Kadesh- Sanctify: At this initial phase, we fully enter into the holiness of the night. We declare that we are totally present as we consecrate this sacred space. To be completely present without any distractions by choosing to be present in the here and now. This is independence. Establishing presence is the first step towards freedom.
Urchatz- And Wash: With our newly consecrated mindset, we can accurately cleanse ourselves from any impurities or negativity from the past. We can also bring mindful awareness to the physical act of washing, returning our attention to the present moment.
Karpas- Dip a Vegetable in Salt Water: After experiencing Kadesh’s freedom, we are thrust back into a smaller or more constricted mindset symbolized by the dipping of the vegetable into the salt water. We are tasked to embrace and acknowledge our more unskillful choices. Rather than deny and repress this “smallness” on the path to liberation, we allow ourselves to feel the “full catastrophe” and the bitterness of life. This is a critical step to move forward to total freedom.
Yachatz- Break the middle matzah: We acknowledge our brokenness in order for true healing and freedom to be achieved. Before we tell the story of our redemption, we must know what needs to be redeemed. We set aside the larger part (ironically, the more unconscious part of ourselves) to be internalized more fully at the end of the seder when we can integrate it properly. We can focus on the sensation and sound of the breaking of the matza.
Magid- Telling the story of our liberation: We recount how we were once enslaved people and idol worshippers, “v’achshav” and now we have become free. In the here and now. Our speech that had been in exile is now redeemed. By actively listening and through mindful speech we are accessing true freedom, the ability to to express our truths and the goodness of our lives.
Rachtza- Washing Hands for Matzah: Now that we are free, we can wash our hands with a bracha bringing additional purity into our lives. Washing our hands allows us time to set our intentions for eating the matzah and marror with presence and open-heartedness.
Motzi- Making the Bracha Over the Matzah: We recite the blessing carefully and with intentionality. Having just emerged from Egypt, we can make a blessing even on the brokenness in our lives. On an even deeper level, we can see how it is precisely the brokenness that compelled us to develop into who we are at this moment and who we are destined to become. We can bless all of our parts as we see how our life’s brokenness becomes whole, which is itself a source of praise and blessing.
Matzah -Eat the Matzah: We pay close attention to the taste and texture of the matzah as it is being eaten. The matza is a food of healing in that it inculcates us with a deeper understanding of our faith in Hashem and our worthiness to be redeemed. Matzah is the bread of be-here-now as it is an ever-present reminder that it is always possible to taste redemption in the present moment.
Maror- Eating the Bitter Herbs: We once again cultivate mindful presence by focusing on the taste and sensation of the bitter herbs, acknowledging and allowing the discomfort that comes with it. Be mindful to chew it slowly to ensure we don’t just swallow it down but to allow for the release of its deeper, initially imperceptible sweetness. Once we have internalized the message of the matza we can accurately process the bitterness of the maror, sweetening the negativity by dipping it in the charoses and seeing how even our bitter experiences were a necessary component to our freedom. We can even make a bracha on it!
Korech- Eating the Matzah and Maror Sandwich: Another exercise in mindful eating; here we focus on the process of making the sandwich and the different tastes and textures of the ingredients. At this stage, having eaten both the matzah and maror we can reflect on one of the signs of freedom: the capacity to bear paradox. We fully integrate our experiences into one unified whole. Inner liberation results from our ability to “sandwich” all the divergent components of life, the bitter and the sweet, to form a cohesive life of wholeness.
Shulchan Orech- The Festive Meal: Taking the time to enjoy the food and the people with you, eating in a dignified manner while being present in the moment. Bringing our expanded mindful awareness to include even the most physical and mundane of activities elevates and transforms our natural behaviors into acts of holiness.
Tzafun- The hiddenness (Eating the Afikoman): Now liberated, we can fully integrate all our “parts.” At this stage of the seder, even the most hidden and disowned parts of our lives can be reclaimed, integrated, and elevated. The inner child within us can ultimately uncover these “lost” or “hidden” parts, allowing us to experience ourselves from a beginner’s mind with joyful purity and wonder.
Barech- Grace After the Meal: Having unified all of our life into one integrative whole, we can bless and express gratitude to Hashem for every detail of our lives. When looked at properly, even the most trivial and insignificant parts of our lives become an opportunity for blessing.
Hallel- Singing Praise: Once we have blessed Hashem for this very life, we deepen our expression of gratitude with singing praise. A song would lack beauty if it did not contain both a high and low part. At this point in the seder, we can sing the music of our lives. The collective and individual soul of Klal Yisrael sings your praise. For each and every breath we take, we must praise you.
Nirtzah- Radical Acceptance: We have arrived at the end of the seder, ironically precisely where we began, and yet entirely transformed. Totally present in the here and now. Nothing is left to say and do; we have entered wholly into the mode of being. We banish any traces of skepticism or doubt whether or not the Seder achieved what we had “hoped” it would achieve. We have arrived at our natural state of presence and love. We are home.
Overall, the key to mindfully engaging with and pausing at every step of the seder is being present regardless of what might be going around both out and inside of you. Appreciating each step’s inner and outer mechanisms as best we can to internalize the meaning behind each stage of the Seder.
May we be zocheh to Pause together in Yerushalayim!
(Based on the teachings of Rav Dov Ber Pinson Shlita)