As we take leave of Pesach and proceed full-steam ahead towards Kabalas HaTorah, I would like to take a moment to reflect back on one part of the Seder.
The third question is: On all other nights we don’t even dip once, but tonight we dip twice: the karpas in salt water and maror in charoses.
On all other nights we don’t dip? Seriously? In America it’s practically an obligation to dip French fries in ketchup! In fact, one who doesn’t squeeze half a bottle of ketchup onto his plate, douse his French fries in them, and then throw out most of the ketchup hasn’t fulfilled his societal obligation and likely has to eat the fries again! In addition, these days, in restaurants and fast-food joints, after choosing your meal, you then choose from an assortment of dips and sauces to coat your sandwich.
In 2021, eating challah without a minimum of three or four dips is practically unheard of. (Some would argue that it may be more important than lechem mishneh.) Yannai’s dips on Route 59 in Monsey have become legendary – even outside of Monsey. When we go somewhere for Shabbos, we’re often asked to bring Yannai dips. The store primarily sells an assortment and wide variety of dips. The incredible selection includes garlic, onion, babaganoush, falafel, pizza, pickle, hummus, techina, tomato, broccoli, and pepper - to name just a few.
In the Staum family, charoses was a big hit throughout Pesach. In contemporary lingo, the Staums would “pound” charoses. I should add that I was, and am, the one who makes the charoses. Before I was married, on Erev Pesach, my mother would provide me with quite a few apples, which I would hand-grind before adding the nuts and wine. I have maintained that practice until today.
This year, I made charoses not only for the Seder in our home, which included my in-laws, but also for my parents, who were hosting my brother and his family and my sister and her family.
Since I was making charoses for so many people, I knew I would need a lot of apples and a couple of bags of crushed walnuts. It wasn’t easy hand-grating all those apples (No, I wouldn’t use a food processor. Did my great-grandmother use a food processor in the shtetl?), but I made two large containers of charoses.
I was quite surprised that this year most of the charoses wasn’t eaten. I realized that every year we have more and more dips on our table throughout Pesach. The charoses now has major competition with numerous other kosher-for-Pesach dips. It therefore no longer takes center stage.
So, if anything, the question the child should be asking on Seder night is why are we only dipping twice and why aren’t we dipping the maror into hummus or babaganoush?
The early commentators explain that although we often dip our food throughout the year, we do so during our meal. At the Seder, however, we dip twice before the meal even begins. That is what the child is asking: Why are we dipping twice before the meal even begins, which we never do at any other time of the year?
But perhaps there is another dimension to the dipping.
The reason we dip our food generally is that we want the food to have the taste of the dip we are submerging it into. There’s particular enjoyment eating something with the added taste of the dip. However, when we dip the karpas and maror, we don’t want to overshadow the taste of the maror/karpas, only that it should be mitigated somewhat. In fact, the halachah is that after dipping the maror into charoses, we shake off the excess charoses.
Maror symbolizes the challenges and pain of exile, and of life. My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, often notes that we are the only people who recite a brachah on maror. We don’t whitewash our bitter past and we don’t whistle past the graveyard. We confront the reality of difficult times and recognize that they are invariable. At the same time, we also seek to find the silver lining in all our struggles. We remind ourselves that everything G-d does is for the best and with a divine purpose. That may not take away the pain, but it certainly adds a certain dimension of sweetness to it.
That is the deeper symbolism of dipping on Seder night. The child – and the child within me – asks why throughout the year we douse our foods with delicious dips to add taste; but at the Seder, we seek to maintain the original taste of these bland/butter foods even while dipping it and slightly mitigating its bitterness and blandness without eliminating it. What a strange dipping! Where’s the kosher-for-Pesach Caesar dressing?
We answer by teaching our child that the Jewish people possess a rare combination of realism and optimism. We don’t negate or pretend that our situation is often bitter. Yet, at the same time, we have never stopped dipping that bitterness in the proverbial charoses of G-d’s sweetening of the bitterness. That faith has carried us through the darkest of times. That rare combination is part of the secret to our eternity.
By the way, if anyone would like some charoses or a few boxes of machine matzah, let me know. Hurry, this offer is only valid while supplies last.