Passover Questions Answered
1) Is there a reason for the placement of everything on the seder plate? Do all seder plates look alike?
While most people have a designated plate called the “seder plate” which has spaces for the ritual foods of the Passover meal, any plate is acceptable for use. Some people even put a “seder plate” in front of each person’s seat, above the place setting. Typically we do not eat the foods from the seder plate, since they are meant to serve as a symbol throughout the meal. Instead, people place additional cups, dishes, or plates with the foods from the seder plate which are also meant to be eaten during the seder. Because we are celebrating spring as part of Passover, the seder plate is most commonly round, reminding us of the cycle of life and rebirth. But any shape is fine. You can find seder plates in all sorts of shapes, including a vertical seder plate with removable bowls for the salt water and charoset, and a square seder plate.
2) Why is there an orange on the seder plate?
In the days when women were just beginning to be rabbis, Professor Susannah Heschel was speaking at a synagogue about the emerging equality of women in Jewish life – as rabbis, teachers, and students of Torah. After she spoke, a man arose in wrath and said, “A woman belongs on the bimah (at the front of a synagogue) like an orange belongs on the Seder plate.” For this, we place an orange on our tables.
3) What is the meaning behind the order of the seder? We know the word seder means order but why do we do things in a specific order?
Yes, Seder means "order"!
Rabbi Judah Loew, from the 15th century, known as the Maharal, explains why the first night of Pesach is called the Seder this way: The name is intended to suggest that the things that have happened to the Jewish people since the Exodus, when we became a people, until this very day, are no mere string of haphazard occurrences, but an ordered series of events under Divine Supervision. Everything that happens has significance.
Another great rabbi, from the 19th century, Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Leib explained that the name Seder implies that even during Passover, which is a time of transcendent miracles, there is also "an order." It implies that the entire process of exile and redemption is ordered and planned by God. Rabbi Aharon of Karlin, from the 17th century, offered a different explanation. He taught that the order of all the events of the coming year is dependent on our behavior this night!
And finally, Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (the former chief rabbi of England) writes: “We become God’s partners in the work of creation when we create order in society – an order that honors all persons as the image of God. If God’s presence is to be found not just in rare moments of ecstasy, but in the daily transactions of society as a whole, then it must have a seder, a set of rules we all honor. Order turns individuals into a community and communities into a people. The seder night reflects the order that binds us to other Jews throughout the world and in previous generations."
But perhaps most simply, having a Haggadah (the seder booklet) to read out the order shows our wealth. At one time, people needed to remember what was next, and having a specific order which you can put to a melody helps us remember.
4) Why do we hide the afikoman?
Early in the Seder, the leader lifts up the three pieces of matzah, removes the middle piece and breaks it in half. She then takes the larger half of the broken matzah and wraps it in a special cloth or napkin to be hidden.
Like with the rest of the seder, the afikoman holds multiple levels of meaning. Most basically it means dessert (either from the Greek or Aramaic) and is supposed to be eaten as the very last thing of the seder meal, though two more cups of wine still follow. Certainly we don’t want to mistakenly eat it as regular matzah, when it has been ritually separated for just this purpose. So hiding it is not a bad idea.
The seder is also meant to engage multiple generations, including children. Many homes have the custom of children searching for the afikoman and bargaining with a parent, returning it only for a prize. This custom is based on multiple statements in the Talmud that we do things at the seder, “in order that the children should not fall asleep.” In other words, hiding the afikoman becomes a game, and engages children through to almost the end of the seder.
But the afikoman is also valuable. This broken piece of matzah reminds us that though we think we are free, there are ways in which we are still enslaved. When we taste the afikoman we are reminded that there is more to be revealed. And some people keep a piece of the afikoman through the whole year as an amulet for good luck.
*These answers have been written with the help of numerous sources.*