It is taught in Talmud Yerushalmi Tractate Pesachim 10:4 the story of  the four sons. But
did we realize that the sages taught that they were not referring literally to four different
people, but to each one of us,  and the various ways we can act or react to spiritual
situations? In a sense  using modern terms, the four sons story is one of spiritual
schizophrenia, when  we are not in shlema, integration.
The Talmud tells us that our Yetzer ha Ra never leaves us. Good is not the absence of
Bad. One can be righteous and wise while the evil inclination persists in trying to
dominate him. The Kabbalah takes the Gemetria numerical equivalent of Echad (one)
son, which is 13, and multiplies it by four to arrive at 52. Fifty-two is the Gemetria
numerical equivalent of Ben (son).
Passover's story of the four sons is a lesson in becoming integrated and not being
spiritually schizophrenic any longer.
Talmud Yerushalmi Tractate Pesachim 10:3 :''Merchants of Jerusalem used to say:
Come and take the spices of the commandment!  Rabbi Issi's  wife said in her
husband's name:  And why is the charoset called dokhah (  pounded)?  Because the
charoset is pounded with bitter  herbs.''
''Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said:  It needs to be thick in  remembrance of the mud used as
''Some teach:  It needs to be soft. Charoset is a remembrance of the  blood (of the  first
plague and/or the blood on the doorposts that  protected the Israelites from the tenth
plague of the killing of the first  born). ''
Answering the question of dreading Passover ''cleaning and cooking.'' The cleaning is a
spiritual act of removing the chumatz, the puffed-up-ness, the ego, from our lives
Leaven  represents the evil impulse of the heart'' (Talmud Bavli Tractate Beracoth''.
17a).  Since all of us have been now taught this, none of us  find doing this dreadful. As
far as cooking, since we are doing the mitzvoth of  not only ahavath chesed by having
guests over, and fulfilling Rabbi's Huna's  edict in Talmud Bavli Tractate Ta'anit 20b of
''Let all who are hungry,  let them come and eat, all who are in need, let them come and
share- Kol Dichpin  Yeatay Vayachol, Kol Ditsreech Yeatay V'yifsach,'  as well as
preparing for  the countless mitzvoth of Pesach, none of us feel dread. We have all
agreed that  over the years we have learned to make the seders about God and
spirituality and  not about food, and not about wowing guests with food preparation
either. One of  us is serving on paper plates and plastic cups this year. But all have us
have  grown to use a full Hagaddah and many will study Talmud Tractate Pesachim till
beyond midnight at our seders.
Who was Rabbi Issi? The famous Rabbi Solomon Schechter says the following: ''Rabbi
Issi is a  tanna of the beginning of the third century. The name "Issi" or "Assa" is derived
from "Jose," and was borne by many tannaim and amoraim; hence the confusion that
prevails in the Talmud concerning the identity  of each of them, the same halakic or
haggadic saying being attributed sometimes to one and sometimes to another of that
name. Thus the prohibition against riding on a mule is reported in the Yerushalmi (Kil.
31c) in the name of Issi ben A?abya, while in the Tosefta (Kil. v. 6) it is attributed to
Issiha-Babli,  who is undoubtedly identical with Issi ben Judah. Bacher supposes that
Issi ben  A?abya was the brother of Hananiah ben A?abya, the interpreter
("meturgeman") of  R. Judah. Issi was a diligent student of the Bible, and some of his
interpretations have been preserved in the midrashic literature. From I Kings  viii. 64 he
infers that the expression  (Ex.  xx. 24) means an altar of copper filled with earth
(Mekilta to Ex. xx. 24). In  reference to Ex. xxi. 14 he says that though the murderer of a
heathen can not  be convicted by a Jewish tribunal, he must answer for his crime to God
(Mekilta,  ad loc. 80b). The permission expressed in Deut. xxiii. 25 is, according  to Issi,
extended to everybody and not only to the workers in the field; but the  permission
applies only to the harvest-time (Yer. Ma'as. 50a).''
But back to Charoset. Do we really know its meaning? We say it symbolizes the mortar
at our seders, yet it is sweet, and made with wine and other pleasant  spices. And in the
Talmud Yerushalmi we have a hint it symbolizes blood. As Jews, are we not forbidden
to eat blood? What is going on with Charoset?
Why is there no beracha, blessing, mentioned to do for the charoset?  And what is the
real reason it is on the seder  plate?
Dovid Melach [King David ] tells us to make at least 100  berachoth a day, and here is
an opportunity to make one over the spices,  the fruit and nuts, in the charoset ( Borei
minei v'samim for the  spices, Borei p'ri ha-etz for the fruit, Borei p'ri  ha adamah  if the
nut is grown below ground, or ha- etz, if it is picked from a  tree). We have already
blessed the wine which is an ingredient, and while some  use honey to make charoset,
that beracha would be 'sher ha kol neeh yeh biid vah  ro.'
