The Hated Vegetable: Karpas
One of the very few things I liked about the first President Bush was that he openly hated broccolli, or brussel sprouts. It was not politically astute for him to admit to this one normal healthy attribute as it caused all sorts of problems for him with the broccolli growers of the country, but he was forced to acknowledge this one admirable trait.
I have maintained my secret for years, but I now openly admit that I hate broccolli. In fact, I dislike most vegetables. The only vegetable I always enjoy is the potato chip. I stand firmly by my ancestor Adam, who complained to God, “I and my donkey will eat from the same trough!” (Pesachim 118a)
Yet on two nights next week I will eat two, yes, two, vegetables! (I am eternally grateful to God for not making vegetable consumption a more frequent Mitzvah!) I will, as is the Weinberg family custom, eat potatos for Karpas, (my father did not agree with me that we should eat potato chips as karpas; something to do with their becoming soggy in the salt water) and Romaine lettuce with ground horseradish for Marror. The latter is proof positive that eating vegetables is a bitter experience. That’s what it is: I save my vegetable consumption for the occassions when it is a Mitzvah.
What has changed on this night from all other nights? The Mitzvah transforms the simple vegetable into something holy and therefore palatable. Even a simple vegetable can become as holy as an offering on the Altar. Even more special is that it can become a meal.
I once had a guest who had never attended a Seder wonder aloud why we didn’t serve any food for all the long hours we discussed the Haggadah. “We DID eat,” I told him. “Don’t you remeber that small piece of potato that we served three hours ago?”
“That wasn’t a meal,” he responded.
“It is more than a meal for many people. It was certainly a meal for a slave in Egypt.”
“No,” he said, “that was a Mitzvah, not a meal.”
“Why can a Mitzvah not be a meal? Isn’t a Shabbat meal a Mitzvah?”
“I never ate a Shabbat meal as a Mitzvah that I must fulfill. It’s just a meal that happens to be a Mitzvah. How can eating be a Mitzvah?”
“Every time you enjoy food you are enjoying God’s creation. That is the Mitzvah.”
“Then why did you give that long speech about hating vegetables? Aren’t they part of God’s creation?”
I was determined to never invite this man again. Unfortunately, in that sense only, he became my father in law a few years later and I had to invite him again!
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