Of the many Passover rituals, there is one that strikes me as particularly strange - the dipping of parsley in salt water. Many Haggadahs give the midrash that parsley signifies Spring and rebirth, while salt water symbolizes our tears in Egypt. Other Haggadahs give no explanation of the karpas ritual at all.
Motivated to keep the seder on a timeline, many of us eat the parsley and move forward, hoping that the meal will come soon.
This year, though, I’d like to encourage you to pause for parsley, and consider the follow alternative explanation offered by Rashi:
- Parsley signifies fine wool or linen, specifically Joseph’s coat of many colors. (Rashi, Genesis 37:3)
- Dipping in salt water reminds us that Joseph’s brothers dipped his coat in blood to convince their father, Jacob, that Joseph had been killed.
If this commentary illuminates the true meaning of the karpas ritual, isn’t this a peculiar start to the seder? On one hand we are prepared to celebrate freedom while on the other hand we symbolically drag out the family’s dirty laundry: the horrific episode wherein our ancestors got jealous, sought to kill their brother, and then sold him into slavery.
On Passover, the questions are always better than the answers.
This year, I offer you this question to consider: What do we gain by recalling the misdeeds done unto Joseph?
- Explore our ancestors’ culpability in events which led to our slavery in Egypt? As the Talmud states: “[Joseph’s] brothers became jealous of him, and the matter unfolded, and [as a result] our forefathers descended to Egypt.”?
- Provide a moment for introspection about favoritism with our children? Could this be a counterbalance to the four sons found later in the Haggadah, some of whom may be viewed more favorably than others?
- Focus our attention towards the perennial problem of the Jewish people – sinat chinam, hatred for our own brethren, and the ways in which that leads to our downfall?
- Explore the idea that “pride comes before a fall?” After all, Joseph’s pride in his appearance and insistence on relating his dreams contributed to the hatred his brothers felt for him.
- Recognize the cost of a continued cover-up? Had the brothers not deceived their father, perhaps the family would have sent a search party for Joseph, redeeming him before he met Pharaoh, and averting Egyptian exile?
- Would our kids ask us different questions if the Haggadah more explicitly told the story of Joseph’s abuse by his brethren?
- Should we all adopt the Persian custom of using red wine vinegar instead of salt water at this point in the seder?
This year, if you decide to pause for parsley, consider serving a vegetable course at this point in the seder! The full meal (Shulchan Orech) doesn’t occur for several more sections of the seder, but many families choose to serve crudités with dips or other vegetables as part of karpas. Not only will this encourage you and your guests to dig deeper into the questions above, it may inspire more discussion time during the Maggid section, which is also often rushed for the sake of reaching the meal.
May you have a happy, healthy, and enlightening Passover full of more questions than answers!
Hillel at UCLA Executive Director
P.S. If you’re interested in a deeper exploration of Joseph, save the date for our 2017 lecture by renowned Torah scholar, Dr. Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg: May 10, 2017 at Hillel. Her lecture, “What if Joseph Hates Us” is sure to spark continued conversation and questions! For more information or to RSVP, please CLICK HERE
We invite you to join Hillel at UCLA for Passover Seders and Meals. For more information or to RSVP, please CLICK HERE.