The Haggadah progresses through 14 steps meant to bring us to higher and higher levels of spirituality, light, and freedom. Like the prayers in the Mahzor do for Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur, these steps during the seder provide us with vehicles for continuing the spiritual work we begin before Pesah.
We dip (Hebrew: טבל/tbl) the Karpas (“lowly” vegetable from the ground) in salt water. Rearranged, these letters spell בטל/btl, and one definition is something that’s a small piece of a much larger whole, suggesting we begin the process with humility.
The steps that follow in the seder are:
Yahatz – breaking the middle matzah. We all have broken parts of ourselves. Splitting this matzah reminds us to go below our surface and look deep down. But know , while perhaps scary, one piece of that matzah is hidden away in safety – we are both vulnerable yet protected at the same time. Later this piece (the Afikomen) will be reunited with us at “Tzafun” (“Hidden”). In fact, we can’t continue the seder (or our growth) without reintegrating our broken pieces.
Maggid – telling the Pesah story. Our journey from slavery to freedom. Like eating the Pascal sacrifice the night before in Egypt, Maggid is meant to be done in community. We are not alone. While getting rid of our individual spiritual schmutz, we have family/friends to help and support us (and we, them). Rav Soloveitchik’s beautiful article “An Exalted Evening: The Seder Night” tells us “the Torah require(s) of spiritual man to open his mind, his heart, his existence. Invite others! Eating becomes a cohesive force bringing together people who were shut up in their own small worlds and coalescing them into a community…unites people, fosters friendship.”
Rahtza – we wash our hands, the active part of our body that intersects with the world. They can do positive, loving acts, or the opposite. We use water – a purifier and life giving substance – to vitalize and strengthen our hands to do loving, kind acts to others. Crowding out negative actions with positive ones helps us remove our schmutz.
Near the end we say Hallel. After going through this both difficult and inspiring process, we sing blessings both to God, and perhaps, to those around us in our new found, enlightened community.
Shari Kenner is a social worker who works with individuals with developmental disabilities and psychiatric diagnoses. She has been living on the UWS for over 35 years and has been going to BJ for 17 years.