DIPPING TOWARDS REDEMPTION
Rabbi Shmuel Weiss
One of the more perplexing items at the seder table is the karpas. We take a vegetable and dip it into salt water. Why? Is it a sign of spring?
One of the more perplexing items at the seder table is the karpas. We take a vegetable and dip it into salt water. Why? Is it a sign of spring? Is it simply an enigmatic act designed to spark the children's curiosity? Or is there something else much deeper and profound hidden here? There is one other place in the Bible where we find the word "karpas" in the book of Esther. There we are told that King Achashveirosh, at his obscene and wild party, brought out the finest "chur, karpas and techelet." Rashi, in his commentary on the book of Esther, explains that these were bright-colored cloths. Karpas - cloth: What is the connection?
Our sages tell us that the slavery in Egypt was an atonement for a grievous sin the selling of Joseph by his brothers. (If you take the 13 years that Joseph was denied his freedom, and multiply it by 9 the number of brothers who sold him you get to 117, the exact amount of years we were actually enslaved [see the commentary of the Nachshoni].) The enmity of one Jew towards his brother necessitated our being placed in a situation where, confronted by a brutal, common enemy, we would unite in a mutual struggle to survive. Indeed, we did band together in Egypt, eventually becoming "one man with one heart" as we stood at Mt. Sinai.
The focus of the brother's hatred was Joseph's coat of many colors, which they ripped off of him and dipped in lamb's blood. It was this coat or karpas, as the book of Esther calls it which represented the disunity and polarization of the Jewish people. Just as the Jews of Shushan tragically united to attend Achashveirosh's debased party, where the vessels of the holy Temple were used, where the nobility wore karpas, so did the brothers band together for an evil cause against Joseph.
Now we have a clue as to why we, at our own seder, dip the karpas. We are attempting to remind ourselves of what got us into the morass of slavery in the first place; how our lack of love for each other brought upon us more than a century of agony. The two items into which we dip on Passover the salt water and the charoset (symbolizing the mortar) serve as stark reminders that bitter tears and degradation await us if we lose our sense of Jewish unity. We are all too aware that Jewish unity often appears only in times of crisis and impending danger, when we learn that the world at large is neither our true friend nor protector. It is only then that we turn to each other, realizing that we can ultimately depend only upon our fellow Jews and Hashem. So when we dip our karpas this year, let us pledge to forge a stronger bond with one another, and pray to find unity not only in moments of crisis, but in the course of everyday life. That unity is the stuff of which redemption is made.
Rabbi Shmuel Weiss is the director of the Jewish Outreach Center in Ranana, Israel and a close friend of the Torah from Dixie family.
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