The Seder Plate

This is one of the most sensory-heavy rituals of the Jewish year. We don’t just tell the story of the Exodus, we see, smell, feel, and taste liberation. Most of the elements of this sensory experience appear on the seder plate, which is used as an aid to help us tell the story of Passover. The plate traditionally holds five items, each of which symbolizes a part (or multiple parts) of the Passover story. There is no wrong way to arrange the ceremonial items on the plate but typically they are ordered according to the narrative of events in the Exodus from Egypt. The Passover Seder revolves around this plate and the symbolism of it's items:

  1. Maror - A bitter herb that symbolizes the bitterness and harshness of the slavery of the Israelites (Exod 1:13-14). We dip maror into charoset in order to associate the bitterness of slavery with the work that caused so much of this bitterness.
  2. Chazeret - This herb is deemed inedible because it "cannot be swallowed" or accepted. Some use the same bitter herb for both maror and chazeret.
  3. Charoset- An Apple, wine, honey and nut mixture that represents the mortar used by the Jewish slaves. The name itself comes from the Hebrew word cheres or clay. Chaoset symbolizes the toil and labor of the Jewish people in Egypt (Exod. 1:14).
  4. Z'roa - A shankbone from the roasted lamb (or goat) that symbolizes the korban Pesach (the sacrificed lamb whose blood was put upon the door posts Exod 12:21-23)
  5. Karpas - A green vegetable that represents the growth and fertility of the Jewish people in Egypt (Exod. 1:7). Around Passover the first buds emerge, and we look forward to the sense of possibility and hope that accompany the beginning of spring.
  6. Beitzah - A roasted egg that symbolizes the hagigah sacrifice, which would be offered on every holiday when the Temple stood. The egg also represents the cycle of life — even in the most painful of times, there is always hope for a new beginning.

Salt Water Bowl - The salt water symbolizes the tears and sweat of the Jewish slaves. It can also recall the splitting of the Reed sea and the destruction of the Egyptian army. (Exod 3:7, 14:16,21)

Matzah - Unleavened bread is used in commemoration of that first seder meal and the haste in which the Israelites left Egypt — giving them no time to allow their bread to rise. (Exod 12:34,39, 13:6-8) The seder table should have three pieces of matzah wrapped or covered in a cloth.

In most cases the matzah and salt water sit near, but not on, the seder plate.

haggadah Section: Introduction