The Passover Hagaddah is very specific on why we eat foods, their symbolism, and
when we eat them during the meal, and even as to how we  eat them. The Seder, which
means order, defines this orderly way of doing  things. Yet when it comes to charoset,
little is said.
The Hagaddah as well as the Talmud is very clear about Matzah, bitter herbs, greens,
salt water, egg, shank bone, and their symbolism of turning the bread of haste and of
the poor into the bread of freedom, eating hot foods to  the tongue to remind us the
bitterness of slavery, eating greens to remind us of spring and that hope always springs
Eternal with faith in the Holy One, the egg  to remind us of the daily sacrifice at the
Temple, and the shank bone to remind  us of the Pascal lamb offering as well as the
sign our ancestors put on the door  frames of their homes so the Angel of Death Passed them Over.
The last chapter of the Tractate of Pesachim (daf 115b-116a) describes the Seder rules
from nearly 2000 years ago. Charoset is introduced as one of the items to be "brought
forth, even though it is not considered a mitzvah."
Rabbi Eliezer the son of Rabbi Tzadok disagrees, and declares it to be a  mitzvah.
The Gemara, the Talmud's discussion of this Mishnah poses the  following question:
''If it's not a mitzvah, what are they bringing it  for?''  The Gemara answers: For dipping,
so that it neutralizes the  poisonous effect of the horse radish.
Then the Gemara asks what is the  mitzvah of charoset? The Gemara gives answers
that are familiar to many of us.  Charoset symbolizes the mortar of the bricks we as
slaves made in Egypt, hence  its thickness. Charoset alludes to the verse in Song of
Songs, "Under the apple  tree I aroused you." The rabbis saw this as a metaphor that
refers to the fact  that the Israelite women gave birth without pain, and were thus able to
hide  their sons from the Egyptians.
There is a midrash that Rashi quotes which  states the "mirrors of legions" which were
donated for the "Mishkan" (the  tabernacle) were used by our mothers, the Israelite
women, to arouse their  husbands when they returned to the fields so that a Jewish
future could be  built. Moshe did not want to accept the mirrors because of their
association  with desire, but God said these mirrors are the most dear to me, so you,
Moses,  are to accept them. Thus it is written, "Under the apple tree I aroused you."
Everyone agrees that charoset should be part of the meal, but there is a disagreement
on its status. If charoset is a mitzvah, why  is there no blessing as there is for marror
(bitter herbs)? Why would charoset  not be a mitzvah if we have perfectly good reasons
for it to be included in the  seder?  When Rabbi Eliiezer the son of Rabbi Tzadok said
that charoset is a  mitzvah, is he saying that it is a mitzvah from the Torah, or is it a
rabbinic  decree? If it's a rabbinic decree, why don't the rabbis know about it? Yet, the
Talmud says the Song of Songs compares the Jewish people to the qualities of  apples,
pomegranates, figs, dates, walnuts and almonds. And the Charoset should  be made
from these items. The Talmud further adds roots of ginger and sticks of cinnamon, to
remind us of the straw used as mortar. And to use tangy apples to remind us of how
Hebrew women gave birth without pain, so they didn't cry out,  so that Pharoah's
soldiers could not find and kill their first born.(Song of Songs 8:5). But the Rabbis of the
Talmud are still confused if Charoset belongs on the seder plate or it it should be sweet,
tangy, or 'muddy', but end up deferring to the spice sellers in the souk, who for
generations have been shouting, a week before Pesach, 'get your spices for the Mitzvah
of making Charoset."
Charoset, unlike Marror (bitter herbs) is not mentioned  explicitly in the Torah. The fact
that we made bricks is recounted in the Torah,  and we are commanded to tell the story.
Part of telling the story is making it  real by having tangible symbols. The Torah not only
gives us matzah and  marror, but gives us guidelines for how to make every aspect of
the  meal symbolic. When Rabbi Eliezer Bar Tzadok calls charoset a mitzvah,  he is
signaling that irrespective of the original reason for having charoset,  there is an
opportunity to symbolize another aspect of the story. It is a  mitzvah to take charoset
and give it a kind of meaning that enriches  the story of the Hagaddah. For anyone who
tells more of the story is considered  praiseworthy.
Charoset is on the seder plate also, but not explained. Its mentioned  in the "telling" part
of the Hagaddah. Yet it is on every seder we have  been to in every part of the USA,
and in China, India, Brazil, Argentina,  Germany, cruise ships, and other countries. And
each recipe varies. But the  basics are the same. It is a mixture, chopped finely, of fruit,
nuts, spices and  wine.
