The Fifteen Steps of the Pesach Seder serve as the framework for our fulfillment of the mitzvah to tell the story of our exodus from Egypt. They have been compared to the 15 Steps leading up to the Beis Hamikdash in that both sets of stairs are used to bring us to a greater level of unity with Hashem. The haggadah has been called the most commented upon work of liturgy. Commentary on the haggadah serves many purposes: it broadens our understanding of the mitzvos of the night; it brings greater appreciation for the miracles Hashem performed for us; and it makes the Seder night and all of Pesach more relevant to us. Join us as we climb the fifteen steps together by presenting a short vort/dvar torah by different bloggers/commenters. Commenters are invited to share their own vort on the particular steps being discussed in the comment thread of that post. Let’s Climb.
Step 1 Kadesh
The Making of Kiddush
To be mekadesh something is to sanctify it. More precisely to be mekadesh something is to set it aside for holiness. If someone were to be makdish something to the Beis Hamikdash, that means that they have set it aside solely for that holy purpose and nothing else. When we make Kiddush we sanctify the day and set it aside as something holy. The cup of wine used for Kiddush is the first of the four cups we are obligated to drink at the seder. It is well know that the four cups correspond to the four different expressions of redemption that Hashem uses. The first one, corresponding to the first cup-the cup of Kiddush-, is V’Hotzesee I will take you out. Hashem took us out from amongst the Egyptians “goy mi’kerev goy” a nation from the midst of another nation. Hashem separated the Bnei Yisrael out from the Mitzrim and set us aside as something holy. With this understanding, we can see how the cup of Kiddush is clearly related to the first expression of redemption.
Step 2 – U’Rechatz
The First Washing of the Hands.
It has always struck me as interesting that of all of the Fifteen Steps, U’Rechatz is the only one that is preceded by the letter vav, meaning “and”. It is as if the Hagaddah is telling us Make Kiddush ~and~ Wash! This indicates an imperative to hasten the washing as well as a connection between the Kiddush and the washing. That connection seems strange since we generally understand that the washing is connected to the Karpas-Dipping and Eating of the (Green) Vegetable- since it is necessary to wash one’s hands before handling a wet vegetable. How are the Kiddush and the washing connected?
We mentioned above that Kiddush sets aside the day as something holy and that it corresponds to Hashem’s setting the Jewish nation aside as something holy. Once we have made that declaration of Kiddush, we must quickly take our words and put them into action. As such, we take the immediate step of making a purifying washing of the hands. The desire to be holy is a very important level but it is not enough, we must also take steps to make ourselves holy. Our hands symbolize action, they are the conduit by which we translate our ~will~ to be holy into holy ~acts~. That is why it is important to link Kiddush directly to the washing.
Step 3 -Karpas
The Dipping and Eating of the (Green) Vegetable
We have just discussed the connection between two different steps of the seder: Kadesh and U’rechatz. Let’s take a look at the relationship between two other steps-the dipping of the karpas in Step Three and the dipping of the maror in the Ninth Step. These two dippings are mentioned together in the Four Questions when it states “on this night we dip two times.”
One of the literary techniques that chazal built into the hagaddah is the theme of “depths to heights.” That is, that in order to fully understand and appreciate the exodus and the spiritual heights that Hashem brought us to, we must first understand the depths from which we came. This theme is clearly exhibited in the haggadah when we state that our forefathers were originally idol worshippers.
The two dippings correlate in this regard as well. The first dipping is reminiscent of the dipping of Yosef’s coat into blood by his brothers in order to convince Yaakov, their father, that Yosef had been killed by an animal. In reality, the brothers had sold Yosef and he was eventually brought down to Egypt thereby beginning the story of our eventual enslavement. That is the depths.
The second dipping is reminiscent of the dipping of the grass bundle into the blood in order to paint the bloof upon the doorposts whereby we merited to be redeemed from Egypt. That is the heights.
This dichotomy of using the same act to indicate two seemingly opposite themes, freedom and slavery, parallels the symbolism of the matzah which represents both “the bread of affliction” and “the taste of freedom”.