Why Is There Charoset on the Seder Plate?

Rabbi Arthur Waskow

“Why is there charoset on the Seder plate?”

That’s the most secret Question at the Seder – nobody even asks it. And it’s got the most secret answer: none.

Yes, there’s an oral tradition. You’ve probably heard somebody at a Passover Seder claim that charoset is the mortar the ancient Israelite slaves had to paste between the bricks and stones of those giant warehouses they were building for Pharaoh.

But that’s a cover story. You think that mortar was so sweet, so spicy, so delicious that every ancient Israelite just had to slaver some mortar on his tongue?

OK, maybe it’s a midrash? Warning that slavery may come to taste sweet, and this is itself a deeper kind of slavery?

No. The oral tradition transmitted by charoset is not by word of mouth but taste of mouth. A kiss of mouth. A full-bodied, full-tongued, “kisses sweeter than wine” taste of mouth.

Charoset is an embodiment of by far the earthiest, sexiest, kissyest, bodyest book of the Hebrew Bible —— the Song of Songs. Charoset is literally a full-bodied taste of the Song. The Song is the recipe for charoset.

The “recipe” appears in verses from the Song:

“Feed me with apples and with raisin-cakes;

“Your kisses are sweeter than wine;

“The scent of your breath is like apricots;

“Your cheeks are a bed of spices;

“The fig tree has ripened;

“Then I went down to the walnut grove.”

There are several kinds of freedom that we celebrate on Pesach:

The freedom of people who rise up against Pharaoh, the tyrant. The freedom of earth, the flowers that rise up against winter. The freedom of birth, of the lambs who trip and stagger in their skipping-over dance.  The freedom of sex, that rises up against the prunish and prudish.

Indeed, long tradition holds that on the Shabbat in the middle of Passover, Jews chant the Song of Songs.

Why is this time of year set aside for this extraordinary love poem? At one level, because it celebrates the springtime rebirth of life.

And the parallel goes far deeper. For the Song celebrates a new way of living in the world.

The way of love between the earth and her human earthlings, beyond the history of conflict between them that accompanies the end of Eden.

The way of love between women and men, with women celebrated as leaders and initiators, beyond the future of subjugation that accompanies the end of Eden.

The way of bodies and sexuality celebrated, beyond the future of shame and guilt that accompanies the end of Eden.

The way of God so fully present in the whole of life that God needs no specific naming (for in the Song, God’s name is never mentioned).

The way of adulthood, where there is no Parent and there are no children. No one is giving orders, and no one obeys them. Rather there are grownups, lovers — unlike the domination and submission that accompany the end of Eden.

In short, Eden for grown-ups. For a grown-up human race. 

Author bio: 

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Ph. D., founded (in 1983) and directs The Shalom Center , a prophetic voice in Jewish, multireligious, and American life that brings Jewish and other spiritual thought and practice to bear on seeking peace, pursuing justice, healing the earth, and celebrating community. He edits and writes for its weekly on-line Shalom Report.

2 Comments

Charoset

<p>Arthur, your words are so beautiful, like kisses better than wine. Thanks and blessings.</p>

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