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December 2, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review April 5, 2004 / 14 Nissan, 5764

The Karpas conundrum

By Rabbi Avi Shafran


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http://www.jewishworldreview.com | Questions, questions everywhere. At the Seder, that is.


There are the proverbial Four, of course, but they lead to a torrent of new queries. Like why those questions are themselves never directly answered in the Haggadah. And why they (and so much else in the Haggadah) are "four"? And why they must be asked even of oneself, if no one else is present. Not to mention scores of others on the oddities of the Haggadah's text. As the old jokes have it, we Jews seem to respond to questions with only more.


Why the Haggadah is so question-saturated is an easy one. Because the Seder revolves around the next generation. It is the communication of the saga of the Jewish Exodus from Egypt to our children, and thus cannot be undertaken in a merely recitative manner. "Questions and Answers" is a most basic teaching tool, as are singing, number games, and alphabetical acrostics, all elements found in the ancient pedagogic perfection we call the Haggadah. So none of those educational aids should surprise us.


Karpas, though, should.


For karpas, the vegetable dipped in saltwater at the start of the Seder, is truly baffling. Although it is the subject of one of the Big Four questions, it not only does not have an answer; it seems that it cannot have one.


For the Talmud itself asks why we do it, and answers, "So that the children will notice and ask what it is for."


At which point, presumably, we are to respond, "So that you will ask, dear children!"


To which they many be expected to respond, "All right, now we're asking." And so forth.


Karpas seems to be the verbal equivalent of one of those Escher lithographs where figures march steadily but futilely up strange stairs only to again reach their starting point below. Why we do it is an inherently unanswerable question.

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Some insight, though, may be available by considering yet another unanswerable question, perhaps the most fundamental one imaginable: Why we are here.


The Talmud recounts that the students of Shammai and of Hillel spent two and a half years arguing the question of whether "it would have been better for humankind not to have been created."


And, intriguingly, they came to conclude that man would have been better off uncreated, and added only that now that we humans find ourselves here, we must strive to examine and improve our actions.


The famed 19th century Torah-giant Rabbi Yisroel Salanter addressed the meaning of the argument and its result. Needless to say, he explained, the students of Shammai and Hillel were not sitting in judgment on their Creator. What they were in truth arguing about was whether mankind, with its limited purview, can possibly hope to comprehend the fact that G-d deemed it worthwhile for humankind to exist.


And they concluded that we cannot. We are unable to fathom what good the Creator saw in providing one of his creations free will. It is surely better that mankind is here, but why cannot be known.


After all (they likely noted), free will makes sin inevitable. And humans, in fact, seem entirely prone to bad behavior.


Past history and current events alike evidence man's choosing evil over good at almost every turn. We humans are eminently self-centered, and precious few of our thoughts concern how we might be better givers, not takers, better servants of the Divine.


What has this to do with karpas?


Perhaps nothing. But perhaps much.


Because disobedience of G-d, the very definition of sin, has its roots in the first man and woman's act of independence. And one of the results of their choice was a change in the fundamental relationship they (and we) had (and have) with the earth on which we depend.


"Thorns and thistles [the earth] shall bring forth for you," was the pronouncement, "and you shall eat the grasses of the field."


In, of all places, the sole Talmudic chapter that deals with the Seder, we find the following passage:


Said Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi: "When G-d told Adam 'and thorns and thistles...and you shall eat the grasses of the field,' Adam's eyes welled up with tears and he said, 'Master of the Universe, am I and my donkey to eat from the same feed-bag?' When G-d continued and said, 'By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread' [i.e. human food will be available for you, but only through hard work], Adam's anguish was quieted." (Pesachim 118a)


Could the meaning of Adam's lament be that since humanity's progenitor had proven through his insubordination the inevitability of humans choosing evil, man would seem to have been better off as merely another mindless, choice-less animal, a two-legged donkey?


Could that terrible thought be what brought tears to his eyes?


And, finally, could it be that the manifestation of the earth's response to his sin, the lowly vegetation it will now naturally bear for him and which he is sentenced to eat — could that be... the karpas? And the saltwater in which it is dipped, his tears and the sweat of the brow?


