When I was growing up, my mother would read these verses from Song of Songs each year at our Passover seder. This will always be karpas for me, sprigs of fresh parsley dipped in the sound of my mother’s voice saying “Arise my darling,” saying “For lo the winter is past.” Saying no matter what bitterness life might bring, there is always the possibility of love. And where there is love, there is hope.
On all other nights, my mother would teach us hope as a discipline, a choice, an obligation. I remember coming to her upset about a situation that felt desperate to me at the time. “Imagine,” she said, “just think how the Israelites felt standing at the Sea with the Egyptian army closing in behind them! If they had hope, so can you!”
At the seder, my mother would read these verses from Song of Songs and remind us that not all hope has to be quite so hard-earned. Sometimes it is just a gift—unbidden, unwilled, unexpected. Like the way your breath catches at the glimpse of a young crocus pushing up through the snow, or the way the heart softens at the sight of a stream melting in early spring
This is the promise of karpas – at once utterly implausible and inevitable.
Karpas promises that the renewal unfolding in the world around us will come just as insistently to our own lives, to the places that have frozen over in our own weary and wary hearts. Even in the darkest times and narrowest places, there is a song in our souls waiting to well up again.
The Hasidic master, the Sefat Emet,1 connects the Song that the Israelites sing as they cross the sea on their way out of Egypt to this promise of renewal. He teaches that there is a song in us that will always be there, that has had and will always have the power of renewal. It is in our souls and “it can never be forgotten.”
“This is the deliverance that is there for every generation.”
The entire seder is an invitation to taste the tears and hopes of our
ancestors. To hold them close.
To know that we have been here before.
We have been in narrow places and we have left them behind.
We have stumbled suddenly upon wide open places,
opening within us,
Karpas is the first taste.
Take your tears.
Take all the tears.
Go back as far as you can.
Put them in a bowl.
Pass them around the table.
Don’t let them become a bottomless well of grief.
Dip, don’t drown.
A voice beckons:
Tender, trembling slightly.
Not all hope has to be hard-earned.
Sometimes it just comes.
If you let it.
Love rises again.
So will you.
1The Language of Truth: The Torah Commentary of the Sefat Emet, Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger, Translated and Interpreted by Arthur Green, Be-Shalach 2 (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society 2012), 101