The karpas, the green vegetable, is the first part of the seder that makes this night different from all other nights. So far, the first glass of wine and the hand washing, though significant, do not serve to mark any sort of difference; they are regular parts of meals. The karpas, however, is not. As a night marked by difference, that difference starts now.
Passover, like many Jewish holidays, combines the celebration of an event from Jewish memory with recognition of the cycles of nature. As we remember the liberation from Egypt, we also recognize the stirrings of spring and rebirth happening in the world around us. The green vegetable is a symbol of springtime and nature’s renewal.
We temper this symbol of hope and rebirth by dipping it in salt water, symbolic of the tears of the enslaved Israelites and all those who continue to not be free.
Take karpas, dip in salt water, and eat.
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