Shank bone (zeroa): This is a roasted bone with some meat on it. Although zeroa is often described as the shank bone of a lamb, the emphasis is on the commemoration of the Paschal sacrifice, which was the most important part of celebrating Passover in the time of the Temple. Unlike most of the symbols of seder night, this one is for looking at, not eating.
Egg (beitzah): The egg commemorates the Hagigah sacrifice that was eaten with the Paschal sacrifice on seder night during Temple times. 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 mourners 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.
Vegetable (karpas): Just about any vegetable may be used for karpas, as long as its not one that can be used for bitter herbs. Vegetables that are commonly used for karpas include parsley, celery and potatoes. During the seder, the karpas is dipped into salt water, reminiscent of the tears of the Israelite slaves, before eating.
Bitter herbs (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. Hazeret, a plant that scholars identify as lettuce is the first of five plants listed in the Mishna as a food that can be used for maror.
Haroset: The word is thought to come from heres, meaning clay, and the sweet reddish or brownish paste 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.
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