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To be done before the Holiday begins
You may not start the Seder until an hour after sunset, when it is definitely full nighttime. However, all preparations for the Seder should be made the day before Passover, before sunset.
Among the things you will need are:
1. Salt water. This is easy to make. Simply take some salt and dump it into water. This will represent the tears our ancestors cried when they prayed to God to rescue them from slavery. During the part of the Seder known as "Karpas," we will dip potatoes into this salt water. The potatoes call to mind the bricks that the Egyptians forced us to make when we were building the cities of Pisom and Ra'amses for them.
2. Potatoes. For the Karpas, as mentioned above. While many people use potatoes, various vegetables are acceptable for Karpas, including parsley, celery, or cabbage. Do not use romaine lettuce, since it qualifies as the maror (Bitter Herbs--see below).
3. Romaine lettuce. These will be used for the Bitter Herbs, for the part of the Seder called "Maror." It is important to carefully check the lettuce, because most Romaine lettuce is mildly infested with worms. Aside from the automatic disgust most people would feel about eating worms, it is also forbidden by Jewish Law. Eliminating the worms is fairly easy, though. Hold each leaf up to the light and check for livestock. If you find any, remove it. These days, it is also possible to buy pre-checked romaine lettuce. The investment is worth it. Some add a little ground horseradish to augment the bitterness. If you use horseradish, it should be pure, and not have any additives, nor should it have beets mixed into it.
4. Chazeres: The spine of the Romaine lettuce. This is placed on the Seder Plate and will later be used for the Koraich sandwich.
5. Charoses. We will dip the bitter herbs into this very sweet dish. To make charoses, mix ground almonds, filberts, and apples. Add some cinnamon, and a touch of ginger. Some people add one pear for every three or four apples. Pour in some red wine to create a thick, pasty texture. The thick consistency is the consistency of mortar, and calls to mind the mortar we were forced to mix as slaves in Egypt. The Charoses should be red, or reddish, to represent the Jewish blood spilled in Egypt.
6. Drumstick (Shank bone). This will be placed on the Seder Plate, to represent the Passover Sacrifice that we may not offer when there is no Holy Temple in Jerusalem. It may not be made of meat, but chicken is acceptable. Most people use a chicken drumstick, to represent the "outstretched arm" (i.e., the great miracles) with which God took us out of Egypt. Some people use a chicken neck, perhaps because it is long and thin, and more closely resembles an arm. It should be roasted, to remember that the Passover Lamb was required to be roasted. The shank bone will be eaten on the following day, and not on Passover Night at all.
7. Egg. A hard-boiled egg is placed on the Seder Plate, to represent the Holiday Sacrifice offered when there was a Holy Temple. It is forbidden to offer any sacrifices except on the Holy Altar in the Holy Temple, which will be rebuilt when our Final Redemption from Exile takes place. If you have no hard-boiled eggs, any cooked item will suffice, but an egg is best, because it symbolizes protected growth. This is a reference to the protected growth of the Israelites in Egypt, and to the "incubation" of holiness within us from Passover until Shavous, fifty days later.
8. Kittel. The person leading the Seder should wear white. The Kittel is a long, white, men's jacket worn by a man leading the Seder. If a woman is leading the Seder, it is appropriate for her to wear a white dress, or some extra white garment. The purpose of the white clothing is to resemble angels, on this night that we celebrate our release from the mundane and our freedom from slavery.
9. Pillows for reclining. It is customary to recline slightly during certain parts of the Seder, to indicate that we are no longer slaves. In ancient times free people reclined while eating; slaves did not.
10. Wine. Red wine is best, because it is reminiscent of the blood we spilled in Egypt. Each person at the Seder must drink the Four Cups. If a person is unable to drink wine for health reasons, then grape juice is also acceptable.
Buy a goblet or glass for each person expected at the Seder, and enough wine so that each person at the Seder can drink four cups. Each cup must hold at least 4 and ½ ounces of wine (see Amounts), and must be filled up to the top. When drinking any one of the Four Cups, one must drink more than half the cupful. (See The Four Cups of Wine.)
11. Fire. You will need to light the Holiday Candles at the beginning of the Seder. Since it is forbidden to strike a match to create fire on the Holiday, prepare some fire before the Holiday begins. Many Jewish groceries sell multiple-day candles. If you can get one of these, light it before sundown on the day before Passover. Use that fire to light the Holiday Candles. Those who cannot get such a candle often leave one burner on their gas range on low, from which to get fire for the Holiday Candles and with which to heat up the Holiday food.
The candles should be lit just as you begin the Seder, unless the Seder is being held on Friday night, in which case the candles are lit Friday before sunset.
12. The Meal. Part of the Seder involves eating a festive Holiday Meal. While there is no Law about what you must eat, there are certain conventions and customs. You've probably heard about chicken soup and matzahballs, and that is indeed a popular course to serve. Just make sure the matzahballs are made out of Kosher-for-Passover matzah meal.
Fish is also commonly eaten at a Holiday Meal, and it is generally the first course. Afterwards, chicken soup, and then chicken or meat. However, it is forbidden to eat roasted meat on Passover Night. Finally, if you prefer, dessert. The primary dessert, though, should be the Afikoman, the piece of matzah you will put away for later.
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