We have now told the story of Passover…but wait! We’re not quite done. There are still some symbols on our seder plate we haven’t talked about yet. Rabban Gamliel would say that whoever didn’t explain the shank bone, matzah, and marror (or bitter herbs) hasn’t done Passover justice. Rabban Gamliel cherished three symbols; tonight we will explain seven! One for each day of the week; one for each of the seven lower sefirot/aspects of divinity.
And they are:
The Maror, bitter herb or horseradish, which represents the bitterness of slavery.
The Charoset, a mixture of apples and nuts and wine, which represents the bricks and mortar we made in ancient times, and the new structures we are beginning to build in our lives today.
The Lamb Shank (or beet) which represents the sacrifices we have made to survive.Before the tenth plague, our people slaughtered lambs and marked our doors with blood: because of this marking, the Angel of Death passed over our homes and our first-born were spared.
The Egg, which symbolizes creative power, our rebirth.
The Parsley, which represents the new growth of spring, for we are earthy, rooted beings, connected to the Earth and nourished by our connection.
Salt water of our tears, both then and now.
Matzot of our unleavened hearts: may this Seder enable our spirits to rise.
And what about the orange? In the early 1980s, Susannah Heschel attended a feminist seder where bread was placed on the seder plate, a reaction to a rebbetzin who had claimed lesbians had no more place in Judaism than bread crusts have at a seder. “Bread on the seder plate…renders everything chametz, and its symbolism suggests that being lesbian is transgressive, violating Judaism,” Heschel writes. “I felt that an orange was suggestive of something else: the fruitfulness for all Jews when lesbians and gay men are contributing and active members of Jewish life.” May our lives be inclusive, welcoming, and fruitful.
And the olive? The final item on our seder plate is an olive. After the Flood, Noah’s dove brought back an olive branch as a sign that the earth was again habitable. Today ancient olive groves are destroyed by violence, making a powerful symbol of peace into a casualty of war. We keep an olive on our seder plate as an embodied prayer for peace, in the Middle East and every place where war destroys lives, hopes, and the freedoms we celebrate tonight.
בְּכָל־דּוֹר וָדוֹר חַיָּב אָדָם לִרְאוֹת אֶת־עַצְמוֹ, כְּאִלּוּ הוּא יָצָא מִמִּצְרָֽיִם
B’chol dor vador chayav adam lirot et-atzmo, k’ilu hu yatzav mimitzrayim.
In every generation one must see oneself as if one had personally experienced the Exodus from Egypt. Liberation wasn't a one-time thing that happened to our ancestors in bygone times; it is an ongoing experience, something that can ripple into our consciousness every day. We too were redeemed from Egypt, and we are perennially offered the possibility of liberation if only we will open our hearts and our eyes.
The seder reminds us that it was not only our ancestors whom God redeemed; God redeemed us too along with them. That’s why the Torah says “God brought us out from there in order to lead us to and give us the land promised to our ancestors.”
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who redeemed us and our ancestors from Egypt, enabling us to reach this night and eat matzah and bitter herbs. May we continue to reach future holidays in peace and happiness.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, borei p’ree hagafen.
We praise God, Ruler of Everything, who creates the fruit of the vine.
Drink the second glass of wine!
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