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I have had discussions with people who insist that karpas must be a small piece of diced vegetable (i.e. smaller than a ke-zayith le-Humrah), dipped in salt water, and nothing more.

When I then ask what the practical purpose of doing that is and if they think that the authors of the haggadah had such a thing in mind, they cannot give me an answer.

So, what is the practical purpose of karpas? Is it really just to eat a fleck of salty celery and to move on?

  • Are you asking that since its less than kzayis its not called achila? And thus non considered an "action" vis a vis halacha? – Shoel U'Meishiv Mar 18 '15 at 14:27
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    Wikipedia on Karpas: The idea behind the salt water is to symbolize the salty tears that the Jews shed in their slavery in Egypt. The general idea of dipping a vegetable into saltwater is to arouse the curiosity of the children...Such an action is not usually done, and thus arouses the curiosity of the children. Some have explained the dipping of the Karpas to symbolize Joseph's tunic being dipped into blood by his brothers. Karpas is therefore done at the beginning of the seder, just as Joseph's tunic being dipped into blood began the Israelites' descent to Egypt. – Double AA Mar 18 '15 at 14:29
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    I'm not really sure what you mean by "practical purpose". As opposed to what other kind of purpose? What makes a purpose practical? – Double AA Mar 18 '15 at 14:30
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    @DanF No! You answer "because God took us out of egypt; lemme tell you about it..." – Double AA Mar 19 '15 at 4:52
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    @DoubleAA I think that's more of an answer as to why we eat matzah and maror which are Torah-based mitzvoth. We eat karpas because G-d took us out of Egypt? I know that we complained about the leeks and garlics, but parsley is mentioned in the Torah? – DanF Mar 19 '15 at 15:59
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According to the Rambam one is actually required to eat at least a kzayit. I think the Maharal in Gevurot Hashem in his discussion of the Ma Nishtana seems to interpret the mitzva as a way to make the fact that we eat maror distinct, i.e. "We already ate our greens. This is l'shem mitzvat maror".

  • Where does the Rambam say this? – Yishai Mar 18 '15 at 18:23
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    הל' חמץ ומצה ח,ב מתחיל ומברך בורא פרי האדמה, ולוקח ירק ומטבל אותו בחרוסת, ואוכל כזית, הוא וכל המסובין עימו--כל אחד ואחד, אין פחות מכזית. mechon-mamre.org/i/35.htm – wfb Mar 19 '15 at 3:23
  • @Yishai ^^^ It's quite unintuitive to say otherwise. What many do nowadays (due to safek brachot) is not generally called eating in halacha. – Double AA Mar 19 '15 at 4:51
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Maharil (Minhagim Order of the Haggada 16) writes:

הקשה מהר"י סג"ל הא דאמרינן טיבול ראשון למען ישאלו תינוקות, וכששואל מה נשתנה וכו', היאך משיבין לו עבדים היינו והא הטיבול אתא בשביל הנס. ואמר שנראה לו דהכי פי' דאנחנו מדמינן את עצמנו כבני חורין מפני הנס. ועוד טיבול ראשון אתא לגרר לבו לאכול מצה לתיאבון. ואמר מהר"י סג"ל שבנימוקי רבינו שמחה כתב דכך שואל התינוק, מאחר שהירקות עדיין מונחים על השלחן רואים אנו דצורך בהן לטבול עוד, מה נשתנה מכל הלילות, ועוד אמאי אין טובלין גם עתה טיבול שני ואמאי שוהין. ומשיבין לו דמפסיקין משום לשבח ולהלל ששיחררנו מאשר עבדים היינו לפרעה... ואמר מהר"י סג"ל שמהכא דקדק רבו המובהק מהר"ש, שהיה נוהג להניח את הירקות ואת החרוסת בקערות מיוחדות, ולא הניחם בקערה שבה המצות כדי שישארו לפניו בעוקר קערה שבה המצות, כדי לישאל התינוק על הירקות כדפי'.‏
Maharil questioned that which we say the first dipping [AKA Karpas] is for the children to ask. And when they ask "Why is this different", how do we answer "We were slaves..."? For [Karpas] is for the miracle [not the slavery]! And he answered that it seems to him that [we answer that] we are acting like free people because of the miracle. And furthermore, the first dipping comes to entice his heart to eat Matza with appetite. And Maharil said that in the comments of R Simcha it says that the child should ask, "Since the vegetables are still on the table we see that there will be another dipping. Why is this night different [that there are two dippings]? And moreover why are we waiting for the second dip?" And we answer him that we are stopping to offer praise that we are freed from being slaves to Pharoh.... And Maharil said that from this his main teacher Maharash would ensure to leave the vegetables and the Charoset in bowls seperate from the main bowl with the Matza so that they will remain on the table even when the bowl with the Matzas is removed, so that they will ask about the vegetables, as above. (my translation)

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Rabbi Mordechai Koster in his Sefer Gevuras Akiva writes that we use celery for Karpas since celery is a negative calorie food thus we are reminding ourselves that we worked in Egypt for no purpose, building buildings that sunk into the ground, etc. He goes on to say that we dunk it into saltwater as a reminder as to what happened to all the Egyptians that ended up in the Yam Suph.

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