Here’s why the seder begins with dipping


On seder night, we are commanded to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. The Mishnah tells us that the retelling should be done in response to questions posed by the children. If they have no questions, we teach them the four questions, which form the “Ma Nishtana.”

Today, at every seder table the questions are asked and the answers discussed. But there is one question which has always disturbed me: “On all other nights we do not dip even once and on this night of Passover we dip twice.”

This particular question is never answered within the Maggid portion of the seder. The fact that we do have “dips” as a kind of ‘forshpeis’ to our seder meal is certainly in keeping with the Passover feast. But why our specific dips of karpas (green vegetable) in charoset, and then the bitter herbs in charoset?

Another question. We all enjoy a spirited singing of “Dayenu,” the quintessential thanksgiving to God for every step through which He guided us on the road to redemption. However there is one line in this song of praise which has always troubled me: “Had He brought us in front of Mount Sinai and not given us the Torah, it would have been sufficient — dayenu.”

In what sense would it have been enough? What value could there have been for God to have taken us close to the mountain without revealing to us His laws?!

The fact is that the entire drama of the servitude and exodus from Egypt began with an act of dipping and concluded with an act of dipping. The Israelites made their way down to Egypt as a result of the fact that Joseph, the son of Jacob, was sold into Egyptian servitude by his brothers.

Since the brothers had to offer some explanation for Joseph’s mysterious disappearance, they dipped his coat of striped colors which his father had given him in the blood of a slain goat.
When Jacob saw the bloodied garment of his beloved son, he assumed that Joseph’s body had been torn apart by a wild beast. Our sages teach us that it was the sin of the brotherly strife and hatred which was responsible for the enslavement of the Israelites in Egypt (B.T. Shabbat 10a). Hence, some Jews have the tradition of dipping the karpas, not only in salt-water symbolizing the tears that the Jewish people shed, but also in the red haroset, which
according to the Jerusalem Talmud symbolizes blood thereby expressing the tragedy of Jewish internal hatred – the root cause of our exiles and persecutions.

The second dipping took place at the end of the Egyptian enslavement, and the beginning of the Hebrew emancipation. At this time, each Hebrew family slaughtered a lamb in preparation for their exodus: “You will then take a bunch of hyssop and dip it into the blood [of the lamb] which will be placed in a basin. Place some blood on the beam over the door and the two doorposts after you have dipped your finger in some of the blood in the basin. Not a single Israelite may go out of the door of his house until morning” [Exodus 12:22].

The second act of dipping served as a tikkun, or repair, of the first: The sin of brotherly strife found its repentance in the form of brotherly unity, by which merit we were redeemed from Egypt. This explains both dippings at the seder.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is founder, chancellor emeritus and rosh hayeshivah of Ohr Torah Stone.

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