Karpas is one of the traditional rituals in the Passover Seder. It refers to the vegetable, usually parsley or celery, that is dipped in liquid (usually salt water) and eaten. The liquid may be any of the seven which make food capable of becoming ritually impure, although salt-water or vinegar are usually used. The idea behind the salt water is to symbolize the salty tears that the Jews shed in their slavery in Egypt. The vegetables symbolize the coming of the spring.
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. Indeed, the word Karpusa, in Sanskrit, means cotton(p.5).
- Why Does the Seder Begin with Karpas? By Gilad J. Gevaryahu & Michael Wise (PDF)
- Etymology of "karpas"