What Does That Passover Seder Symbolism Really Mean?

Understanding the symbolism behind every item on the Seder plate
Bitter Greens

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What Does That Passover Seder Symbolism Really Mean?

Matzo

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Every year, Jewish families all over the world will gather together on the first night of Passover for a traditional Seder meal. The table will be set beautifully, a classic meal will be enjoyed, and the evening will proceed as the Seder rituals demand. You already know that there’s a Seder plate on the table filled with items such as a lamb shank bone and bitter herbs, but you may not know why they’re there. What does that roasted egg really mean? Why is an extra place set for prophet Elijah? Why are the greens dipped in salt water before being eaten? We’re here to decode all the Seder symbolism, so that you really understand this festive meal.

Beitzah

Egg

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The Beitzah is a roasted egg that is placed on the Seder plate, not to be eaten, but to symbolize the sacrificial offerings that were made in the days of the Temple: The egg represents the sacrifice of the lamb that was made at the Temple. Eggs are also a symbol of mourning, as they were the first thing offered to mourners after a funeral, and on the Seder plate, they symbolize the mourning of the loss of the Temple.

Charoset

Charoset

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Charoset is a sweet mix made up of apples, nuts, wine, and cinnamon. This sweet, sticky food represents the mortar used by Hebrew slaves to make bricks in Egypt. It is also a perfect counterpart to all the bitter greens present on the Seder plate.

Chazaret

Romaine Lettuce

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Chazaret is a bitter herb, most commonly a leaf of romaine lettuce, but sometimes horseradish or carrot tops are used. It symbolizes the harshness and the slavery that the Hebrews endured in Egypt.

Elijah’s Cup

Elijah’s Cup

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A place setting is always made up for Elijah, the prophet, at the Passover table. He is the honored guest in every Jewish household, with a cup filled with wine waiting for him, as it is hoped that he will come and announce the coming of the Messiah.

Four Cups of Wine

Four Cups of Wine

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Every person has four small cups of wine laid out for them at the Passover table. Each glass has its own individual meaning. Two are enjoyed before the meal, and two afterwards, but altogether, they symbolize the four biblical promises of redemption.

Karpas

Karpas

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Karpas are fresh green vegetables — normally parsley — which are placed on the Seder plate. They symbolize the freshness of spring, as well as the harshness and slavery endured by the Hebrews. They are dipped in the salt water before being eaten.      

Maror

Maror

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Maror are also bitter herbs, which, like chazaret, symbolize the bitterness and harshness of the slavery the Jewish people endured in Egypt. Horseradish, romaine lettuce, and green onion are the most typical choices. These bitter herbs are chosen to bring tears to the eyes, to remember the pain of slavery.

Matzo

Matzo

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Three matzos will be stacked on top of each other, each one separated from the other by cloth or napkins. The middle matzo will be broken in half and set aside for afikomen (a game where the kids hunt for the missing half of the matzo after dinner). These crispbreads, which are so common over Passover, represent the unrisen breads eaten by the Jews in Egypt as soon as they were set free, as they didn’t have time to let their bread rise before they fled.

Salt Water

Salt Water

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The salt water sits next to the karpas, and symbolizes the tears and sweat of the Jewish people’s ancestors, suffered when they were enslaved. The karpas is dipped in the salt water before being eaten to remember our ancestors’ tear-filled lives.

Zeroa

Zeroa

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Zeroa is a lamb’s shank bone. This is the only element of meat present on the Seder plate, and it symbolizes two things. Firstly, it reminds Jews of the tenth plague in Egypt, when all firstborns were killed. During the plague, the Israelites marked their doors with lamb’s blood, so that death would pass over their homes. Secondly, it represents the Pesach sacrifice, where a lamb was killed and sacrificed at the Temple in Jerusalem, before being eaten the next day.