The Meaning of the Seder (Part 2)

Recounting the story

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Rabban Gamliel's Three Essential Symbols

Before eating the seder's edible symbols, the Haggadah brings us Rabban Gamliel's checklist on the three essential foods, whose significance must be understood by all the participants at the seder.

Why these three? The Pesach lamb, matzah, and maror [bitter herbs] constituted the original menu in the Egyptian seder. "They shall eat the meat (of the lamb)… roasted over the fire, with matzah and maror" (Exodus 12:8).

As in a three-act play, Rabban Gamliel identifies these foods with three progressive historical moments in the Exodus:

1)      Maror captures the bitterness of enslavement.

2)      The Pesach lamb, represented today by the roasted bone (zeroa), recalls the blood on the doorposts and the terror and the anticipation of the night of the plague of the first born.

3)      Matzah stands for the following morning, when Israel was rushed out of Egypt with no time to let the dough rise.

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Noam Zion

Noam Zion is the Director of Shalom Hartman Institute's Resource Center for Jewish Continuity. He specializes in teaching Jewish Holidays, Bible and Art, and has edited several educational books for the Shalom Hartman Institute.

David Dishon

David Dishon has been with the Shalom Hartman Institute since 1978 and founded their Torani High School for Boys, where he currently teaches.