Vegetables & Renewal

Urchatz ― "Why do we wash our hands at this point in this Seder?" the Talmud asks. "Because it is an unusual activity which prompts the children to ask questions." The very name Haggadah means "telling," for the goal of the Seder is to arouse curious questions, and provide satisfying answers.

We've all felt the sense of awe upon meeting a fascinating person, or reading an enlightening new book. But as adults we may become enslaved by the idea that it's more sophisticated to "know it all." Passover teaches that to be truly free we must approach life with child-like wonderment. "Who is the wise person?" asks the Talmud. "The one who learns from everyone."

Passover is the holiday of springtime, joy and renewal. Nissan is the first month. And the very word for "month" ― chodesh, has the same letters as the word for "new" ― chadash. The Seder is filled with unusual activities. Be curious. Be a student of life. Be free.

Kabbalah of Karpas

Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf

Close your eyes and picture someone who you consider to be a beautiful human being. Someone who embodies the finest qualities a person can possess.

Having done so, now ask yourself ― isn't it that person's capacity to be a giver which allows me to identify her as beautiful? Her penchant for being outwardly focused and other-centered. To be benevolent and compassionate. To be sincerely concerned with the well-being of others.

We are transfixed by the artist's talent, carried away by the virtuoso's melody, and envious of the Fortune 500 C.E.O. Yet the quality of beauty is not one we necessarily attach to any of these achievements. Rather, we intuitively associate "giving" with beauty.


In the Hebrew language, every letter is not only a letter, but also represents a number, a word, and a concept.

For example, the letter aleph, the first letter of the alphabet, has the numerical value of one. Aleph is also a word which means to champion, or to lead.

The second letter of the alphabet, bet, has the numerical value of two and also means house ― bayit in Hebrew.

Hebrew letters, then, are far more than mere letters, but are actually linguistic repositories for numerous concepts and ideas. Words, too, become not only an amalgam of random sounds, but precise constructs of the conceptual components of the object with which the word is associated.

When we analyze the word Karpas and break it down to its four component parts ― its four letters of kaf, reish, pehand samech, ― we discover an encoded message of four words which teaches a basic lesson about how to develop our capacity for giving.

Ka Kaf Palm of hand
R Reish One who is impoverished
Pa Peh Mouth
S Samech To support

The first letter of Karpas means the palm of the hand. The second letter means a poor person. When taken together these two letter/words speak of a benevolent hand opened for the needy.

But what if you are a person of limited means, with precious little to give? Look at the second half of the word Karpas. The letter peh means mouth, while the final letter samech means to support. True, you may not be capable of giving in the material sense, but you can always give with your words. Words of kindness and concern. Words of empathy and understanding. Words that can lift an impoverished soul and provide a means of support where nothing else will do.

We dip the Karpas in saltwater. Saltwater recalls the bitter tears shed in Egypt. But there is more. The Jewish people, though awash in the tears of bondage, were able to preserve their ability to give. Rather than succumb to the morass of self-pity, they were able to maintain their dignity through giving.


  1. Besides teaching your kids to share with siblings and friends, what will you do to instill in them the quality of giving?
  2. Which posture will contribute more to the accomplishment of your most important life goals ― that of the giver or that of the taker?
  3. Did you ― or will you ― enter marriage looking more to bestow or to receive?

from the "Passover Survival Kit Haggadah"

Karpas and Gratitude

Rabbi Shraga Simmons

Why is eating a vegetable one of the 15 steps to freedom?

We take a green vegetable and bless God for creating fruits from the ground. Gratitude is liberating. "Who is the rich person?" asks the Talmud. "The one who's satisfied with what he has got."

This appreciation comes through focusing on details. For example, to get this green vegetable to our table, it had to be planted, harvested, packed, shipped, unloaded, unpacked, displayed, and rung up by a cashier ― before we even bring it home!

If we truly appreciate all that we have, we'll be constantly proclaiming: "Life is a wonderful gift!"

On a deeper level, we dip the vegetable in salt water to let us know that even those things which appear bitter ― a lost job or a broken relationship ― are ultimately for the best.

Gratitude is an attitude. It requires constant effort and attention. A Jew strives to say 100 blessings every day. The reward is emancipation.