Passover Seder: Reasons based on Talmudic Liturgy or Custom of dipping finger in wine?

We have a neighbor up the street who has an outdoor brick oven that’s used one day a year - erev Pesach (the afternoon before the first Seder) to make matzah by hand. Many people from the neighborhood go to make their own. Obviously, they can’t make enough for all Pesach, but it is very cool to use matzah I baked myself at the Seder.

If there are any mistakes, the dough just gets thrown into the fire where is burns up.

A wonderful reference for the Seder is The Schechter Haggadah. A few points therefrom:

  • The earliest mention of this is a sermon given by R Elazar of Worms (12th Century), who says “for each word, a finger [goes] into the cup of wine and they spill out a drop. This is the custom of our fathers.”

  • R Elazar also says that there are 16 drops of wine spilled: one for the three plagues mentioned in Joel (blood, fire, and pillars of smoke), ten for the ten plagues in Egypt, and three more for R Judah’s mnemonic. Why 16? Because the Sword of God has 16-faces and is mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah 16 times. The word life (hayyim) appears 16 times in Psalm 119. And there are 16 aliyot for the Torah each week (seven on SHabbat morning, three at Shabbat afternoon, three on Monday and three on Thursday.)

  • Spilling the wine was also a way of warding off potential danger. We spill wine partly from fear that once’s God’s destriuctive powers are unleashed, they might strike us as well. This is mentioned explicitly in 14th and 15th Century writings: the reason for spilling the wine is to ask God to protect us against these plagues.

  • By the 15th Century, Don Isaac Abarbanel (15th Century Spain) gives the explanation most common today. Proverbs 24:17 tells us not to rejoice upon the death of our enemies. This is not the origin of the custom, but it is anotion conected to Pesach in classic rabbinic sources. E.g., we don’t recite Hallel on the last six days of Pesach because the Egyptions were drowing in the sea.

There is later debates over whether to spill the wine with a finger or pour directly from the cup. And, if a finger, which finger? The problem with putting a finger in the wine is that it dirties the wine and (according to some rabbis) renders it undrinkable. One rabbis says afterwards to pour the wine out and pour a new coup.

= The use of a finger is related to Exodus 8:15, the Egyptian magicians says about the plague of vermin, “This is the finger of God.”

It’s a great reference work for scholarly info about the seder!

I’m usually too full to suck the pinky at the end of the seder. :smiley:

Oy. :smack:

I don’t have an exact answer (obviously no one knows for sure), but I’ve always wondered why that wasn’t included in the Four Questions if it’s so important. I always followed the tradition of not rejoicing over the death of others, so we clearly don’t lick our pinky fingers.

It’s my assumption that the reason why some do three and others do sixteen is because the three is the abbreviation found at the end (the death plagues) of that section and sixteen is all plagues mentioned.

(still, if we were really concerned, why just 16 drops? first off, no one will cry if they’re 16 drops shy of Manischewitz, but if you had good wine, why not pour out a few cups?)

Another thing - I was always told we cover the challah because it is the last item used in the Shabbat meal. We don’t diminish the importance of challah or “offend” it (or the woman who baked it haha). I think it’s little silly of an explanation, but can someone tell me if the matzah is ever re-covered during the Seder? Or is it covered after its broken until it’s the matzah’s turn and then left uncovered?

I love Passover. The extent of tradition, philosophy and history is fascinating. I’m in it for the stories - not the chopped liver. :smiley:

We uncover at certain points and then cover again, so it’s covered all the time unless it’s being used.

Not challah, though, but matzah.

In general, the matza is uncovered for most of the seder, because of bread’s importance in general, and because of matza’s central importance at the seder. For this very reason, at the points in the seder where we turn our attention to the wine, the matza is temporarily covered to spare it the embarrassment of not being in the spotlight.

(Of course, matza is inanimate and doesn’t experience embarrassment, but customs like these train us to be sensitive to those who do experience embarrassment.)


Thanks! I’m used the challah thing but I don’t run the Seder…so I never paid attention.