Karpas: The Vegetable at the Beginning of the Seder

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Mar 26, 2010
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Karpas: The Vegetable at the Beginning of the Seder


At the beginning of the Seder, before the Haggadah is recited and before the meal is eaten, we eat a vegetable.  This part of the Seder is known as karpas.  In this issue, we will discuss the role of karpas at the Seder and the halachic discussions relating to karpas.


 


Is Karpas a Mitzvah?


The Gemara 114b, states that the purpose of karpas is to elicit questions from the children.  The Gemara states that this cannot be accomplished unless there are two items that are dipped at the Seder: the karpas and the maror.  Rashi (1040-1105), ad loc., s.v. Dilma, writes that dipping twice creates an extraordinary situation that will elicit questions from the children.


R. Yosef D. Soloveitchik (1903-1993, cited in Haggadat Si'ach HaGrid no. 5) queries whether karpas is an actual mitzvah or whether it is merely a means of eliciting questions.  He notes that this question is a matter of dispute between Rambam and Hagahot Maimoniot.  Rambam (1138-1204), Hilchot Chametz U'Matzah 8:2, writes that one must eat a k'zayit (the size of an olive) of karpasHagahot Maimoniot, Hilchot Chametz U'Matzah 8:4, writes that he doesn't understand why Rambam requires one to eat a k'zayit of karpas.  The purpose of the karpas is to elicit questions and one can accomplish that by eating less than a k'zayit.  R. Soloveitchik explains that Rambam is of the opinion that although the purpose of karpas is to elicit questions, it was instituted as one of the mitzvot of the night.  Since all mitzvot that involve eating require a k'zayit, karpas also requires a k'zayitHagahot Maimoniot disagrees and maintains that there is no mitzvah to eat karpas and its purpose is only to elicit questions.  As such, one is not required to eat a k'zayit.


R. Soloveitchik notes two more practical differences between the opinion of Rambam and the opinion of Hagahot Maimoniot.  First, Rambam writes that one should dip the karpas in charoset.  Tosafot, Pesachim 114a, s.v. Metabel, write that there is no requirement to use charoset for the karpas and one may dip the karpas in vinegar or salt water.  R. Soloveitchik explains that Rambam is of the opinion that charoset is required for all of the mitzvot that require eating.  [Rambam, Hilchot Chametz U'Matzah 8:8, requires one to dip the matzah in charoset.  Tosafot state explicitly that charoset is only required for maror.]  Therefore, one must also dip the karpas in charoset.  However, if one assumes that there is no mitzvah of karpas, there is no reason to dip it in charoset.


Second, Rambam states that each person must eat a k'zayit of karpas.  R. Soloveitchik notes that Rambam requires every person to eat karpas because it is one of the mitzvot of the night.  It is arguable that according to Hagahot Maimoniot, it is sufficient if one person eats karpas in order to elicit questions from the children.


R. Moshe Shternbuch, Moadim U'Zmanim 7:183, notes an additional difference between Rambam's opinion and the opinion of Hagahot Maimoniot.  According to Rambam, Karpas is one of the mitzvot of the night and therefore requires haseibah (eating in a reclined position).  According to Hagahot Maimoniot, there is no requirement to recline for karpas.


Maharil seems to offer a middle position on the matter.  Maharil (c. 1365-1427), Minhagim, Seder HaHaggadah no. 7, discusses why the tradition developed to wait to recite Kiddush until nightfall.  He understands why one may not eat matzah until nightfall based on the verse (Shemot 12:18) "In the evening you shall eat matzah."  However, he does not understand why one cannot begin the Seder before nightfall and eat the matzah after nightfall.  Maharil suggests that the Haggadah notes that one must fulfill the mitzvah of sippur yetziat Mitzrayim (recounting the story of the exodus) at night (when the matzah and maror are placed before you).  Since the purpose of the karpas is to elicit questions, it is included in the mitzvah of sippur yetziat Mitzrayim and therefore, one may not fulfill karpas until nightfall.  Maharil seems to be of the opinion that eliciting the questions from the children is an integral part of the mitzvah of sippur yetziat Mitzrayim and not just a hecsher mitzvah (a means to an end) and it is fulfilled through karpas.  [Maharil's opinion may be a clarification of the opinion of Hagahot Maimoniot and not a unique position.  Maharil in his responsa, (no. 25) clearly rules that one is not required to eat a k'zayit of karpas.]


