Seder means “order.” The traditional Passover Seder is a list of steps that help to ensure that we accomplish certain tasks set forth in the Torah. Let's look at the different goals that the seder seeks to accomplish and how they arise from the text of the Torah itself. This will help you to make sure that your seder fulfills its divinely ordained purpose.
Below I’ve listed just a few of the biblical tasks that the seder sets out to achieve. For a more thorough examination about how the seder is derived from the biblical text, see our new video resource Finding the Seder in the Bible. This presentation is perfect for people who love Passover and uphold Scripture as their ultimate authority. It is for anyone who wants to see the underlying biblical basis for the customs they observe.
1. To remember and relate the story of redemption
At the seder, each person follows along in the Haggadah, a booklet that guides the participants through the evening. Haggadah means "a telling," and it is so named due to its central feature, the story of the exodus from Egypt. As the Torah instructs:
You shall tell your son on that day, saying, "On account of this that the LORD did for me, taking me out of Egypt." (Exodus 13:8)
This teaches us that we must tell the story of the exodus from Egypt at our seder. Deuteronomy 26 provides a nice, concise outline. And remember that children are the most important guests!
2. To eat the ceremonial foods.
A second important goal of the Passover Seder is to eat the foods commanded by the Torah for that night.
The Torah instructs that three foods are eaten: the roasted Passover lamb, bitter herbs (maror), and matzah. People would wrap them together and eat it like a sandwich.
Without the Temple and altar, it is not possible to fulfill the commandment of eating the lamb sacrifice. Nor is it possible to fulfill the commandment of eating the bitter herbs correctly as a topping for the lamb, but we eat them anyway in remembrance.
Eating matzah, on the other hand, is a commandment in its own right. So we make sure to eat that at our seder (and plenty of it)!
3. To provoke questions from our children
Although the Haggadah explains the matzah and bitter herbs, it fails to give any guidance about the meaning behind other symbols. This is inspired by a subtle pattern in the Torah regarding Passover:
When your son asks you in the future, saying, "What are the testimonies and the statutes and the judgments that the LORD, our God, has commanded you?" (Deuteronony 6:20)
And when your children say to you, "What is this service to you?"(Exodus 12:26)
And it will be that when your son asks you in the future, "What is this?" (Exodus 13:14)
By bringing up these questions, the Torah implies that the seder should arouse children's curiosity. That’s why the Haggadah explains some of the main features of the seder, but it leaves several symbols for us to ponder and ask about. It also guides children in asking questions—an important key to learning.
4. To relive and personally identify with the exodus
One of the goals of the seder is to recreate the experience of the exodus so that each person feels personally redeemed from Egypt. The Torah implies that we should feel that way, since it says that in every generation, a person should tell their children, "On account of this that the LORD did for me, taking me out of Egypt" (Exodus 13:8).
5. To express gratitude for the redemption
Given that we see ourselves as personally redeemed from Egypt, it is appropriate that we recognize how great that is and verbalize our thankfulness to God.
For this reason, at our seder we sing a section of Psalms called the Hallel. These psalms of praise, from chapter 113 to 118, declare God’s greatness and make mention of the exodus from Egypt.
6. To acknowledge the holiday's holiness
Passover is one of the holy appointed times the Torah lists in Leviticus 23. The Torah calls it a mikra kodesh, which literally means “calling of holiness.” Just as on Shabbat and all festival days, we formally proclaim Passover's holiness by reciting a blessing over a cup of wine.
7. To rejoice on the holiday
Passover is one of the three pilgrimage festivals, and the Torah tells us that we are to observe the pilgrimage festivals with rejoicing (Deuteronomy 16:14). That means we serve delicious foods, drink wine, and sing happy songs. After we eat and are satisfied, let’s make sure to bless God.
The Season of Our Redemption
Disciples of Yeshua have one more goal to accomplish at the seder. He instructed us to "Do this for my remembrance" (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:23-24). In addition to the list above, we must accomplish the task of making Passover a memorial of him. Make sure that the Master’s memory and words are integrated into your Passover experience. One way to do that is by using a Messianic Passover Haggadah.