Here we are again about to enjoy springtime and celebrate Pesach. Again, we are about to follow the yearly ritual in preparation for the Seder night, celebrated on the fourteenth of Nissan of the Jewish calendar. In traditional orderly combination of songs, narration and ritual, we-individuals and nation-are about to celebrate the most pivotal event in our history, the liberation from slavery to freedom.
Why is this ritual called Seder? The noun seder, derived from the verb s.d.r, is related to the Akkadian saddru and means 'arrange' or 'order'. Interestingly the word seder appears only once in the Bible where the writer uses seder in the negative plural lo s'darim, meaning 'disarray' rather than order (Job10:22). However, in post-biblical time, the root s.d.r was a base for many concepts and phrases echoing organization and order.
Indeed, on the Seder night we follow an orderly ritual recalling the Exodus from Egypt. From the four cups of wine to the four questions, from the narration of the gifts of freedom to the songs of hope and redemption, Jews all over the world follow a similar orderly ritual. It is interesting that even though the Seder ritual is not mentioned in the Bible, the biblical stories echo a home centered, familial origin for the celebrations of the Exodus (Ex 12:1). With the years the ceremonies became exclusively public and took place in Ye-ru-sha-la-yim (Dt 16:5-6; II Kgs 23).
Later, after the destruction of the Second Temple, the celebration returned solely to the home as the Mishnah describes (Pesachim 10). Even though The Seder is reminiscent of a joyous Greco Roman meal, it is associated with Jewish culture as it received with time a unique Jewish character celebrating an event in Jewish history.
Short is the page to mention all Hebrew phrases based in the root s.d.r. Suffice it to mention Sidur, the daily prayer book which follows a distinct daily order of prayers. Also we should mention the six volumes of the Mishnah called Sidrai Mishnah, 'Orders of the Mishnah' pointing to its organization and order. Lastly, in modern spoken Hebrew the expression b'seder is used often to agree or affirm a point, similar to the English OK.
And so we see that seder is an important word in our tradition. It reminds us of faith and leads us to appreciate freedom. It celebrates tradition and points to affirmation. Have a Happy Pesach.
Professor Rachel Zohar Dulin teaches Hebrew and Bible at Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in Chicago.