Charoset is a Seder favorite, but certainly not a food we eat every day. What exactly is Charoset?
Charoset is the sweet thick dip made of fruits and nuts that is a tasty component of the Pesach Seder. Although there are those who have argued that eating charoset is actually a mitzva (commandment) for which a special blessing is to be recited, the law is not in accordance with this view. However, the Talmud does require that charoset have its place on the Seder table.
There are a number of reasons why charoset is a part of the Seder. One reason is actually medicinal — to neutralize any harmful effects of kappa. Kappa is a small wormy insect that was once found on the surface of vegetables. Although one is allowed to consume kappa despite any kashrut-related concerns, it can be poisonous. Therefore, the maror (bitter herb that might contain kappa) is dipped into charoset before it is eaten in order to neutralize the possible poisonous effects of kappa.
It is even believed that charoset has the power to neutralize the effects of kappa by merely being on the table with the maror, without the need to actually dip the marror into it. There is also a view that the purpose of the charoset is to prevent bloating and flatulence that might be caused by eating the marror.
The other purpose of the charoset is symbolic. The traditional ingredients of the charoset mixture: nuts, figs, and apples are used in scripture to describe the Jewish people. So too, its thick texture and cloudy color serve to recall the mortar that the Jewish slaves used for making bricks in Egypt. In fact, the word “charoset” is a derivative of “cheres”, meaning “clay”. The red wine content of the charoset serves to recall the first of the ten plagues – the plague of blood.
Additionally, the apple content of the charoset is to remind us of the apple orchards where the women would go to meet their husbands with food and drink. The husbands, exhausted after a day of slave labor, had no interest in or strength for intimacy. Therefore, the women would beautify themselves and bring their husbands refreshments in order to maintain marital life and allow the Jewish people to continue to reproduce. When the women were ready to give birth they would do so in these same orchards in order to avoid the spying eyes of Pharaoh’s officers.
It goes without saying that there are no kappa-related health concerns in our day. As such, the role of charoset is strictly a symbolic one today. In fact, not only is there no requirement to eat charoset as part of the Seder, but when one dips the marror into the charoset one must be sure to shake off any charoset remains from the marror before eating it. Some people have the custom to dip the entire piece of marror into the charoset while others simply dip a portion of it. There is an opinion that the matza must also be dipped into charoset before it is eaten though common custom is not like this view.
While an unusual and highly symbolic food, most Jews agree that Charoset is…. YUMMY!
Happy Passover from Israel!