The Significance of the Passover Foods
Here are some of the traditional foods you would find on the table at a Passover Seder.
- Roasted lamb shank bone: One of the most striking symbols of Passover, it commemorates the paschal (lamb) sacrifice made the night the ancient Hebrews fled Egypt. Some say it signifies God's outstretched arm. Vegetarians can substitute a roasted beet.
· Roasted egg: Like the z'roa, the egg (beitzah, in Hebrew) stands in for a holiday sacrifice once offered at the Holy Temple. The egg is also a universal symbol of springtime, new beginnings and rebirth—all themes echoed in the story of the Exodus. The egg is not eaten during the ritual part of the Seder. Many families do, however, preempt their main course with an appetizer of chopped, hardboiled eggs that are served with salt water. This first course reminds those who eat it that, even as they embark on new journeys, they must remember the hardships that brought them there.
- Maror (“bitter herb”): The most common is horseradish. Bitter herbs bring tears to the eyes and recall the bitterness of slavery.
- Charoset: This sweet salad of apples, nuts, wine and cinnamon represents the mortar used by the Hebrew slaves to make bricks.
- Karpas: Some say this green vegetable, usually parsley, symbolizes the freshness of spring, others say people eat it to make them feel like nobility or aristocracy. Some families still use boiled potatoes for karpas, continuing a tradition from Eastern Europe where it was difficult to obtain fresh green vegetables.
- Chazeret: This bitter herb, most often romaine lettuce, shares the same symbolism as maror.
- Salt water: Symbolizing the tears and sweat of enslavement, it also is a symbol for purity, springtime and the sea, the mother of all life.
Matzah: Also spelled matzoh and matza, matzah is the unleavened bread eaten (instead of bagels, sandwich bread and pita) during Passover. No matter how you spell it, it is the quintessential Passover food.
When the Israelites learned that the pharaoh had agreed to let them leave Egypt, they did not have time to bake bread for their journey. Lest Pharaoh change his mind (which he did), they quickly made unleavened dough and baked it on their backs in the sun. Also called the Bread of Affliction (Lechem Oni in Hebrew), matzah symbolizes the hardship of slavery and the Jewish people's hasty transition to freedom.
The matzah is partaken from ritually three separate times during the Seder. The first time, the matzah is eaten by itself; next it’s eaten together with maror (bitter herbs); and finally with maror and haroset in a "korech" sandwich.
During the struggles of Soviet Jewry, a fourth piece of matzah was added to the Seder plate to symbolize the struggles of Jews who were not yet free enough to celebrate the Passover. Today, some families still use that fourth matzah as a way of remembering all people who are not yet free to celebrate as they wish.
- Wine cups and wine (or grape juice): Everyone at the Seder has a small cup or glass from which they drink four cups of wine. Traditionally, the four cups represent the four biblical promises of redemption: “I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rid you from their slavery and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. And I will take you to me for a people." Others say the four cups represent the four letters in the unspeakable Name of God.
The Passover Seder is a richly symbolic and sensory experience. The foods that are eaten during Passover serve as tangible reminders of the hardship of slavery and the exaltation of Exodus. From matzah and maror to charoset and chazeret, Passover foods reconnect Seder participants with historical events that happened many years ag