Joel Hoffman
Rabbi, Teacher, Columnist

12 Hasidic Insights into the Seder

One does not need to be Hasidic to learn from the Hasidic masters.   Below are 12 insights that will enhance one’s Seder and if internalized will add more spirituality into one’s daily life.

Kaddesh (Kiddush) – The first step of the Seder’s 15-step spiritual journey begins with the blessing over the first cup of wine.  Wine, or any alcohol, can be used in inappropriate ways, or it can be used for holiness. We choose to use wine for Holiness.  In fact, a Jew is commanded to use everything we have for Holiness. For example, one’s car can come one degree more Holy by giving someone a ride.

Urechatz (Washing the Hands) – Hands represent action, and by ritually washing our hands at this time (even though we are not eating), the lesson is: if we want to become more spiritual, it necessities action, doing.  Meditation alone or isolation from the physical world are not Jewish paths to becoming more spiritual.  A famous saying of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel is that Judaism does not require a leap of faith, but “a leap of action.”

Karpas (Eating the Vegetable) – For the Karpas we eat the simplest of all foods which grow in the dirt.  This teaches that even the most mundane aspects of our lives can be elevated towards Holiness.  Additionally, the path for achieving spirituality may include getting dirty, and no matter how “low” one is, s/he can always begin to grow spiritually.

Yachatz (Breaking the Middle Matzah) – By breaking the middle Matzah we are breaking away from our past which was a life of enslavement. Although we are no longer in physical shackles, enslavement today includes social pressures and bad habits from which we want to break.  From which bad habit do you want to be free?  For me its checking Facebook as often as I do.

Maggid (Telling the Story) – We begin the story by stating “…Whoever is hungry, come eat with us.”  But what are the chances that at that very moment a poor person is outside of our door who we can invite in?  The odds are small. Rather, the purpose of this paragraph is to teach us that we cannot have a relationship with God unless we care about other people.  This teaching is so central in Judaism that when the Haggadah was compiled, since Aramaic was the spoken language at the time, the rabbis wrote this paragraph in Aramaic so everyone would understand it. One of the primary teachings of the Baal Shev Tov is the Mitzvah to Ahavat Yisrael – the unconditional love of every Jew.

The Five Rabbi’s – Even the greatest rabbis can find things in the Haggadah to inquire about and discuss.  If they can, surely we who know so much less, can find something in the Haggadah to ask about.   Whereas in Western culture when a child comes from school a parent will ask: “What did you learn today in school?” and 99% of the time the answer is “nothing,” in Jewish tradition the question the parent is supposed to ask is: “What question did you ask today in school?” So go ahead, ask a question!

The Four Children – The 7th Lubavitcher Rebbe once taught that there are really five children.  The “fifth child” are the Jews who are not at a Seder.  Therefore, since every Jew is responsible for each other, it is every Jew’s obligation to find the “fifth child” and to invite them to their Seder.  This could be a co-worker, a neighbor, or the other family of the other Jewish child on their child’s soccer team.

The Ten Plagues – We often think of the plagues as punishment for the Egyptians for enslaving the Jewish people.  However, the Torah teaches that the 10 plagues were enacted so “Egypt shall know that I am God” (Exodus 7:5, etc.).  Thus, the plagues were for the Egyptian’s benefit.  In fact, one of the missions of Judaism is to bring an awareness of God to the world. How are you doing with this assignment?

Marror (Bitter Herb) – A teaching about the Marror is that God is not only with us during good times, but during dark times as well – both individually and as a collective.  A fundamental teaching of Hasidism is that every decent is for the sake of an ascent.  In other words, don’t worry, with faith in God it will get better!  “Think good and it’ll be good!” is a famous Hasidic saying.

Korech (The Hillel Sandwich) – The Haggadah tells us that Hillel used to make a sandwich out of Matzah and Marror, and when we make this sandwich we dip it into the Charoses.  This sandwich represents “brick and mortar” which sticks together. The Talmud relays that this teaches it is only through Jewish unity do the Jewish people merit being redeemed.

Shulchan Aruch (The Festive Meal) – Spirituality can be obtained not just through praying and doing Mitzvot, but even through mundane acts such as eating if done with the proper intention.  Two examples of everyday acts that are very mundane through which we can become more Holy include: cleaning up our crumbs in the lunchroom at work, and leaving no evidence that we were ever in a bathroom.  (Can you see how this connects to Karpas?)

Tzafun (Afikoman) – In Hasidic circles it is the parents who hide the Afikoman and the children search for it.  This is done so children are not encouraged to steal, but to search.  Some say God is hiding, but everyone who seriously and authentically searches for God will find Him; and integrating these lessons from the Hagaddah into our daily lives is a road map for becoming more Holy.

Next year may we all be in Jerusalem with Mashiach!


About the Author
Rabbi Joel E. Hoffman is a special education teacher for his "day job," and in his free-time he teaches and writes about Judaism.
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