Decoding Food Symbolism in the Jewish Passover Meal


The Passover Seder

The celebration of Passover is designed to recreate the unbearable lifestyle that the enslaved Jews of Egypt were once forced to overcome. The name “Passover” signifies literally that G-d “passed over” the houses of the Israelites causing them no harm during the ten plagues. The word Seder means order, which resembles the structure that occurs throughout a Seder.

Families make an effort to join together and celebrate this holiday. The head of the house sits in a big chair, to show no restraints, which is the mark of a free man. The context of the Seder table consists of symbolic food including Matzoth, a roasted shank bone, an egg, bitter herbs, Charoses, parsley, and a cup of wine.

Three Matzahs

The three Matzahs, also known as the bread of affliction, illustrates the story of the Exodus in which the Jews, eager to escape Egypt, did not properly prepare their dough, which led to the creation of flat, hard cakes. The three Matzahs represent the three patriarchs Abraham, Jacob, and Isaac. Some households add a fourth piece of Matzah to provide hope for the Jews who are or were in danger.

The roasted shank bone

The roasted shank bone symbolizes the sacrifice that G-d commanded the Jews to offer.

An Egg

The egg reminds us of the free-will offering which was brought to the temple in Jerusalem. It also reminds us of the continuity of life, for an egg has neither a beginning or an end, within it is the seed of a new life.

The bitter herbs

The bitter herbs, also known as Morror represents the bitterness of the life of the Jews under the rule of Pharaoh. It is common to eat eggs soaked in saltwater prior to the main course. The saltwater represents all of the tears that were shed while the Jews were enslaved.

The Charoses

Charoses, a mixture of apples, wine, and nuts, represents the clay in which the Israelites had to use to build the great structures of Egypt.

The Karpas

Karpas, which can also be replaced with green vegetables such as parsley or lettuce, serves to remind of the presence of spring.

Cups of wine

Each person present at the Seder consumes four cups of wine to represent the four expressions of deliverance. The fifth cup of wine resides in the center of the table and is reserved for Elijah the Prophet who is invited into the home.

“The promise made to our forefathers holds true also for us. For more than once have they risen against us to destroy us; in every generation, they rise against us and seek our destruction.” Passover does not simply celebrate the Jews’s freedom from Egypt; it’s meaning is much deeper. Passover celebrates the freedom of all people who were enslaved and continue to seek freedom.


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