Skip to main content

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.


Popular posts from this blog

Thought for the Day: Battling the Evil Inclination on all Fronts

Yom Kippur.  When I was growing up, there were three annual events that marked the Jewish calendar: eating matzos on Passover, lighting candles on Chanuka, and  fasting on Yom Kippur.  Major news organizations around the world report on the "surreal" and "eerie" quiet of the streets in even the most secular neighborhoods of Israel.  Yom Kippur.

As you know, I am observant of Jewish law.  Some have even called me "ultra orthodox" (not in a kind way).  Given that, I have a question.  How likely do you think that I would be tempted to eat on Yom Kippur, that most holy day of the year?  Let's make the scale zero to ten, where zero is "as likely as driving through McDonald's on Shabbos and ordering a Big Mac with extra cheese." and ten is "as likely as breathing regularly".  Take your time.  If you answered "zero"; thank you, but -- sadly and penitently -- no.  The answer is more like nine; I'd like to say lower, but i…

Thought for the Day: Sometimes a Food Loses Its Identity When It Loses Its Bracha; Sometimes It Doesn't

Let's start with a question: Why are We Allowed to Drink Coffee and Whiskey Made by Non-Jews?  Before you ask,"Why would I think that I shouldn't be able to drink whiskey and coffee made by non-Jews?", I'll tell you. Simple, we all know that Chazal made a decree -- known as בישול עכו''ם/bishul akim -- that particular foods cooked by non-Jews are forbidden.  There are basically two criteria that determines if a dish falls into this category:
Is not consumed raw.Fit for a royal banquet. Cooked carrots, therefore, are not a problem since they can be eaten raw (I actually prefer them that way).  Baked beans are find because the are not prestigious enough.  (For great synopsis of the laws, see the article on the Star-K site, FOOD FIT FOR A KING, by Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, shlita.)  There are lots of cool questions and details (baked potatoes are prestigious, does that make even potato chips and issue?) which are for another time.  Clearly, though, both coffee an…

Thought for the Day: Coming Into This World for Torah, Avodah, and Acts of Loving Kindness

This TftD is so self-serving that I should be embarrassed.  But I am not... talking about grandchildren is always off budget.  I have, bli ayin hara, a beautiful new grandson; born at 6:11 PM CDT last Friday night.  The secular (aka -- by me, anyway -- slave) date is October 20, 2017 CE.  The Hebrew (aka Real) date is certainly Rosh Chodesh חשון/Cheshvan and certainly in the year 5778 since Creation.  The date, you ask... good question!

Sundown on Friday night was 6:01 PM CDT, which means he was born either at the end of the last day of תשרי or the beginning of the first day of Cheshvan; a period know as בין השמשות/twilight.  What's the big deal, you ask... I am so glad you asked.  We all deal quite handily with בין השמשות every week and every holiday; we're just stringent.  We start Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov before בין השמשות; that is, before sundown.  Likewise, we end Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov after בין השמשות; some 42, 50, 60, or 72 minutes after sundo…