Could it be, in other words, that the question of why we dip karpas in saltwater is specifically constructed to be unanswerable precisely because it alludes to an unanswerable cosmic question?


SOLVING THE MYSTERY

The dipping of a vegetable into saltwater at the start of the Seder, seems eerily reminiscent of a conversation recounted in the Talmud between G-d and the first man. When Adam hears G-d's pronouncement that his sin has relegated him to eating "the grasses of the field" like animals, he cries, only to be reassured that he will still be able to eat bread, human food, albeit "by the sweat of your brow" — with hard work and effort.


What pertinence, though, does the recalling of that account have to the Seder's karpas-ritual? What are vegetables and tears and sweat — not to mention the memory of history's first sin — doing at the very onset of a festive gathering?


The key to the mystery may lie in remembering that the Seder is not only the start of Passover but the beginning of a period that will culminate in the holiday of Shavuos. The seven weeks between the first day of Passover and Shavuos are in fact counted down (or, actually, up) with the "counting of the Omer" on each night of those forty-nine.


Noteworthy is that on both holidays bread plays a prominent role. On Passover, we eat unleavened bread; on Shavuot, the day's special Temple offering consists of two loaves of bread, which — in stark contrast to most flour-offerings — must be allowed to rise and become chametz.


Leaven is a symbol of the inclination to sin ("What keeps us [from You, G-d]?" goes the confession of one talmudic personage, "the leaven in the dough"). Perhaps, then, the period between Passover and Shavuos, between the holiday of leaven-less bread and that of leavened bread, reflects our acclimation to the human propensity to sin. It leads us to ponder that sin's inevitability should not render us hopeless, but rather that our selfish desires are — somehow — a force that can be channeled for good, for service to G-d.


Shavuos, then, would be the celebration of our having accepted — even if not fully comprehended — the goodness inherent in our existence despite our inherent shortcomings. It is the "answer" to the unanswerable question of why we are here. And so our bread on that day is purposefully leavened; it has absorbed and incorporated sin's symbol.


What allows for the "redemption" of our propensity to sin? The Torah, whose acceptance at Sinai is celebrated on Shavuos. For the Torah is that which "sweetens" the inclination to sin and makes it palatable. As a famous Midrash renders G-d's words: "I have created an inclination to sin, and I have created the Torah as its sweetening spice."


Our base desires, the source of our sinning, are not denied by the Torah, but rather guided by it. We are not barred from enjoying any area of life, but shown, rather, how to do so, how to utilize every human power and desire in a directed and holy way.


Passover, then, is the symbolic start of the process of growth. It is the time to eat only pristine, unleavened food, to deny ourselves every sign of the inclination to sin, the better to be able, over the ensuing forty-nine days, to slowly absorb the powerful sin-inclination, to work on ourselves (by the sweat of our brows), and acclimate ourselves to what it represents ... gradually, day by day, until Shavuos. Only then, having labored to attain that growth, may we — by the sweat of our brows — eat true, fully developed, leavened bread. For, if we have labored on ourselves honestly and hard, we have learned to temper and manage our inclinations to sin with the laws and guidance of the Torah.


Passover is thus a propitious time indeed for a hint to the great unanswerable question of how man's existence can be justified despite his sinful nature. For it is on Passover specifically that we begin to develop our ability to channel the human powers that, left unbridled, result in sin.


And so, at the Seder, as we dip the karpas in the saltwater, reenacting Adam's sentence by eating a lowly vegetable, animal food, dampened with a reminder of his tears, his question should come to mind: "Am I and my donkey to eat from the same feed-bag?"


But so should something else. Because the reminder of his tears — the saltwater — is a reminder no less of his hope, the sweat of his brow, the hard work that can lead us to become truly human, choosing, servants of G-d. That hard labor is what justifies our existence; it is our astonishing privilege in this wondrous world.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washington and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.



JWR contributor Rabbi Avi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America Comment by clicking here.

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