Passover is a holy festival commemorating the freedom of the Hebrews from dictatorship and enslavement by the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II. Celebrated across seven or eight days starting from the 15th of the first Hebrew month of Nisan, Passover is the most significant of all Jewish festivals. It is observed with immense pomp and glory throughout the world. And the centerpiece of this celebration is the traditional dinner known as Seder which is organized at a Jewish home. This Seder plate has a total of 7 quintessential elements that rake up symbolic meaning related to the Exodus legend. The story of Passover is recalled and various symbolic foods are served on the Seder plate. The Seder is celebrated over two days; the first and second night of the Passover Festival. The Seder table is thus steeped in religious tales and the family then participates in the feasting all the while recalling their traditions and feelings. Read through the following lines to more about the symbols of the Pesach festival.
Symbolic Foods For Pesach
Matzah is the most important symbol of Passover on a Seder plate. It is hard cracker-like flat bread made without any leavening. A stack of three pieces of matzah are served at a plate covered with cloth. Matzah is a symbol of the bread that the Hebrews consumed after they fled from the slavery of the Pharaohs of Egypt. Hence, it is essential for every Jew to eat matzah on the occasion of Passover.
Maror represents any bitter herb, to signify the tears shed by the Jews and the bitterness of the slavery of the Egyptians. The most common bitter herbs consumed include horseradish, romaine lettuce, endive, charchavinah, green onions, curly parsley and dandelion.
Charoset is a thick paste-like mixture prepared from fruits, nuts and wine. This delicious concoction represents the mortar that was used by the Hebrews during their forced labor of making bricks and constructing buildings. It is prepared by combining chopped apples, apricots, bananas and walnuts. The mixture is then moistened with red wine and spiced with cinnamon.
Karpas is a green vegetable symbolizing the tears of the Jewish people shed during their enslavement under the Egyptians. Vegetables like parsley, carrot, radish or potato are generally dipped in salt water or lemon juice and consumed. Karpas also represents the freshness of spring and new life.
Baytzah is a baked or roasted egg, which signifies springtime and renewal of a new life associating with the Hebrews at the time of escape from Egypt. It stands for the sufferings and deaths of the Jewish people over the years under enslavement.
The roasted lamb shankbone, also known as zeroah, is one of the most striking symbols of Passover. The zeroah represents the sacrifice made by the Hebrews on the night they fled from Egypt in the form of slaughtering of a lamb or "paschal". The sacrifice is made as part of God's mighty outstretched arms, who brought the Jews out of the oppression.
At the Seder meal, everyone is served with four cups of wine symbolizing the four different stages of Exodus that led to the freedom of the Hebrews. These stages were freedom, deliverance, redemption and release.
Apart from these 7 symbols on the Seder plate, there are other foods that are definitely prepared during a Passover feast. A bowl of Salt water is kept on the dining table which represents the tears and sweat of enslavement. Ironically it also symbolizes purity, the sea and sprint season. Before eating the Karpas, everyone usually dips it in this salt water bowl. Traditional Jewish Seder's begin by consuming a hardboiled egg dipped in salt water. Another bitter herb helping is served which is called the Chazeret, which us usually romaine lettuce holding the same symbolic connection as Maror. Due to its biblical connection, the symbols of lamb shank bone and roasted egg is not eaten. Over the period of time different ways and traditions of eating the symbols have come up. In some families a large Seder plate is arranged on the dining table and members eat the symbols from it. While some families prefer to give everyone their own mini Seder plate, families with large celebrations with a huge gathering, the Seder symbols are passed around the table where people serve themselves.
Various ritual foods and other items symbolic to Passover are placed on the Seder plate. Read to know the different symbols of Pesach.