כרפס. What significance does this word have in the Hagadah? What does this word mean? What was the reasoning of Chazal to include the step of כרפס in the Seder?
Everyone knows the famous and beautiful answer that the salt water reminds us of the bitterness and hardship the Jews suffered in Egypt. Another explanation is that it is to remind us of those Jews who cried out to Hashem for mercy to be freed from hardship and slavery.
I would like to present another answer, which was heard in a Shiur given by Rav Isaac Bernstein, zt”l, of London. He suggested a beautiful and profound idea that changes the whole outlook of the beginning of the Hagadah.
In Megilat Esther it says, חור כרפס ותכלת, “There were hangings of fine white cotton and blue wool” (1:6). This, of course, refers to Achashverosh’s party with all the people of Shushan, and it describes the beauty and splendor of the party. From the Megila we find out the meaning of the word כרפס: fine woven linen. How would this fit into our context? What does fine woven linen have to do with us taking a vegetable and dipping it into salt water?
The message is a beautiful one. How did the Jews get to Egypt? The decisive incident in sending Yosef down to Egypt was the story of Yosef and his multi-colored coat. What happened in the story of Yosef and his coat that sent the Jews to Egypt? Yosef wore his coat in front of his brothers, his brothers were jealous, and they sold him into slavery. In order to save themselves from being punished, they took Yosef’s coat, dipped it into the blood of a goat, and told their father that a wild animal had eaten Yosef.
Now the idea of כרפס in the Hagadah makes sense. It is a way of introducing the story of going down to Egypt; it is showing us that because of the brothers’ sins, Yosef was sold into slavery in Egypt. How does כרפס fit in with this? We take the vegetable, representing Yosef’s coat, and dip it into the salt water, representing the blood of the goat. The story of Pesach told at the Seder goes all the way back to the sons of Yaakov, all the way back to Yosef’s coat.