In Egypt, it is made only of dates, raisins, walnuts, cinnamon and sweet wine. In Greece
and Turkey, it consists of apples, dates, chopped almonds and wine. In Iraq and Central
Asia it sometimes consists of grape jelly. In Italy, it can include chestnuts In Spanish and
Portuguese communities of the New World, such as Surinam, it may include coconut.
The Four Questions of the seder lead us to the eating of Charoset. The answer to one
of the questions is: "On all other nights, we do not 'dip' even once; on this night, twice."
The Hagaddah directs us to dip our green vegetable into salt water and bless God for
this fruit of the earth, Borei p'ri  ha adamah. The text does not mention what the second
dipping is. It is  dipping matzah in the Charoset. And the Hagaddah, as mentioned
above, has  no beracha  for this food.
So -  "Why is there charoset on the Seder plate?" The  answer, by word of mouth, from
2500 years of generations  from our first Rabbis in Babylon,  is that  charoset  is the
mortar that we slaves used between bricks when Pharaoh forced us to build  him cities.
Charoset derives from the Hebrew word "cheres", which  means "clay".
Charoset is sweet. While there is always left over marror  (bitter herbs), we have never
gone to a seder, world wide, where there is  left over Charoset. If Charoset is to remind
us of mortar,  the recipe is  'off', or the true explanation has been lost.
Jewish  tradition requires that we read, no actually  sing, the Song of Songs of Solomon
during Passover. And this, world wide, we have rarely seen at a Seder.  Some Rabbis
wanted to ban this text as too sexy. But it was included in the  canon of the Hebrew
Scriptures, as other Rabbis posited it was a love poem between man and God or Israel
and God, and not man and woman. Charoset symbolizes the Song of Songs, and  not
Songs of Songs actually has the recipe for Charoset. But it is also read on Passover,
not just because Israel is in love eternally with God and God is in love with Israel
eternally, via the Covenant on Sinai, but because as humans, we  are liberated to be
free to love one another.
It is also read on Passover,  because just as Moses' name is never mentioned in the
Hagaddah, just God's name  is, in the Song of Song's, God's name is never mentioned.
The only other  book where God is not mentioned in the Jewish Bible, the Tanach, is
It is also read this time of year because love and spring is a time when animals give
birth, and flowers and trees bloom, and the earth is re-born after a dark winter.
Remember the roots of Passover as a spring holiday, go further back that the Hebrew's
holiday of Passover.
Here is the hidden recipe for Charoset from the Song of  Songs:
"Then I went down to the walnut  grove."
"Feed me with apples and with  raisin-cakes; "
"Your cheeks are a bed of spices; "
"The scent of your breath is like  apricots;"
"Your kisses are sweeter than  wine; "
"The fig tree has  ripened; "
Other fruits, spices and nuts are mentioned in the Song as well.  Persian Jews take this
very seriously in their recipe.
Not all Jews use the term charoset. Some of the Jews of the Middle East instead use
the term "halegh". The origin of halegh is not clear. Rav Saadia Gaon uses the word
and attributes it to a kind of walnut that was a  mandatory ingredient in the preparation
of the halegh.
Parts of the Jewish Diaspora in Persia have a tradition of including 40 ingredients in the
halegh. The 40 signify the forty years of wandering in the desert. Included are all the
fruits mentioned in the Song of Songs : apples 2-3, figs 2-13, pomegranates 4-3, grapes
2-15, walnuts 6-11, dates 7-7 with the addition of wine 1-2, saffron 4-14 and cinnamon
4-14. To arrive at the magical number of forty some recipes include the following
1 to 5: five different varieties of apples
6 to 7: two different varieties  of pears
8 to 10: three different varieties of grapes
11 to 12: two  different varieties of dried figs
13: fresh ginger, grated
14: dates
15  to 18: dried apricots, dried peaches, dried cherries and dried prunes
19 to  21: red raisins, yellow raisins, currants
22 to 26: the following nuts -  walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios and filberts [all
dried roasted without  any oils and unsalted]
27: pomegranate juice
28 to 35: the following  spices – cinnamon as the dominant spice, cardamom, allspice,
nutmeg, fenugreek  seeds, saffron, cloves and black peppers [all crushed]
36 to 39: white wine,  red wine, rose wine, vinegar
40: starting with the late 1950s bananas were  added as well
And they shape it into a Pyramid before serving. (It is a historical inaccuracy that
Hebrews built the pyramids).
Like with any  lovemaking, (and haven't we heard that food is love from our bubbies?),
there is no exact recipe. Every Jew, every Seder, in every country, makes its  own
charoset. As the Song of Song says: "Do not stir up love until it pleases.  Do not rouse
the lovers till they're willing." Chop it, stir it, blend it,  smooth it, caress it, put things in,
make things moist, for as long as you would like. If it takes you more than four hours,
please consult your Rabbi.

haggadah Section: Commentary / Readings
Source: Foundation For Family Education, Inc.