyes. But for this meal we can keep away from that if desired. - Note: Dave’s Two Cents (and a little trivia): Hillel was a biblical scholar from the first century AD who codified many Jewish rituals and customs. He first defined the moral message “ Do not unto others that which you would not have them do unto you” -
Shulchan Oraych 1. Dinner is Served ! 2. Song - Havenu Shalom Alecham - “We Bring Greetings of Peace”
Tzafun - The Akikomen divided at the yachatz is now ransomed back from the children and eaten.
- In ancient times, the paschal lamb was the last item to be eaten. Keeping in mind that the matzoh is symbolic of the paschal lamb
Boraych – blessing after the meal - The wine glasses are filled. This is the Blessing Cup - Biblical text reminds us that God said “I will redeem you with outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment” - Drink the third cup of wine
XIII. Elijah, The Profit 1. Elijah was the prophet who was said to not die but be brought off to heaven in a chariot of fire. It is said that Elijah will return to earth to foreshadow the coming of the Messiah. 2. We all rise and face the open door which symbolically welcomes Elijah into the home and sing Eliyahu Hanavi which translates to “may Elijah come in our time and bring the Messiah”. - It is here where we remember the victims of the Holocaust in World War II and acknowledge the continuing presence of persecution in our world. 3. The fourth cup of wine is filled. This is the cup of hope and Redemption
4. Note, Dave’s two cents: It is here that the Catholic Mass goes in a completely different direction. At the Last Supper of Christ…. - Christ raised the bread and third cup of wine in celebration of Eucharist (thanks and praise). He instructed the disciples to
“do this in memory of me” for the bread shall be my body and the wine my blood. - So, instead of waiting for Elijah to come as a precursor to the coming of a Messiah, Jesus was stating that He IS the Messiah. Jesus said the he shall not again taste the fruit of the vine until he is again in paradise XIV. The Earth’s Bounties - A blessing to thank God for the fruit of the vine. The fourth cup of wine, the Cup of Hope and Redemption, is drunk. XV. Nirtzoh - “The Acceptance” The closing prayer that all will be at peace and be together: “Next Year In Jerusalem” “L’shana Haba’ah Biryshalaym” Song - “Hinah Ma Tov” – How good is that all dwell together in unity
References: Thomas, Barbara: Passover Seder: Ritual and Menu for an Observance by Christians.Augsburg Publishing. Klenicki, Leon and Myra; Huck, Gabe: The Passover Celebration. Liturgy Training Publications 1980 Bratcher, Dennis: The Passover Seder for Christians. CRI/Voice Institutue 2006
A Transfiguration Seder Meal Forward: Introduction:
What is Passover? Prayers at Seder Chametz – “Leaven” The Seder meal: I.
Kadaysh - Sanctification
Karpas With s discussion of the timing of Passover and Easter
Mageed – “recite” the Passover story.
- The Four Questions - The Lord’s Promise - The Story of Israel in the land of Egypt – told by participants in the Seder - The Ten Plaques - Dayenu - The Three Symbols - B’chol – Personal Deliverance - Hallel VI.
Motzee Matzoh – blessing over the matzoh VIII.
X. Shulchan Oraych XI. Tzafun XII. Boraych – blessing after the meal XIII. Elijah, The Profit XIV. The Earth’s Bounties XV. Nirtzoh - “The Acceptance”
“L’Shana Haba a Biryshalayim!” Next Year in Jerusalem