Rabban Gamaliel has said: one who has not explained the following three symbols has not fulfilled their duty: Pesach (the paschal lamb), matzah, and maror.

Jewish tradition grows by accretion. Rabban Gamaliel cherished three symbols; tonight we will explain seven! 

The Maror, bitter herb or horseradish, which represents the bitterness of slavery.

The Haroset, 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.*2 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?

A folk tradition claims that someone once criticized Jewish feminism by shouting, “Women belong on the bimah (pulpit) like oranges belong on the seder plate!” Hence, many today include oranges on their seder plates, as a symbol that women belong wherever Jews carry on a sacred life. Women do belong in Judaism, whether on the bimah or at the seder table, but that’s not actually how the orange tradition began.


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.”16 To speak of slavery and long for liberation, she says, “demands that we acknowledge our own complicity in enslaving others.”17


One additional item on our seder plate, therefore, is an orange, representing the radical feminist notion that there is—there must be—a place at the table for all of us, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. 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. 

haggadah Section: -- Cup #2 & Dayenu
Source: Velveteen Rabbi's Haggadah for Pesach