15 Things You Never Knew About the Seder


Smaller cups are better, and a 3 oz. cup is enough!

A cup used for a mitzvah (like kiddush, havdalah, and the four cups) needs to hold a volume called a reviis. (Reviis literally means a quarter, because a reviis is ¼ of a volume called a lug. 1 lug is the volume displaced by 6 eggs, and reviis is ¼ of that, or 1 ½ eggs.) Rabbi Yisroel Pinchas Bodner, in collaboration with the USDA, calculated that the volume of a reviis ends up being just 2.81 fl oz. This is almost identical to the calculation decades ago by Rav Avraham Chaim Naeh, who found that it is 86 cc. (like the gematria of the word “kos”).

The Mishna Berurah rules that this works for most mitzvos that require a cup of wine. The one exception is kiddush on Friday night. Since there is a biblical requirement to make kiddush, the Mishna Berurah recommends using a larger calculation for a reviis. This ends up being between 4.5 and 5.7 oz. (130 – 190 cc). If the Seder falls on Friday night, the only one that needs to use that size cup is the one who is actually making Kiddush. All the others are drinking for the mitzvah of the four cups, and can still use the smaller shiur. 

There is a good reason to use a smaller cup at the Seder. Some opinions in the Shulchan Aruch maintain that one should drink the entire cup of each of the four kosos (or at least most of it). (This is in distinction to other mitzvos al hakos, where one only needs to drink a majority of a reviis, regardless of how big the cup is.) The larger the cup is, the more wine a person has to drink. However, with smaller cups, one has to drink less. Many people would not need to dilute their wine or use grape juice if they simply used a smaller cup

Do you use mevushal during the year? Then use it for the four kosos.

It is common for contemporary Seder guides to recommend that a person use wine that is not mevushal for the four cups.. If you never pay attention to that during the year, there is no need for an extra stringency for the four cups. Indeed, there is a dispute among the rishonim if wine that is mevushal can be used for kiddush altogether, which carries over to the four cups. It is a valid chumra for the whole year, but there is no special reason to be makpid for the four cups. If you never look at the label to see if it is mevushal for any given Friday night, there is no need to be more stringent for the four cups. It makes sense to be consistent. 


Can you talk after washing?

Should everyone wash, or only the leader?

The issue of washing on the Seder is perplexing. The Gemara seems to rule that whenever we dip food into liquid, we should wash our hands like we wash before bread. Somehow, this halacha has not been practiced by most people for centuries. Some authorities suggest that that is wrong; the Seder night is the exception that proves the rule. We always should wash before eating something wet, like a rinsed apple or a croissant dipped in coffee. Others disagree and maintain that this was only instituted in the times of the Beis Hamikdash, and is a custom nowadays only at the Seder.

If one does have the practice to wash throughout the year, it is preferable to treat that washing like washing before bread, and not talk.

What if you never wash before dipping crudite; can you talk after Urechatz? It might depend on why we wash specifically at the Seder. Some suggest (introduction to Hagadas Imrei Shefer by the Netziv) that our practices during the Seder mimic the way it was during the time of the Beis Hamikdash and the Korban Pesach. Consequently, even if you do not wash during the year, it is a practice one should do at the Seder. Accordingly, maybe you should not talk, just like you would not have talked after washing when it was required in the times of the Beis Hamikdash.

Yet, the most basic reason for washing is suggested by the Mishna Berurah. He reasons that we do it now as an anomaly to stir the curiosity of the kids. According to this reason, it should follow that you can talk after washing. The washing is not intrinsically required, it is more to draw attention to the uniqueness of the Seder practices. In addition, it should follow that not everyone has to wash. As long as the leader washes, he  draws attention to the strange behavior, and the others are not required to wash.


You do not need to dip specifically in salt water

There is a rabbinic prohibition against pickling vegetables on Shabbos. This includes simply making salt water. When the Seder falls on Friday night, you have a few options. Ideally, you should make salt water before Shabbos. If you forgot, you can make a small amount of very weak salt water on Shabbos (the small amount and diluted nature was not prohibited). The Mishna Berurah suggests that you can simply dip Karpas in vinegar or wine instead. The point is to dip. It does not need to be specifically in salt water.

My personal preference would be to dip into something we normally use, like slices of pepper and carrot sticks into salad dressing. That might be the most true portrayal of Karpas in our era (to demonstrate freedom by casually and freely dipping vegetables.)  Although this is also valid, some might not see it as in line with traditional Seder ambiance. 


