The Seder Plate
We place a Seder Plate at our table as a reminder to discuss certain aspects of the Passover story and the meaning of this holiday. Each item has its own significance.
Maror and hazeret: Mar means “bitter,” and the maror is meant to remind us of the bitterness of slavery. The two main foods customarily used for maror are lettuce –especially Romaine lettuce (which eventually turns bitter and is commonly used as maror in Israel) – and grated horseradish, which is commonly used in many Jewish communities outside of Israel. Some seder plates have a spot for each of those items, and you can put horseradish in one of them and lettuce in the other.
Horseradish appears to have become a popular choice for maror because it was easier to obtain than lettuce in Germany and Eastern Europe, but hazeret, a plant that scholars identify as lettuce (yet, confusingly, is the modern Hebrew term for horseradish), is the first of five plants listed in the Mishna as a food that can be used for maror ” (Haaretz).
Charoset: “The word is thought to come from heres, meaning “clay,” and the sweet reddish or brownish paste (the color depends, of course, on what you put in it) is meant to symbolize the clay the Israelite slaves used to make the bricks and mortar for their Egyptian overlords. The sweetness also offsets the taste of the bitter herbs, much as our freedom offsets the taste of remembered slavery. There are many different recipes for haroset, but the classic Ashkenazi version involves apples, walnuts and red wine, while many Sephardi recipes call for dates or other dried fruit” (Haaretz).
Karpas: A green vegetable, usually parsley, which we will dunk in salt water is a reminder of the bitterness of B'nai Yisrael’s slavery in Egypt and the tears which were shed.
Zeroa: “Although zeroa is often described as the shank bone of a lamb, other bones or a beet root work too – such as a roasted chicken wing, chicken leg or part of the neck. The emphasis is less on the exact body part and more on the commemoration of the Paschal sacrifice, which was the most important part of celebrating Passover in the time of the Temple. The zeroa is also seen as an allusion to the ‘outstretched arm’ (zeroa netuyah) with which the Bible says God took the Jews out of Egypt. Unlike most of the symbols of seder night, this one is for looking at, not eating” (Haaretz).
Beitzah: “The egg commemorates the Hagigah sacrifice that was eaten with the Paschal sacrifice on seder night during Temple times, though it was animals, not eggs, that were brought to the Temple. One reason commonly suggested for using an egg to represent the sacrifice is that eggs – whose circularity is seen as representing the cycle of life – are a typical mourner’s food, and thus remind us that we are mourning the destruction of the Temple, as a result of which we cannot bring the Passover sacrifices” (Haaretz).
Why do we eat matzah on Pesach? Because our ancestors didn’t have time to bake normal bread when they fled Egypt, and because HaShem commands us to eat matzah during Pesach.
A fifth cup of wine poured during the Seder is left untouched in honor of Elijah, who, according to tradition, will arrive one day as an unknown guest to herald the advent of the Messiah. At one point during the Seder dinner, the door is briefly opened to welcome Elijah. This commemorates the historical redemption from Egyptian bondage of the Jewish people and reminds us of our future redemption.
This is newer Passover tradition. The cup is filled with water and placed next to Elijah’s cup. Miriam was the sister of Moses. After the exodus, while wandering through the desert, legend says that a well of water followed Miriam. It was called ‘Miriam’s Well’. We seek to honor Miriam’s role and the spirit of all women, who nurture their families
Pesach is a time of inclusion.
On seder night, there are two moments where we metaphorically open our doors and invite others in. One is at the opening of the Magid portion of the seder, when we say, “All who are hungry come and eat.” Today especially this is an important message. We were once slaves; poor and hungry, we honor our redemption by sharing what we have with others.
The other, is when we open the door for Elijah the Prophet as a statement of faith, a statement that although we are a free people, our redemption is not yet complete, but we believe it will come.
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