 


Is There a Downside to Eating a K'zayit?


One would expect Shulchan Aruch to show deference to Rambam's opinion and recommend eating a k'zayit of karpas in order to satisfy all opinions.  However, this is not the case.  Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 473:6, rules that one should specifically not eat a k'zayit of karpas.  The reason is based on the following: The Gemara, Berachot 41b, states that one must recite a beracha rishona on foods that are served during a bread meal but are not an integral part of the meal.  As such, it is arguable that the maror, which is not ordinarily part of one's meal, requires a beracha of Borei P'ri Ha'adamah.  This in fact, is the opinion of Rashbam (c. 1085-1158), Pesachim 114b s.v. P'shita.  Rashbam states that in reality, the maror should require a beracha.  However, when one eats the karpas, he recites Borei P'ri Ha'damah, which covers the maror.  Rabbeinu Yitzchak (cited in Tosafot, Pesachim 115a, s.v. V'Hadar) disagrees and maintains that the Borei P'ri Ha'adamah on the karpas cannot cover the maror because the recitation of the Haggadah constitutes a hefsek (interruption).  The reason why one does not recite a Borei P'ri Ha'adamah on the maror is that the maror is considered part of the meal and does not require a beracha.


The practical difference between the opinion of Rashbam and Rabbeinu Yitzchak is whether one should recite a beracha acharona (concluding blessing) on the karpas.  According to Rashbam, the Borei P'ri Ha'adamah is necessary for the maror and therefore, one should not recite a beracha acharona.  However, according to Rabbeinu Yitzchak, since there is no need for the Borei P'ri Ha'adamah after the karpas, one should recite a beracha acharona on the karpas.  Maharil, in his responsa, op. cit., rules that since there is a dispute as to whether one should recite a beracha acharona on the karpas, one should avoid the issue by eating less than a k'zayit of the karpas.  If one eats less than a k'zayit, there is never an obligation to recite a beracha acharona (See Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 210:1).  Maharil's opinion is the basis for Shulchan Aruch's ruling.


 


What is the Answer to the Question?


The purpose of karpas is to elicit questions from the children regarding this unusual practice.  Yet, we don't find any explicit answer to this question in the Haggadah.  What is the answer to the question of the child?  Maharil, Minhagim, Seder HaHaggadah no. 16, answers that eating karpas is a way of displaying our freedom because free people eat before the meal starts.  It also serves as an appetizer for the matzah.  R. Yehuda Loew (Maharal of Prague, c. 1520-1609), Gevurot HaShem no. 50, suggests that the goal is not to elicit questions about the karpas but about maror.  Without karpas, the maror might go unnoticed because it is normal to dip in the middle of a meal.  With the introduction of karpas, the children will notice that there is something about dipping on the night of the Seder and will inquire about the maror.  R. Chizkiah de Silva (1659-1698), P'ri Chadash, Orach Chaim 473:6, suggests that there is no real answer to the question.  The purpose of karpas is to elicit questions so that the children will be in an inquisitive mood and ask questions about the story of the exodus from Egypt.  In "Pesach-To-Go 5768," we presented a similar approach to that of P'ri Chadash: when a child is fully engaged at the Seder, he will not only learn about the role of korban Pesach, matzah and maror, he will also learn about the importance of sippur yetziat Mitzrayim.  He will learn that the mitzvah of sippur yetziat Mitzrayim includes performing actions simply for the purpose of keeping the participants engaged at the Seder.

Halacha:
Pesach 

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Learning on the Marcos and Adina Katz YUTorah site is sponsored today by Barry and Marcia Levinson in honor of Rabbi Eliron & Devorah Levinson and their children, and Rabbi Aviyam & Rina Levinson and their children and by the Koslowsky families in Jerusalem and New York to mark the yahrtzeit of their mother, grandmother,and great grandmother, Yiskah Leah bas Rav Shlomo