Once we have made Kiddush and washed our hands, we begin a series of activities that violate the normal pattern of Jewish festivals and provoke questions. That process begins with taking a vegetable and dipping it in salt water.
Whilst the overt purpose is to do something out of character, many see in the choice of taking a vegetable to open the proceedings as deeply symbolic.2
Pesach represents the start of spring, a time where the world begins to renew itself and regain its sense of vitality. The same is true for each and every one of us during this time; having just passed through the dark winter months, we can now emerge invigorated.
Eating the karpas symbolises mankind’s journey from exile to redemption. This vegetable began its own growth during the thick of winter as a seed underground, out of sight to passersby. Over the process of the winter it slowly grew, receiving its nourishment from the earth around it, awaiting its time to sprout. Eventually, as the spring comes, that little shoot gently peeks above the earth, starting to realise its potential.
The Jewish people took this same journey. From the depths of darkness in slavery, they formed and shaped their identity as a nation, finally breaking through the barriers of exile and sprouting forth as free men and women. The redemption process is an organic one, evolving over stages, finding strength in the darkest of places.
Each of us may have our own ‘dark times’; times when we feel that we have been thrown under ground and buried. Often from those depths of despair something deep within us can begin to sprout. It happened to the Israelites in Egypt. It happens in the natural world every year. And in starting with the dipped vegetable, we proclaim that it can happen, too, within each of us.