Surviving the Seder – Guide to the [Very] Perplexed
Years ago, Maxwell House Coffees used to give out free Haggadahs at all the grocery stores, a nice way of reminding people that Maxwell House Coffees are Kosher for Passover. Those Haggadahs were actually quite nice (with charming illustrations) and were really helpful, with clear translations, a picture of the Seder plate layout, and easy instructions in English. In addition, if you had a couple dozen of these free Haggadahs, everyone at the Seder table could literally be on the same page.
OK, you can survive preparing for, and undergoing, the Pesach Seder even without the help of those good folks at Maxwell House. Bring some common sense, sanity and a lot of organization and you too can Do It Right on the Seder Night.
Kaarah shel Pesach (Seder Plate): Most seder plates have labeled spots where each item goes. Beytzah, Maror, Zroa, Karpas, Chazeres, Charoses. Beytzah (Roasted Eggs): Hardboil a lot of eggs in your Pesach pot (you’ll eat most of them later in salt water as a first course of the festive meal). Take one hard boiled egg, hold an end of it gently into the flame of the gas stove to get a dark spot. Use this slightly browned egg for the seder plate (keep it in the fridge to use again on the second night). If you prepare the egg on Yom Tov itself, eat the egg the next morning and then the second night prepare a new roasted egg (refer to the halachos of not preparing food on one day of Yom Tov for the next day, which starts evening before).
Zroa: I like to use a turkey wing just for this purpose, but really a chicken wing or any meat bone will do. I wrap the turkey wing in foil and place it right on top of the stove top gas burner flame. This could get a little messy, as the turkey fat melts and sputters. I have an old metal Pesach flat grater that I don’t use anymore for grating, so I put the foil wrapped packet containing the turkey wing on it, that holds some of the grease. I leave the turkey wing on the flame until it’s actually roasted and edible and browned (if anyone wants to eat it later following the Seder night they could if they wished). Again, as with the roasted egg, follow the halachos of cooking on Yom Tov if preparing the Zroa after Yom Tov begins (might need to eat it the next morning and prepare a new Zroa the next night for the second seder).
Charoses: There are a zillion Charoses recipes out there. If you want to make it easy on yourself, buy a package of ground walnuts. Peel and core an apple, cut into very tiny pieces (some people use a chopper or food processor). Mix the chopped bits of apple with the ground walnuts and some red wine. Add cinnamon and a speck of ginger if on hand. The exact proportions are disputed, make it as thick or as runny as you want. You don’t really need quarts of this stuff, we use just a large dollop on the seder plate and that’s good enough. People aren’t generally eating the stuff, it’s only a dip for the maror (and you shake it off, too). We used to be even lazier and use the dried Charoses mix that one yeshiva used to send us every year (they stopped doing that a few years ago). Those who want to keep kids busy might prefer buying whole walnuts, distributing nutcrackers and ordering kids to crack the nuts. Without kids to do it, don’t bother, use the packaged ground walnuts.
Maror and Chazeres: If you plan on using the eye-watering, throat-clearing stuff, be aware of the halachos about grating the horseradish root less than 24 hours before you use it (meaning grate it on Erev Pesach to be used the first Seder night) but then leaving it uncovered so that some of its strength lessens (the Pesach guidebooks by Rabbi Blumenkrantz zatzal and Rabbi Eider zatzal discuss proper preparation if you are using horseradish root). Also buy a clean new jigger glass (one fluid ounce) since the shiur or required measurement for fresh grated horseradish root is quite small (check with your own Posaik or local Orthodox rabbi).
My family gave up on fresh grated horseradish years ago (my husband used to turn purple after ingesting) and now we use romaine lettuce for maror. The shiur (minimum size) differs if you are using the leaves, the stalks or the solid centers of the romaine lettuce. Also romaine lettuce is extremely bug-infested and difficult to clean properly. We use the more expensive pre-checked pre-washed romaine lettuce (that used to be a specialty of Gush Katif before the expulsion, the Aleh Katif romaine lettuce). Again, the Pesach books have charts to measure the correct sizes when distributing the romaine lettuce for achilas maror and again for the Korech (combination).
On the Seder plate itself, some people use a little bit of the ground horseradish as Maror and a little bit of romaine lettuce for the Chazeres. We like to use a solid center from the romaine lettuce on the Kaarah as Maror, and a little piece of leaf for Chazeret.
Karpas: Everyone’s going to get a tiny bit, less than a Kazayis, so I simply boil a potato (we have tons) and use that for Karpas. Celery is OK too. This will be dipped into a small bowl of salt water (simply add some salt to water) and distributed to all participants in the Seder.
