So if we don’t eat the charoset in a ritual manner, why do we have it at the Seder?
One explanation of the Babylonian Talmud is that the charoset reminds us of a “tapuach tree”. (Tapuach in biblical Hebrew refers to a citrus tree, i.e., a citron.) The ancient rabbis explain that in Egypt the enslaved men would come home from the fields exhausted and uninterested in any intimacy with their spouse. However, their holy wives would inspire them as they sat under the tapuach tree.
Why is this story so important to be told at the Seder ?
I think this story is a reminder of the heroism of the enslaved Israelite men and women. When we hear the word hero, we don’t necessarily think of a wife inspiring her husband, but perhaps that is the message of the charoset. The Israelites were being brutally enslaved. Slavery is as much psychological as it is physical. When a person is enslaved, the simple act of holding their head up high and believing in a bright future is often the first step and the necessary step to breaking the chains of their captors. This act of the Israelites in Egypt in deciding to create more children even while they were being enslaved themselves was really an act of great defiance and the path to redemption from Egypt.
Perhaps the charoset is a reminder to include the spiritual heroism of the Israelites in the telling of the Exodus story. With all the focus in the Torah on the greatness of Moses, on the plagues, and on the miracles of God, maybe there was a concern that the day-to-day heroism of the people might get short-changed. After all, what they did to bring redemption is not exactly obvious. The charoset reminds us that they were brave in their spiritual resistance and did not give up their souls to slavery. We should never forget their spiritual resistance to the Egyptian leadership.
I understand this heroism of the Israelites in Egypt better now that I have read the memoirs of Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, the former chief rabbi of Israel. Rabbi Lau survived Buchenwald as a 7- year-old child, and he writes of the heroism of the imprisoned Jews enslaved by Nazis in the ghetto and then in the concentration camps.