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Have you noticed that your seder plate includes a spot for lettuce? There's a spot for the greens (karpas) and one for the bitter herb (maror) but what is lettuce doing there? It comes from this text in the Talmud of the Land of Israel (the Yerushalmi):

Just as lettuce is initially sweet but when left in the field becomes bitter, so did the Egyptians do to our ancestors in Egypt. Initially, they were very hospitable, saying to Joseph and his brothers: "The land of Egypt is open before you; settle your father and your brothers in the best part of the land (Genesis 47:6)." Afterward, Pharaoh mistreated them, as it is said, "Ruthlessly, they made life bitter for them with harsh labor at mortar and bricks (Exodus 1:14)." (Y. Pesachim 2:5, 20b2, V 29b, PM 18a// Genesis Rabbah 95)

The sages assign lettuce a midrashic symbolism. This midrash is left out of most haggadahs, so we are left with lettuce on the seder plate without really knowing why it was there in the first place.

Lettuce plants are sweet in the beginning when all the energy/sugar is in the leaves. But lettuce plants can "bolt," prematurely bringing forth a flower in order to reproduce. When that happens, the energy/sugar is routed to the blossom and the lettuce leaves do become better.

Ways to use this for your seder:

  1. Plant lettuce and taste some of the leaves when young but let the plant bolt and taste the leaves then.
  2. Add this midrash to your haggadah and use lettuce in your seder meal.
  3. Use it as part of a spiritual exercise. Pesach means we're about halfway through the year. Have any of the vows and resolutions you made on Rosh Hashanah turned from sweetness to bitterness? Can you conduct a course change and get yourself back on target?

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Image credit: leah54 / 123RF Stock Photo

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