Now we’re in the midst of Passover (which started on Monday, April 10th, and will continue until Tuesday, April 18th) and CaliPlate is here to answer three questions based on the symbolism of the foods prepared for the Seder meal. Let’s get to it!
1. What is the symbolism behind each food on the Seder plate during the ritual feast of Passover?
Matzah (unleavened bread)
One of the most quintessential foods of the Seder meal, matzah or in this case matzot (since three pieces of unleavened bread are served) are symbolic to the three groups of Jews in biblical times: Priests, Levites (member of tribe of Levi), and the Israelites (Jews not descending from the tribe of Levi).
Vegetables like parsley (most popular), celery, or potato dipped in salt water are used during the Seder meal to represent the agonizing, bone-breaking work endured and the tears shed by the Jews during their enslavement.
This thick and lithic paste made with fibrous fruits like pears and apples, nuts, and wine symbolize the mortar and brick the Jews used to build storehouses in Egypt. Recipes vary based on traditions and availability of ingredients.
Maror (bitter herbs)
Fresh horseradish, romaine lettuce roots (which are rather bitter), or endives are used to represent the absolute bitterness of slavery.
The hard-boiled egg symbolizes the festival sacrifice to the Temple of Jerusalem and rebirth. Another take on the symbolism of the egg is in the Aramaic word bei’ah, which means “egg” but also closely resembles the Aramaic word for “desire”, and thus symbolizing God’s desire to redeem the Jewish people at the first Passover.
Lastly, zeroa is lamb shank (or in some communities chicken neck is used) that is offered to the Temple, and it is the only food that is not consumed at the Seder meal although it is present.
2. Why unleavened bread?
In Hebrew, Passover is known as Pesach, which means “to passover” as the Jewish people believe God did by passing over the homes of enslaved Jews in 1313 BCE while the lives of the firstborns from Egyptian homes were taken. As God spared the children of Israel, Pharaoh decided not only to emancipate the Jews but he literally chased them out of Egypt. The former slaves had to leave so quickly that the bread they were going to bake did not have time to rise, which is why during Passover observing Jews cannot have any leavened bread, or chametz in Hebrew. Currently, the most popular unleavened product consumed during Passover is quinoa since it is both kosher and a healthier alternative than most starches!
3. Why four cups of wine at the Seder meal?
Each glass represents the four promises made by God in Exodus 6:6-8: a) “I shall take you out…” b) “I shall rescue you…” c) “I shall redeem you…” d) “I shall bring you…”
There are many different views on what the four cups symbolize, but most importantly the cups of wine signify freedom from Egyptian oppression.
If you enjoyed this article or have something to say about the topic, please leave your comments below!
More information about Passover and food:
Featured image: ChosenPeople.com