Asking the Clergy: What is the significance of food during Passover?

Rabbi Ben Herman, Jericho Jewish Center

Rabbi Ben Herman, Jericho Jewish Center Photo Credit: Ellen Dubin

Why is food central to Passover?

The eight-day festival of Passover begins Friday evening. This week’s clergy discuss the role of food in the traditional Passover seder meal.

 

Rabbi Ben Herman

Jericho Jewish Center

The joke about Jewish holidays is that they can be summed up in one phrase: “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!” No holiday has food as a more central component than Passover. On the first two nights of Passover, we have a meal called the seder in which we make a plate with foods representing our ancestors being slaves in Egypt and their eventual redemption. Items on the seder plate are maror or bitter herbs, representing the bitterness of slavery; haroset, symbolizing the mortar used to make the bricks; saltwater, the tears our ancestors cried while enslaved; zeroa, a shank bone; and the Paschal lamb sacrificed by our ancestors and signifying that God took us out of Egypt with an outstretched hand. Also, an egg, representing the communal hagigah sacrifice; and karpas, a vegetable, generally green, representing that spring has come — the season in which the exodus from Egypt occurred. Let us not forget the matzoh, the unleavened bread our ancestors ate because they were in such a rush to leave Egypt that they didn’t have time for it to rise. As a result, we do not eat any substance which has leavened, and actually wipe away all traces of leavened substances, cleaning out our refrigerators, kitchens, offices and even automobiles, needing to get rid of every crumb. This massive ordeal is done in part to eat simpler foods (many subsist on matzoh, fruits and vegetables during this holiday) and in so doing emulating our ancestors’ experience of living in the desert. By focusing on the food we eat and giving symbolic meaning to much of it, we get the sense we fulfill the commandment to relive the Exodus from Egypt.

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