Many people begin the Seder by chanting the “order” of the “Seder:” Kadesh, urechatz, karpas, yachatz… this poetic presentation of the Seder contains the major rituals of the evening. For Rabbi Ettlinger and others these rubrics represent the steps in living a spiritual life of repentance, prayer and good deeds. The Seder, then, is a template for living a virtuous life. It is not an accident that there are fifteen Seder signs, since fifteen is written Yud – Hay, the name of God. RMBG
There are three means through which one can purify oneself: teshuvah (repentance), tefillah (prayer), and tzedakah (righteous giving). Each affects the person in a different way. Through repentance, one purifies thoughts. Through the songs of the heart offered in prayer, one purifies deeds. And by helping a needy person, one sanctifies one’s deeds by turning (former) transgressions into merits. For each of these efforts, one is rewarded in a different way: a reward in this world, in messianic days, and in the world to come.
In Egypt, at the time of our redemption from slavery, all three of these strategies were necessary. First, the Israelites set aside their Passover offering four days prior to the Exodus in order to purify their thoughts (from idolatry). This took place on the day known as Shabbat HaGadol.18By setting aside their offering several days before its sacrifice, the Israelites affirmed their rejection of idolatry and their defiance of the Egyptians. Thus, it was a way of psychologically preparing themselves not only for the Exodus but for their rejection of the values of Egypt. By preparing for the offering the Israelites affirmed their faith in God's redemption.
Second, Moses’ declaration of the coming Passover was a way of purifying the actions of the Egyptians, forcing them to acknowledge the falseness of their beliefs. This was an act of repentance out of fear (on the part of the Egyptians). 19The Egyptians acknowledged the power of God by allowing them to offer their Passover sacrifice. They did so however, out of fear rather than truly affirming the power of God. This is known as teshuvah mei-yirah – where we do the right act but we do so out of fear of punishment.
Finally by offering the Passover sacrifice in Egypt, the Israelites transformed their former transgressions into meritorious acts.20Both the Israelites and the Egyptians performed an act of teshuvah at the time of the Exodus - the Egyptians by not attacking the Israelites when they announced their intention to sacrifice the lamb, one of the gods of Egypt, and the Israelites by offering the sacrifice. The fact that the Egyptians did not seek to take vengeance on the Israelites once they declared their intention to slaughter the lamb was a result of the Egyptian’s fear of God and not love of God. The Israelites, on the other hand offered the sacrifice not out of fear but out of love. This idea that “transgressions can be transformed into meritorious acts” is often quoted in rabbinic literature. See B. Yoma 86b. Teshuvah allows us to transform our weaknesses into strength so that our transgressions become merits.
Therefore, on this night when God brought us closer to His service, and took us as His people, we mention of all the mighty acts which God placed before us. This is the meaning of Kadesh U’rechatz, the order of the Seder.
• Kadesh/Teshuvah - In order to approach the service of God one must prepare oneself. One of the meanings of the word Kadesh is 'preparation' as in, the verse, "Joshua told the people, 'Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow...'" (Joshua 3:5) One begins the process of sanctification by ridding oneself of sinful thoughts; this is the first step of true repentance. We do this by expressing regret for our former transgressions.
• U’rechatz/Tefillah - One rids oneself of sinful thoughts by means of rechatz, of cleansing oneself. This is accomplished by ceasing to commit transgression. If one tries to cleanse himself while still committing transgressions, one is like a person who immerses himself in a mikvah while holding an impure reptile.21This is a commonly used expression in rabbinic literature. Immersing oneself while holding on to an impure reptile is a way of saying that one goes through the motions of repentance while still committing the sin that made one impure. One doesn’t become impure in the mikvah if one is still holding on to the impure creature.
• Karpas/Tzedakah – Afterwards, one must perform acts of tzedakah, of righteous giving in order to gain atonement.22Rabbi Ettlinger's process of teshuvah is similar to that of Maimonides: first in thought (by expressing regret), then by ceasing to do evil and finally by changing through good acts. Here is the essence of tzedakah: the donor should not think that he is giving away his own wealth to the needy person. Rather, he should realize that he is giving the needy person that which God has graciously lent to him, as has been explained elsewhere: “Tzedakah exalts the nation while giving charity (hesed) to others is a sin.” 23Rabbi Ettlinger interprets tzedakah and hesed as contrasting terms: tzedakah is giving the needy what God has shared with you while hesed is giving charity, or sharing your own property with others. The highest form of giving is to recognize that what one was given by God should be rightfully shared with others and not simply feeling good about giving your possessions to others. For Rabbi Ettinger tzedakah is a higher form of giving because there is no ego or personal benefit in giving. (Proverbs 34:14) The word tzedakah is related to the words righteousness (tzedek) and justice (mishpat), and as the sages taught: "The Holy One created needy people in order to give merit to the wealthy through them."
• Yachatz - He should help the needy by means of karpas yachatz. The word karpas is made up of two parts: kar, which is derived from the term kariti, as in, “Be sure to bury me in the grave that I made ready (kariti),” (Genesis 50:5); the word pas as in the expression ‘palm of his hand.’ One should make ready the palm of one’s hand to give tzedakah while considering that he is giving the needy person half (yachatz) of what God has merely provided to him rather than simply being generous with own possessions. In this way his prayers will be unified before God.
• Magid – This term has the connotation of a declaration, as in this verse: “I declare (higid) this day before the Lord your God...’ (Deuteronomy 26:3) He made a declaration at the time when he brought first fruits or the second tithe to the Temple. He must do so on the condition that his hands are clean (rechatz) of all iniquity and sin, as it is written, “I wash (erechatz) my hands in innocence and walk about your altar, O Lord; raising my voice in thanksgiving and telling all Your wonders” (Psalm 26:6-7)
• Motzi Matzah – When he gives tzedakah he should do it by means of motzi matzah. Chametz alludes to sin while matzah alludes to the commandments, as has been explained elsewhere: “You shall observe the (feast of) Matzah…” (Ex. 12:17) ‘This verse should be read: “You shall observe the mitzvot (commandments)24The words matzah, mitzvah, and motzi all are made up of similar consonants.. Matzah transforms sin and transgression into mitzvot. Wickedness is transformed into meritorious acts and thereby a person becomes worthy of the three types of rewards alluded to above.
• Maror, Korekh - He will be worthy of receiving rewards in this world through, maror, korekh – the bitterness of exile (maror) will be broken (korekh) and will not befall him. Not only that, but in addition, he will merit shulchan orech/‘a set table’ rather than bearing the burden of exile.
• Shulchan Orekh - The prepared table, as it is written, “You will prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” (Psalm 23:5) This is all offered to him in this world in which there are still enemies who embitter the life of the individual. In the world to come there will no longer be hatred.
• Tzafun Barekh – In the days of the Messiah, people will receive the blessings (barekh) that are hidden (tzafun) for the righteous, as it is written, “How abundant is the good that you have hidden away for those who fear You; You do so in the full view of people, those who take refuge in you.” (Psalm 31:20) This verse refers to the coming of the Messiah when there are still mortal people in the world.
• Hallel, Nirtzah – This is a reference to the world to come, a time of which no eye has foreseen except for the eye of God, and no one can describe what it will be like. All we can say of the world to come is that all will praise the Holy One (Hallel) and that all will be appeased (nirtzah) – there will be no jealousy or hatred. In the world to come the righteous shall sit and imbibe the radiance of the Divine Presence.