Two or three matzos are both valid opinions

There are two competing values at the Seder. On the one hand, the Torah calls matza “lechem oni,” a poor person’s bread. In order to portray that, we break a matza in half to recreate the practice of an individual who needs to suffice on scraps, and preserve some for later. On the other hand, the matza is the mainstay of the Yom Tov meal. Accordingly, we need to have lechem mishneh, like all Shabbosim and Yomim Tovim. Does the requirement for lechem oni supersede the normal rule that lechem mishna means to use two full loafs of bread?

Some rishonim maintain that lechem oni defines the night of the seder. They rule that you should do yachatz on one of the two matzos. Then lechem mishna is done with just one full matzah and one scrap. Others maintain that we use three matzos, so that we keep all the aspects of matzah. We have a broken one between two full ones. The broken one fulfills the idea of lechem oni, while we still use two full ones for lechem mishna.


Women should be involved in the Haggadah and it’s discussions

The Sefer Hachinuch maintains that women have an equal biblical requirement to talk about the Exodus at the Seder. Some commentaries are curious about that, because women are usually excluded from time-bound commandments. A popular suggestion is that is an extension of their requirement to eat matzah. (The Gemara deduces that women have  to eat matzah from the fact that they are prohibited from eating chametz.) Matzah only gets its halachic character from being the mainstay of the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim. (The Gemara uses the term “lechem oni” to also mean “the bread of discussion,” that it is the centerpiece of all the discussions of the evening.) Since women need to eat matzah, they also need to halachically fortify the matzah with discussing Yetzias Mitzrayim around it.

Rav Elyashiv does not accept that. He argues that if so, if a woman does not have matzah, would she not need to say the Hagaddah? Instead, he theorizes that the Mitzvah of Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim began during the Korban Pesach we ate in Mitzrayim. That predated that rule that women were exempt from time-bound commandments. Therefore, the requirement stayed, and women are required to talk about Yetzias Mitzrayim from the Torah.

Although not every authority agrees with the Sefer Hachinuch, others do concur. Even those that disagree maintain that women are required to do the mitzvah on a rabbinic level. Since this is such a prominent mitzvah, women should put their best efforts into fulfilling it like their male counterparts.


You do not always make a bracha on washing before Matza

The rule is that you only make a bracha when washing for bread if your hands might have become soiled or impure. At the Seder, since you already washed before Karpas, it is redundant to wash again. Yet, the Gemara explains that we  because we might lose track of how we use our hands during the lengthy Magid process. 

The Mishna Berurah and contemporary authorities reason that things change if you have a very short Magid. Since you were able to ensure that your washing before Karpas was still valid, you should not make a bracha when washing the second time. Alternatively, you can intentionally scratch your head, which requires a new washing to be done.

Motzi Matza

You do not need to eat as much matza as you think

Matza is one of the only biblical commandments related to food that we are able to fulfill nowadays. We need to eat a k’zayis of matza. The word k’zayis literally means like the volume of an olive. Yet, the Gemara also states that a k’zayis is equivalent to the volume of ½ an egg, which is larger. Since eating matza is a biblical commandment, we are strict in calculating the amount we need to eat. To make things more complicated, some suggest that we should eat two k’zaysim of matza – one for the mitzvah of matzah and the other for the mitzvah of eating bread for a Yom Tov meal.

What does this mean for you and me? Based on Rav Yisroel Pinchas Bodner’s calculations and experimentations with matzah, approximately ½ a hand matzah is certainly enough to eat for the mitzvah. That amount is clearly over the shiur of ½ an egg volume (even for the thinnest hand matzos). In addition, that amount covers the 2 kzeisim opinion at the same time, when using smaller calculations of a k’zayis (since that custom is only rabbinnic).


Hold your horses…or horseradish

The Mishna lists five different vegetables that one can use for Maror. The most ideal is lettuce, with horseradish being the last on the list. For some Jews in Eastern Europe, leafy vegetables were not accessible as early in the spring as Pesach, so it became common to use horseradish.Some suggest that nowadays, we should specifically opt for lettuce. 

Even if we like to have horseradish too, it might be preferable not to mix them. Halacha requires one to taste the maror. It also says that you cannot put a non-maror substance on the maror because you dull the flavor of maror (that is why we try to shake off the charoses). If you mix the two, the horseradish is negating the flavor of the lettuce. You would still fulfill the mitzvah, but it would be considered like you are doing it with horseradish, instead of the lettuce. It is better to have them separately, so that you have enough lettuce alone to fulfill the mitzvah in the most proper way.


