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Thought for the Day: Less Than a K'Zayis of Karpas; Really

I am pretty sure you are not going to hear/read this comparison any where else: The karpas is the hobbit of the seder.  I really enjoyed reading The Hobbit and all the other J. R. R. Tolkien stories about Middle Earth.  It was one of my interests that I was not able to pass on to my children (one of many, actually).  In case you have also not been so interested in the doings of Middle Earth, a hobbit has no particularly interesting qualities; not a wizard, orc, goblin, elf, or even man.  Just a little creature whose greatest talent is to stay out of the way; yet he ends up being at the center of a battle for all that is good.

What's on the seder plate? Matzos -- lechem oni, the bread of affliction over which the story of miracles wrought for our redemption unfolds. Maror  -- a memorial to the bitterness we endured in preparation for the greatest gift possible, the Torah, and to become the treasured nation of HaKodosh Baruch Hu, our Father, our King. Z'ro'ah -- in remembrance of the korban pesash, the korban for which this holiday is named and marks our clear break from service to any but HaShem Yisbarach Who redeemed us with an outstretched hand.  Bei'ah -- to remind us of the korban chagigah and the aveilus that we still experience because we are lacking our precious Beis HaMikdash, may it be rebuild soon and in our lifetime.  Charoses -- a thick mixture in memory of the mortar, made of foods to which Klal Yisrael is compared (apples, almonds, dates), cinnamon (to remind us of the straw we had to collect ourselves for the mortar), and wine (symbolizing our blood and the blood of our children that was spilled in Mitzrayim).  Finally, last but certainly not least... karpas -- celery/potato/parsley, whatever, because... um... well... gosh, this one actually does seem to be last and totally least; totally.

There are only requirements to qualify for karpas: bracha is "borei pri ha'adama" and can't be used for maror (no way, no how; not one of the distinguished five, nothing that tastes bitter or could taste bitter -- don't use lettuce).  The preference is for karpas (celery), because backwards it says "60 [ten thousands suffered] back breaking labor".  (A little like Sgt. Pepper, but you probably shouldn't use a pepper because it's sharp.)  Different families and different t'kofos, however, have their own favorites.  Potatoes and parsley are popular stand-ins.

So why is it there, center stage, with all the big boys?  First, it's the first to get dipped and that happens specifically before the meal.  That puts it front and center in the seder as an answer to (half, at least) of one of the four questions.  Since the mitzvah of the night is to talk to one's children "derech sh'eila u'tshuva"/in question and answer format, that makes it important.  It seeming unimportance is precisely what makes it so important.  The children are directed to look at even the smallest things that are different tonight and inquiry.  Our children are taught from their first experience with our grand tradition that they have a right -- actually an obligation -- to both question everything and also seek answers.  That itself is huge.

But there's more.  There is a raging machlokes about whether to make a bracha on the maror.  Is it part of the meal (as the G'ra holds), or should it have its own bracha?  If the maror should have its own bracha, what is it?  If you hold it is something normally eaten, then the bracha would be "borei pri ha'adama", but it's so sharp, maybe the bracha should be "she'hakol".  What about a bracha acharona?  If it's just a ceremonial food that is not really tafel to the bread, it should get its own "borei nefashos".  Comes the unassuming karpas to defuse the entire hornet's nest of dispute -- just eat less than a k'zayis of karpas and have in mind to cover the maror.  The bracha is the same, so you have covered that, you eat less than a k'zayis, so no bracha acharona.  Since it is served before the meal and billed as an appetizer, it makes everything tafel to the matzah.

So our children get a second lesson -- humility and dedication to seeking shalom makes you just as important as the greatest g'dolim.  And that lesson comes by example and practice, not a mussar shmues.  Not a bad night's work.

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