WHAT IS A SEDER?
The holiday of Passover commemorates the deliverance of the Children of Israel from slavery in Egypt. In preparation for the exodus, the Israelites marked their doorways with the blood of a lamb so that they would not be struck by the plague of the first born. That night, they feasted upon the lamb as they waited for the time to leave - this was the very first “Seder.”
The Exodus from Egypt marks the birth of the nation of Israel and their transformation from a group of distant relatives into a unified people. The Torah instructs that this great event be commemorated for all time at a “Feast” that is to be held on the 14th of Nissan. This feast day is then followed by a week-long holiday. The main stipulations for the Feast of the 14th are: 1) that matzah, “the bread of affliction,” be eaten, 2) that the story of the exodus be told, 3) that one commemorate the bitterness of slavery with maror (bitter herbs), and 4) that a lamb be brought to the Temple for a Pascal sacrifice. All of these obligations are fulfilled at the Seder (at least symbolically).
Almost all Jewish holidays (except Yom Kippur) are celebrated with a joyous feast, sanctified with wine (kiddush) and the motzee (the blessing over the bread). While the meal is a way of elevating the holiday, it is not that which makes the day holy. On Passover, however, the meal itself serves as an essential vehicle for the ritual retelling of the exodus - the Seder.
Much as it will surprise most people, there is no holy meaning to the term “Seder.” In Hebrew, “seder” simply means “order.” The Passover Seder is called this because it follows a basic set structure in order to fulfill the mitzvah of retelling the story of the Exodus. This structure can be found in the Haggadah.