Say the phrase before you eat

Ideally, the brachos for matza and maror apply both to when you eat each of them individually and again together during Korech. Therefore, the poskim mandate that one not talk unnecessarily from after washing for matza until after Korech. Based on this, the Mishna Berurah wonders why our haggados tell us to insert the phrase “Zecher l’mikdash k”Hillel…” before eating Korech. The Mishna Berurah wonders why this is not an unnecessary interruption. He conjectures that perhaps early haggados merely explained that we eat Korech as a reminder to the way Hillel did it, but they did not mean that we should verbalize it. Nevertheless, the Mishna Berurah does not uproot the prevalent custom to say it.

Shulchan Orech

Eat the egg from the Seder plate

There is a widespread custom to eat eggs in salt water at the beginning of the Seder meal. The classic interpretation is that it is a sign of mourning for the lost Beis Hamikdash, especially since the day of week of the Seder is the same as Tisha B’av. 

Others, including the Vilan Gaon, suggest a different reason. In days of old, the main part of the Seder meal was the Korban Chagiga that was brought to celebrate Pesach. It was eaten before the Korban Pesach so that one would not be ravenous when eating the Korban Pesach, but instead satiate himself with it. In the absence of that Korban, we still eat eggs as a reminder. That is the same reason we place an egg on the Seder plate. It follows that it makes sense to eat that specific egg (perhaps adding other ones, too) at the beginning of the meal. 

If you are making two Sedorim, it would reason that you should make two eggs for the respective Sedorim, and eat one each night (instead of saving the one on the Seder plate to use the next night).


You can have your afikomen and eat it…twice!

You can probably relate to this one. You are enjoying your Seder so much, and then you notice that chatzos is approaching. You feel pressure to rush the meal so you can eat the afikomen before chatzos. Is there an alternative? 

The Avnei Nezer suggests a solution. He highlights that there really is a dispute in the Mishna if one needs to finish before chatzos. Rav Elazar ben Azarya is stringent. The Chachamim disagree and hold that one can eat afikomen until morning. In deference to Rav Elazar ben Azarya, we eat before chatzos.

The Avnei Nezer theorizes that the prohibition to eat anything after afikomen only applies during the time that one can still eat afikomen. If afikomen expires, so does the prohibition of eating after it. Therefore the Avnei Nezer says that one can eat two afikomens. The first one should be eaten shortly before Chatzos.That covers the opinion of Rav Elazar ben Azarya. Once chatzos comes, one can have the meal (since the time for afikomen is already finished according to Rav Elazar ben Azarya). After the meal, one should eat another afikomen and not eat until morning. That covers the opinion of the Chachamim that one is allowed to eat the afikomen the entire night, and should likewise not eat anything after it until daybreak.


Who should lead the bentching?

The Rama quotes a custom that the leader of the Seder should also lead the bentching. This is based on the pasuk that states that “one who is gracious should be blessed.” Since the leader started the Seder graciously by inviting any guests by saying “Kol dichfin,” he should also be honored with the bentching.

The Mishna Berura rules that one can still honor a guest to lead the bentching. Nowadays everyone says “Ha lachma anya” and invites others to the Seder. This strengthens the Mishna Berura’s ruling. All demonstrate their graciousness and are well suited to lead the bentching.


Say it responsively with your family

Ideally, Hallel should be said responsively, like in shul. The Mishna Berurah says that the minimum for the responsive reading is three people. If there are only two people, that is not considered responsive. The Mishna Berurah rules that it is ideal to have three men recite Hallel responsively. Yet, one can also include one’s family – including female members and under bar mitzvah children.


Stay up late…maybe

The Shulchan Aruch rules that one should stay up after the Seder and study the laws and rulings related to Yetzias Mitzrayim until he falls asleep. Some suggest that this directive was only stated if one finishes the Seder early. If one finishes the Seder and feels the normal degree of tiredness that would make him go to sleep, he can do so on the night of the Seder, as well (Rav Shmuel Kaminetzky). Others understand the halacha at face value.

Either way, the message of the halacha is that the experience of the Exodus is so striking and inspirational that we are reluctant to let it pass. We do not want Passover to pass over, but savor the jubilation of freedom for as long as we can.

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