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Karpas

By BJLife/Dr. Bert Miller

Posted on 03/30/18

Everyone is familiar with the practice of eating a small piece of vegetable at the beginning of Seder Pesach.  Some eat celery.  Some eat parsley.  Some eat potato.  The Mishna wanted to actively involve the children in the Seder ritual so it directed us to use this small piece of “borey pri ha-adamah” food to stimulate the curiosity of the children at the Seder table in order that they will ask questions about the Seder observances.  Today, this part of the Seder is called, “karpas.” 


This word, karpas, caf, reish, pay, sav does not look like a Hebrew word.  It does not have three osios in a shoreish.  However, it does appear in Tanach.  In Megillas Esther, the word appears in the description of the king’s palace.   The verse (1:6) reads, “Chur, karpas, oo-s-cheilas …” Here, Rashi explains that karpas refers to dyed, fine fabrics hanging in the palace.  In Megillas Esther, Rashi does not analyze the word karpas by linking it to another word.  However, in Parashas Vayeishev, he mentions karpas in his analysis of the expression, “kesones passim” (Bereshis 37:3).  There, recalling the gemara (Megilla 12a), Rashi links kesones passim to karpas. 


The Frankel edition of the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah includes the peirush of Rabbeinu Manoach (13th century Provence) in Hilchos Chometz oo-Matza.  There (8:2), Rabbeinu Manoach writes, “We are accustomed to use karpas to remind us of the kesones passim which was the first in a series of events which led to our forefathers going to Mitzraim…” 


Tell the young ones at your Seder, “Children, let me tell you why we are here tonight.   There were some brothers.  There was a kesones passim.  There was jealousy.  The brothers sold Yosef into slavery in Mitzraim.  There was a shibud and avodas parech.  There was a geula.  There was a kabolas HaTorah.  And it all started with the kesones passim represented by this karpas.  Now we are going to dip the karpas into salt water, just like the brothers dipped the kesones passim into blood.”


Share this Torah insight with the adults and young adults at your Seder.  The Meshech Chochma, at the beginning of Parashas Bechukosai, writes that each generation is punished for the brothers’ sin of mechiras (selling) Yosef.  In short, teshuva requires fixing what is broken.  Consider that, at the beginning of the Exodus, before makas bechoros (killing of the Egyptian first born), our ancestors were commanded to slaughter a sheep or goat (korban Pesach), collect its blood, dip an agudas ayzov (hyssop bundle) in that blood, and paint it on the doorposts and lintel.  That dipping recalled the dipping of the kesones passim by the brothers, and the agudas (group of) ayzov, itself, recalled the (group of) brothers gathering together and working in concert to sell Yosef.  Generally, until the destruction of the second Bais HaMikdash, our ancestors did teshuva for the brothers’ group effort committing the sinas chinam sin of mechiras Yosef by gathering together and performing the mitzva of eating the korban Pesach in chaburos (groups).  Today, as we work to bring an end to this Golus, we will do teshuva at the Seder for the brothers’ sin of mechiras Yosef (resulting from sinas chinam) which started the Golus.  We will demonstrate our consciousness of this sin by DIPPING the KARPAS which will recall the brothers’ DIPPING of the KESONES PASSIM. 


Chag kasher v’sameach.   


 I heard much of this vort in the name of Rav Matisyahu Salomon.  May he soon have a refuah sheleima.


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Notes:


Jastrow’s dictionary asserts that the karpas word of Megillas Esther originated in Sanskrit and the karpas word for celery originated in Greek.  This implies that the two words are homonyms. 


The word karpas appears several times in the Mishna and Talmud Bavli, but never in the context of Seder Pesach.  In Mishnaic Hebrew, the word karpas means celery.  Across the last few decades, the word for celery in contemporary Hebrew changed from “karpas” to “celery.”  Also, the word for celery in contemporary Persian is kehrafs, and the Arabic word is karfus. 


When the Mishna discusses Seder Pesach in Pesachim 10:3, it mentions dipping lettuce into salt water or vinegar.  In his Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Chometz oo-Matza (8:2), the Rambam mentions dipping a yorok (unspecified vegetable).  The word karpas does not appear in the Arba-a Turim of Rabbeinu Yaakov ben HaRosh. 


Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim (473:4) mentions dipping “karpas or yorok.”


Aruch haShulchan Orach Chaim (473:9) also writes, “karpas or yorok.”


Be’er Hataiv (473:5) writes, “V’tov lee-kach karpas she-hu notrikon samech parech (60 [ten thousands] working hard).”


A proof that the Haggadah Shel Pesach is post-Mishnaic is that it is not mentioned in the Mishna.  The Gemara (Pesachim 115b) uses the word hagadah to refer the material said by the leader of the Seder.  The Gemara does not refer to a document from which the leader of the seder reads.  In fact, it describes the leader “saying” the hagadah not “reading” from it.  In contrast, Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim (473:3) writes, “krias hahagada.”


Today, karpas is both the name of the second part of the Seder and the vegetable we eat immediately following kiddush.


The absence of the word karpas (in the context of Seder Pesach) in the Mishna, Gemara, Mishneh Torah, and Arba-a Turim strongly suggests that the use of karpas for the yorok at the beginning of the Seder had not become widespread by the time of the Arba-a Turim.  As mentioned above, the mid-16th century Shulchan Aruch writes, “… karpas or yorok.”  Rabbeinu Manoach’s mention of karpas is one of the earliest, if not the earliest, mention of karpas in the context of Seder Pesach.  How could karpas have become the vegetable of choice at the beginning of the Seder? 


The Gemara (Horayos 12a, Kerisus 6a) mentions that, on Rosh Hashana, each person should accustom himself to eat the vegetable fenugreek (roob-ya, in Aramaic), as we request that our merits increase (she-yeer-boo zeh-choo-yo-say-noo).  See the Artscroll’s Complete Rosh Hashanah Ashkenaz Machzor, pp. 98-99.  Contemporary German has 4 words for carrots, including “mohre,” which closely resembles the Yiddish word for carrots, mehren, which, in turn, is phonetically similar to the German/Yiddish word “mehr (more).”  On Rosh Hashana, Ashkenazi Jews eat carrots consistent with the custom to eat fenugreek/roob-ya.  Possibly, the same Ashkenazi who first used mehren/carrots for the Rosh Hashana siman for increase of merit, was the first to use karpas for the yorok (unspecified vegetable) at the beginning of the Seder.