The Seder Plate

Long before the producers of Sesame Street got the bright idea of using creative media to make learning at home fun, Jewish families were "home schooling" their children in religious education through the celebration of the feasts and holy days of Israel. Among the most important of these is the Feast of Passover. Not only does it celebrate the Exodus from bondage to Pharaoh in Egypt; it is also a precious and joyful opportunity for Jewish parents and grandparents to introduce the latest generation of Jewish offspring to the sacred history of our people.

What's on the Plate at Passover?

Like many of the Jewish feasts and observances, Passover is a story that is told and retold around the family table with the aid of a kaleidoscope of sights, smells and tastes. Four cups of red wine, representing the blood of the Passover lamb and the four promises of God in Exodus 6:6-7, are ritually taken throughout the course of the meal. The centerpiece of the Passover seder (order, or arrangement) is a plate upon which is placed a variety of the ritual foods that are seen and tasted as the order of the evening's festivities unfolds.

They consist of the following: karpas (greens), maror (bitter herbs), and charoset (mixture of chopped apple, nuts, cinnamon and wine). Sometimes there is also a second portion of bitter herbs called chazeret, which is included in obedience to the instruction cited in Numbers 6:11 to have more than one bitter herb at the Passover celebration. Also present on the seder plate is a baked or roasted egg: the beitzah, and the shankbone of a lamb: the z'roah.

Beneath the seder plate are placed three sheets of flat, unleavened bread called matzah, which represent the "bread of affliction" the children of Israel prepared during their hasty departure from Egypt. This union of "three-in-one," which is kept in a special cloth, is charged with a symbolism that may be seen as a vivid fulfillment of the messianic claims of Jesus. It was this very bread that Jesus broke and distributed according to Passover custom, and proclaimed to be His own body. (See accompanying article-"The Mystery of the Matzah Tash.")

The Meaning of the Passover Elements

Each of the elements on the seder plate has a specific meaning. The karpas represents the hyssop with which the children of Israel applied the blood of the Passover lamb to the doorposts and lintels of their homes so as to avoid the wrath of God's judgment upon Egypt. It is ritually dipped in salt water, symbolic of the anguished tears shed while in slavery. The maror and chazeret help us remember the bitterness of our lives in bondage. The charoset symbolizes the mortar used by the Israelite slaves to construct the buildings commanded by Pharaoh. The z'roah reminds us that lambs can no longer be sacrificed because the Temple was destroyed in AD 70. The beitzah may be seen as another symbol of sacrifice-one that emphasizes the idea that sacrifice means not only death, but also the potential of new life.

All in all, the seder plate tells the story of Passover in a way that young and old are certain to remember. Not only that, the elements of Passover tell the story of the Messiah. For when they are taken hold of by Jesus, they speak to us afresh with His own unmistakable voice.


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