Passover 2019 begins on Friday April 19, where families and friends will get together and participate in the traditional Passover meal called the Seder. The focus of the Seder is actually on telling the story of the Exodus from Egypt and the newfound freedom of the Jewish people as they wandered in the desert for 40 years, were given the Torah, and finally, made Israel their home. While we use a Haggadah to read from, the Seder plate provides a visual aspect to the Passover story.
The Seder plate, to put it simply, its essentially a large plate with either little bowl intact or placed on top that gives space to different foods that help tell the Passover story. Below is a list of each food and what they represent.
During the times of the Temple, a lamb was given as the Karban Pesach– Passover sacrifice, as preformed by the Priests. The shank bone used today is not just cooked and placed on the Seder plate, but rather roasted to give it the feel of having been a sacrifice. While we go through the effort of roasting the Zeroa it is actually not eaten at the Seder so we do not give off the impression of eating the Karban Pesach, something only done in the Temple.
During the Temple, a smaller sacrifice was given in addition to the Karban Pesach. This was called a Karban Chagigah- festive sacrifice, which is today represented by a hardboiled egg. Some take the time to char the shell to make it look like a sacrifice, but why a hardboiled egg? Since there were two sacrifices offered, at the Seder we have two cooked meals and because it is easy to cook. There are plenty of deeper meanings behind the egg, such as the fact an egg is a food of mourning and we mourn the fact we no longer have the Temple and cannot give these sacrifices.
Maror and Chazeret
There are two different bitter herbs eaten at the Seder table, used to remember the bitter times of being slaves in Egypt. These bitter herbs usually take their place on the Seder plate most commonly as horseradish root and romaine lettuce, but endive and dandelion are also acceptable options. Horseradish root is more often used as Chazeret and placed inside the Passover sandwich made during the Seder and Maror is dipped in Charoset later on.
Charoset is one of the favorite foods at the Seder table, although it has a rather sad background. Charoset is a sweet apple based paste or spread (depending on how your family likes it) typically made with apples, nuts, dates, and wine, but there are multiple variations of Charoset, as different Jewish communities had different ingredients available to them. This part of the Seder plate represents the mortar used by the Jewish slaves in Egypt, and it is used in the Passover sandwich with Chazeret.
Karpas is a bitter vegetable, but not nearly as bitter as Maror or Chazeret. Most people use celery, parsley, raw onion, or a potato as their Karpas, which is dipped in saltwater at the Seder table to remember the tears of the Jewish people in Egypt as they preformed back-breaking labor. One of the more interesting parts about Karpas, is that it is a way to get children to ask questions, a very important aspect of the Seder. Dipping vegetables is unusal before the meal itself, and on Passover, vegetables are dipped twice.
At some progressive Seder tables you might even find…
You read that right, sometimes you might find an orange on a Seder plate! Susannah Heschel, a modern Jewish scholar and daughter of philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel, started putting an orange at her Seder table as a symbol of inclusion to those marginalized in the Jewish community. The seeds of the orange are to be spit out as a way of “spitting out” the negativity towards Jews in the LGBTQ+ community. Some view it also as a way of promoting gender equality in Judaism.
Next to the Seder plate, one would find the three matzahs used throughout the Seder, in fact, some Seder plates come with space for the matzah below. The Seder plate is lifted or pointed at and removed from the table at different times during the Passover Seder. The foods have a specific order they are placed in, and usually Seder plates are of a circle shape, which is symbolic of a cycle, but plenty of artists have created many beautiful Seder plates in all different shapes.
To learn more about the different components of the Passover Seder, check out the Passover section of Judaicapedia.org.