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 eight! 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.
Matzah, which reminds us that when the chance arises for liberation, we must seize it even if we do not feel ready- indeed, if we wait until we feel fully ready, we may never act at all.
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? 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.
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