Some Hebrew Words Used in the Pesach Seder

Pesach: Pronounced peh-SAHKH: Literally to skip over. While Pesach is translated as “Passover”, it does not mean to physically pass over something, but rather to pass [skip] over or omit something in a group. This refers to the skipping over of the firstborn of the Children of Israel, who were not killed when all the other firstborn in Egypty were killed. However, figuratively, the word is split into two: peh sakh: which literally means “a mouth that discusses”. This is a reference to the long discussions about the Exodus from Egypt that the seder is designed to facilliate.

Lechem oni: Pronounced LEH-khehm OH-nee: Literally: “bread of poverty” [i.e. matzah], the food eaten by poor people. Figuratively however, the matzah is called lechem oni because it is the “lechem sh’onim alav harbeh” — the bread that we answer [expound] on a lot. This is because many of the customs of the Seder are made so the children will be made curious and paticipate by asking questions, and we give many answers back to educate them about the Exodus from Egypt.

Afikomen – the broken Matzah

Mitzrayim: Pronounced meets-RAH-yeem: The name in Hebrew (both Biblical and modern) for Egypt. The name comes from the son of Ham the son of No’ach (Noah) who inhabited the land according to the Bible. However, Mitzra’im is spelled the same as metzarim, which literally means a narrow place, but it used to refer to a difficult time or situation, just like a narrow place is difficult to pass. So figuratively Mitzrayim refers to the very difficult time that the Childern of Israel passed during their slavery in Egypt.

Karpas:  Pronounced kahr-PAHS: This is a non-bitter vegetable appetizer eaten at the beginning of the Seder. Spelled backwards it is the letter samech, which represents the number 60, and perech, which means hard labor. The 600,000 men of fighting age that left Mitzrayim are refered to as the sheesheem reebo — the sixty multitudes, because a reebo refers to a unit of 10,000. So together it refers to the 600,000 men (plus women and children) subjected to the hard labor of slavery. Karpas is also an acronym for “klal rishon, peh sagur” — “the first principal is a closed mouth” a reference to the fact that we are not supposed to stick to talking about the Exodus and not stray into discussing mundane matters.

Charoset:  Pronounced khah-ROH-seht: the mixture of ground fruit and nuts that symbolizes the mud mortar used between the building bricks during the hard building labor in Egypt. The shoresh (root) of the word is khet, resh, samech, which spells cheres, or clay. A clay building brick is called “charsit”.

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