The Passover Seder plate (Hebrew: קערה, ke'ara) is a special plate containing symbolic foods eaten or displayed at the Passover Seder. The purpose of the Passover Seder plate is to show all the foods that perpetuate and emphasize the ideas of the people of Israel, and are designed to express the uniqueness of the Seder. Another idea is to keep the foods close and ready for Seder night.
Each of the six items arranged on the plate has special significance to the retelling of the story of Passover—the exodus from Egypt—which is the focus of this ritual meal. A seventh symbolic item used during the meal—the three matzos—is not considered part of the seder plate proper.
The six traditional items on the Seder Plate are as follows:
Maror and Chazeret – Bitter herbs symbolizing the bitterness and harshness of the slavery that the Hebrews endured in Egypt. In Ashkenazi tradition, fresh romaine lettuce or endives (both representing the bitterness of the Roman invasions) or horseradish may be eaten as Maror in the fulfilment of the mitzvah of eating bitter herbs during the Seder. Chazeret are additional bitter herbs, usually romaine lettuce, that are used in the korech sandwich.
Charoset – A sweet, brown mixture representing the mortar and brick used by the Hebrew slaves to build the structures of Egypt. In Ashkenazi Jewish homes, Charoset is traditionally made from chopped nuts, grated apples, cinnamon, and sweet red wine.
Karpas – A vegetable other than bitter herbs representing hope and renewal, which is dipped into salt water at the beginning of the Seder. Parsley or another green vegetable. Some substitute parsley to slice of green onion (representing the bitterness of slavery in Egypt) or potato (representing the bitterness of the ghetto in Germany and in other European countries), both commonly used. The dipping of a simple vegetable into salt water and the resulting dripping of water off of said vegetables visually represents tears and is a symbolic reminder of the pain felt by the Hebrew slaves in Egypt. Usually, in a Shabbat or holiday meal, the first thing to be eaten after the kiddush over wine is bread. At the Seder table, however, the first thing to be eaten after the kiddush is a vegetable. This leads immediately to the recital of the famous question, Ma Nishtana—"Why is this night different from all other nights?" It also symbolizes the springtime, because Jews celebrate Passover in the spring.
Zeroa – Also transliterated Z'roa, this is typically a roasted lamb shank bone. It is special as it is the only element of meat on the Seder Plate, symbolizing the Korban Pesach (Passover sacrifice), or Pascal Lamb. It symbolizes the sacrifice of a lamb whose blood was painted on the doorway of enslaved Israelites houses so that God would pass over that house during the tenth plague.
Beitza – A roasted egg, symbolizing the korban chagigah (festival sacrifice) that was offered at the Temple in Jerusalem, is then roasted and eaten as part of the meal on Seder night. Although both the Pesach sacrifice and the chagigah were meat offerings, the chagigah is commemorated by an egg, a symbol of mourning (as eggs are the first thing served to mourners after a funeral), evoking the idea of mourning over the destruction of the Temple and the inability to offer the biblically mandated sacrifices for the Pesach holiday. The use of an egg in the seder is first attested in the 16th-century Shulchan Aruch commentary of Rabbi Moses Isserles, and it is not known when the custom began. It is not used during the formal part of the seder. Some people eat a regular hard-boiled egg dipped in salt water or vinegar as part of the first course of the meal, or as an appetizer. The egg also represents the circle of life: birth, reproduction, and death.
Many decorative and artistic Seder plates sold in Judaica stores have pre-formed spaces for inserting the various symbolic foods.
The sixth symbolic item on the Seder table is a plate of three whole matzot, which are stacked and separated from each other by cloths or napkins. The middle matzah will be broken and half of it put aside for the afikoman. The top and another half of the middle matzot will be used for the hamotzi (blessing over bread), and the bottom matzah will be used for the korech (Hillel sandwich).
According to one common interpretation, the three matzot represent "Kohen, Levi and Yisrael" (i.e., the priests, the tribe of Levi, and all other Jewish people).
A bowl of salt water, which is used for the first "dipping" of the Seder, is not traditionally part of the Seder Plate but is placed on the table beside it. However, it sometimes is used as one of the six items, omitting chazeret. The salt water represents the tears of the Israelites when they were enslaved.
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