The Jewish Chronicle - - JUDAISM -

WHY DO we dip bit­ter herbs in charoset? The Talmud men­tions the rea­son for the sweet dip on our seder plate as kapa: the bit­ter “poi­son” in the bit­ter herb of maror must be neu­tral­ized for fear that ex­ces­sive con­sump­tion may dam­age the stom­ach lin­ing.

The sid­dur of Rabbi Shlomo ben Nathan Al-Si­jelemsi, con­tain­ing a ver­sion of prayers used in the At­las Moun­tains nine cen­turies ago, refers to the ha­leg, the Ara­bic name for charoset, and men­tions that it was dipped into twice; first with the karpas and then the maror. Per­sian ha­leg could have sev­eral dozen in­gre­di­ents, in­clud­ing ba­nanas!

Mai­monides had a sim­ple charoset — boiled figs or dates, crushed but not puréed. Charoset has a con­sis­tency rem­i­nis­cent of mor­tar; cin­na­mon and wal­nuts for colour and grit, shred­ded ap­ple for the straw with which the He­brews baked bricks. All this tinged with the wine of cel­e­bra­tion, bring­ing hope into the vale of tears.

Life has its bit­ter­ness, but also its sweet­en­ers, its charoset. We need to make the ef­fort to dip, when mis­er­able, into the sweet mem­o­ries and sim­ple plea­sures that take the edge off the harsh times of life. It is pos­si­ble to look back on pain and re­cast the ex­pe­ri­ence as a pos­i­tive that helped us build our­selves up anew and be­come stronger, more re­silient than be­fore.

No-one can be com­manded to be so brave — but it is worth try­ing. Thus, even though there is no par­tic­u­lar mitz­vah to eat charoset on its own, its pur­pose in fus­ing with bit­ter­ness teaches us the im­por­tance of part­ner­ship be­tween those with bet­ter and worse for­tune for a good re­sult. The He­brew word charoset is de­rived from cheres, mean­ing clay, which when hard­ened is frag­ile but durable, pro­tec­tive and pre­serv­ing. Charoset is there­fore a sim­ile for Is­rael: frag­ile but strength­ened to sur­vive — and still able to find sweet­ness, in spite of all the suf­fer­ing we have en­dured. RABBI ARIEL ABEL Radlett United Syn­a­gogue

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