The Jewish Chronicle - - JUDAISM -

KARPAS IS the veg­etable or herb that rep­re­sents spring time and is dipped in the salt wa­ter that rep­re­sents the tears of Is­raelite slaves. Dip­ping the karpas is one of the first rit­ual acts of our seder, and is in­cluded in the Mah Nish­tanah. The dip­ping of the veg­etable orig­i­nated with the Ro­mans, who were first to in­tro­duce one of our favourite kid­dush fares: the cru­dité dipped into hum­mus. There is some con­fu­sion over what con­sti­tutes karpas. In my fam­ily, we use pars­ley: oth­ers, radishes or even beet­root.

Clearly the veg­etable is im­por­tant but I am more in­trigued by its twin, the salt wa­ter. Wa­ter is a pow­er­ful theme in the hag­gadah. But the wa­ter has anom­alies. We cross the Red Sea, but on dry land, as the wa­ter is held back, in a way that de­fies nat­u­ral law. Mitzrayim, ac­cord­ing to the Midrash, means “tight place” and is re­ferred to as the birth canal, with the wa­ter of the Red Sea rep­re­sent­ing the am­ni­otic fluid through which we are born anew as a peo­ple. How­ever, we are born as a peo­ple through the wa­ter that does not rush, as does am­ni­otic fluid, but through wa­ter that is with­held. Our na­tional birth is through a dry birth canal.

In mod­ern times, many have added a Cos Miriam to the seder ta­ble. Cos Miriam is a cup of wat e r , which repres e n t s the midrashic w e l l o f sweet wat e r w h i c h fol­lowed the Is­raelites through the wilder­ness. The well is at­trib­uted to Miriam be­cause of her prophetic abil­i­ties, and her courage in lead­ing the women across the Red Sea with joy and singing. In con­trast to the sweet wa­ter of the Cos Miriam, we dip our karpas into bit­ter wa­ter.

The con­trast be­tween sweet, life-giv­ing wa­ter and bit­ter salty tears points to one of the im­por­tant mes­sages of the hag­gadah. Al­though the seder is a cel­e­bra­tion, the wa­ters re­mind us that life is not easy. We get tossed by the waves of daily life and cri­sis. Bit­ter and sweet ex­pe­ri­ences share the same hours. Per­haps that is why we lean dur­ing the seder. We lean near the one sit­ting next to us, not just for free­dom’s sake, but to en­cour­age us to lean on each other while we metaphor­i­cally drink both bit­ter and sweet wa­ters in our lives. RABBI MAR­CIA PLUMB South­gate Re­form Syn­a­gogue

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