Matzah: If you use the hand baked shmurah matzohs for the Seder, follow what the R. Blumenkrantz and R. Eider guidebooks say and use approx 1/3 of a hand matzoh for a Kazayis (volume of an olive) and twice that or 2/3 of a hand matzoh for a K’beitzah (twice that or the volume of an egg). So everyone should get 2/3 of a matzoh for Motzi Matzoh, 1/3 of a matzoh for Korech, and 2/3 of a matzoh for the Afikoman. That works out to 5/3 of a hand matzoh for each person. Eleven hand shmurah matzohs are in a two-pound box, which is enough matzohs for six people at one seder. Obviously the three shmurah matzohs on the table for display won’t be enough to feed the crowd, so you give out little bits of those matzohs along with all of the extra matzohs you need to make up the minimum shiur. If somebody really can’t eat all of that matzoh I believe that in those cases just managing a total of one Kazayis or 1/3 of a hand matzo is enough, but ask your Poseik or Rav.
There is a nine-minute time period for eating the matzoh, this seems to include chewing but not swallowing, so your Seder participants sit with bulging cheeks chewing away at the round hand matzohs.
Wine or Grape Juice: Don’t be daunted by the requirement for four cups. We use small size cups, actually five ounce juice glasses, much easier than using regular size wine bechers which can be six or eight ounces. We also use very light wines for those who have trouble with heavy or high alcohol wines. Kedem has some very drinkable light wines such as Matuk Rouge Soft and Matuk Rouge Kal. The Pesach guides have a discussion here also about the minimum shiur. The first Kos has to be at least 4.42 ounces for Kadesh if the first Seder falls on Friday night and it is also Kiddush for Layl Shabbos, otherwise the shiur is even smaller for each of the arba kosos. Since for two of the kosos you must drink the whole kos and for two of the kosos at least half of the kos, it is easiest to use small glasses or cups for the kosos (measure in advance).
Maggid – With daylight savings time, the Seder doesn’t start until after the guys get back from davening Maariv, which means not even beginning until 9 PM. Pretty late. Our family takes about 2-1/2 hours on Maggid, we don’t get to the Matzah and Marror eating until about 11:30 PM and the dinner itself until close to 11:50 PM. Since chatzos is at 1 AM that gives us just one hour for the meal itself (we do it quickly by leaving out the fish and salad courses, just hardboiled egg in salt water, soup, main course, dessert), getting to the Afikoman at about 12:58. We try to allow everyone to say something during Maggid even though we want to move the Seder along. I think we strike a good balance. Benching then Nirtzah, we finish by 2 AM, hopefully the adults are awake enough to drink the last two Kosos and sing Hallel plus the famous Seder songs Chad Gadya and Echod Mi Yodaya.
You too can survive the Seder. Try to take a nap Erev Pesach, easiest when Erev Pesach is Shabbos, more difficult on a weekday. Help to get the table and the Seder Plate ready so that the Seder can begin right away after the men get back from Maariv. Everyone should start off with a Haggadah and a Kos on a small plate or saucer. The dish of three matzohs with a cover should be near the person leading the Seder, also the bowl of salt water and some utensil for dipping the bits of Karpas. Plenty of different strengths of wine and grape juice should be ready for pouring on the table. There should be a washing cup and towel near the sink for Urechatz and Rachtzah. People should have cushions or pillows ready on their chairs so they can lean (“recline”) when they drink the Arba Kosos. As mentioned above, it helps for everyone to use the same Haggadahs, however some people have their favorite Haggadahs and there are kid-friendly Haggadahs (aside from kid-made Haggadahs from school). Dig in the closet to get out the white Kittel that was cleaned and put away after Yom Kippur.
As long as you fulfill the halachic requirements of the Seder, there is room for some creativity and even humor. There are families who toss around stuffed frogs at the Esser Makkos – Ten Plagues point of the seder. My kids still sing songs from an old Pesach tape they heard about twenty years ago. I know that there are people who conduct a very serious Seder; we are a little more lighthearted. It’s very important for the children at the Seder table to be involved in the telling of the Haggadah; after all, that’s one of the mitzvos of the night, teaching your children about yetzias Mitzrayim. It’s interesting to think about how the sages of two thousand years ago designed the Haggadah and the Seder in a way to keep children interested and awake, millennia before anyone dreamed up the phrase, “multi media presentation.”
Chag Kasher v’Sameach to all!