Friday, March 26, 2010

Radical Vegetable Therapy - by Rabbi Moss

Question of the Week:
What is the meaning behind the Karpas - the vegetable dipped in salt water at the beginning of the Seder? There seems to be no explanation to it at all, we just eat it!

Answer:
The Karpas is perhaps the most enigmatic part of the Seder. But its message is the most vital one for the entire Pesach experience. It comes right at the beginning of the evening, for without it you can't even start the Seder.

The Haggadah instructs us to take a vegetable, dip it in salt water, make the blessing "Blessed are You G-d...Creator of the fruit of the ground," and eat it.

Any vegetable can be used for Karpas, as long as it fits the following two criteria:

1. It must be a "fruit of the ground", as opposed to fruit of the tree.
2. It must not a bitter herb, such as the those eaten later on at the Seder for Maror

If we understand the inner meaning of these two requirements, we will grasp the secret of the Karpas.

A tree is a plant that remains standing year after year. You pick this year's fruits, and next year the very same tree bears new fruit, on the same old branches that grow from the same old trunk.

Not so with vegetables. When you pick potatoes, celery or onions, that stalk is gone forever. The next vegetable will have to grow from the ground, another entirely new stalk has to grow from the roots. This year's potatoes are a completely new plant, they didn't grow on the same stalk as last year's. The old has gone and made way for the new.

Karpas must be a fruit of the ground, because it sets the tone for the entire Seder night. Pesach is all about new beginnings, taking the first step toward spiritual freedom, experiencing the exodus of the soul from the slavery of bad habits. To achieve this freedom the human, like the fruit of the ground, needs to renew and rejuvenate, to grow, develop, refresh and reinvent itself from the ground up.

Indeed, the very first man was named Adam because he too was created from the dust of the ground - Adamah. And so the Karpas' message of renewal is more than just a nice concept, it is an integral part of being human. We too have the power of self-reinvention. We are not stuck in the self of our past. We are not bound by our previous mistakes or past failures. We can start again. We just need a bit of vegetable therapy.

This does not mean being callous or dismissive of our past mistakes. We must take responsibility for them and be truly regretful. We may even shed a tear for our wrongdoings, represented by the salt water. That's fine. Tears are healthy, when they are an expression of sincere emotion. But now, at the opening of the Seder, is not the time to focus too much on our difficult past. We will do that later, when we eat the Maror. But we can't eat bitter herbs for Karpas. If we want to renew ourselves, we need to start with being open and positive, not bitter and resentful.

And so we sit at the Seder, read the same Haggadah, sing the same songs and eat the same Matzah. But before all that we eat the Karpas, to remind us that while things may seem the same they actually aren't. Tonight you are opening a fresh chapter, turning a new page. It is a new you reading the Haggadah from today's perspective, not last year's. So let the story of freedom speak to you this year with freshness and originality, like never before. Let the Seder night be the launching pad for a new you.

Good Shabbos and a happy, kosher and uplifting Pesach!

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