Tradional Jewish Passover Seder Plate and Cups of Wine
Professor Joe Goldblatt
I have a very close friend who very sadly recently suffered the tragic death of his nineteen year old grandson who had perished from a motorcycle accident. When I asked him how his daughter, the boy’s mother was doing he said “I told her about the plate of life.”
When I think of a plate of life I remember our Jewish family passover seder dinners where upon one plate we have various foods that represent the entire history of the Jew’s exodus from Egypt. The bitter herbs represent the bitterness of slavery. The roasted lamb shank bone represents the passover sactifice. The egg repesents spring and the wholeness of life and so on.
Therefore, when my friend told me about his personal wise counsel for his daughter I was curious about this plate of life that seems evern more universal than the Passover seder plate of which I am so familiar.
“I told her that the plate of life includes things like the house where you create a home, the job or career where you earn your living, your family and friends and there is also another serving on the plate and that is grief.”
He and I then discussed how some young people are not as accustomed to confronting grief as men of our age who with every year sadly lose more and more of our long time friends and family members. My friend then told me that is exactly why he told his daughter about the plate of life.
The more I imagined this plate of life I recalled my many childhood Passover seder dinners where my father would carefully and thoughtfully explain the meaning of each of the food items that mama had prepared so beautifully. These symbols of our history and our faith although individually are completely different, collectively they represented the whole world through this ancient story of an enslaved people’s struggle for freedom.
Thoughout the Passover seder dinner four cups of wine are also consumed. Each cup of wine is accompanied by a prayer and then the hebrew toast L’chaim, that means “To life!”
In our darkest times, it is important to remember the sanctity and the possibility of life. I suppose my wise friend knows this because he realises, perhaps better than many others, that upon our plate of life we never know what we may find one day. Therefore, we must accept it, the bitter along with the sweet, to perhaps find our own freedom from our suffering from grief.
In some ways this is similar to the ancient Hebrew slaves who when led by Moses, crossed the Red Sea and eventually found freedom in a place they named Jerusalem. The word Jerusalem was first written in the Old Testament in Genesis Rabbah 56:10. The name is interpreted as a combination of yir’eh, “He will see [to it],” and Shalem, the city of King Melchizedek (based on Genesis 14:18). Some wise scholars over hundreds of years have interpreted this to mean “God’s City or the City of Peace.”
I also believe that when we find the courage and strength to escape from the slavery of crippling grief we too may find our own City of Peace where we may look back with fond memories and forward, ever strengthened by love, with a wee bit of greater conviction and even hope.
Therefore, thanks to my friend, I now see every day as a banquet and await what may find its way onto my place of life with greater knowledge and acceptance. I learned from my Passover seder plate nearly eight decades ago that our lives, no matter the length, are mysterious stories that we must seek to accept, understand, and cherish as a gift. After all, we have the privilege of being humans who love, grieve, and rise again to discover the next surprise that may appear on our plate of life.
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland. His opinions are his own. To read more about his views visit www.joegoldblatt.scot