David Seidenberg
Ecohasid meets Rambam

Put hyssop on your seder plate

Hyssop on the seder plate and growing from the wall - composite image: Wikimedia Commons, public domain, author's photo
Hyssop on the seder plate and growing from the Western Wall - composite image, Wikimedia commons, public domain, and author's photo

Did you know that hyssop is a quintessential symbol of Passover? According to our story, every family in Egypt took a bundle of hyssop in hand to daub the lintel and doorposts with blood from the Paschal lamb (Exodus 12:22). This was the sign to fend off the Angel of Death during the last plague, the killing of the firstborn.

Hyssop can be found growing wild throughout the Middle East, including in Egypt and in the land of Israel and Palestine. Most importantly, hyssop is known for its steadfastness, because of its ability to grow straight out of cracks in a wall, including at the Kotel (Western Wall). (See 1 Kings 5:13.) Sometimes called Syrian oregano, hyssop, called eizov in the Torah, was also used in rites of purification, like reintegrating the victim of tzara’at (“leprosy”) to the community, as we read in Leviticus 14 (often read right before Pesach), and preparing the red heifer, in Numbers 19.  

As important to ancient Israelite culture as hyssop was, so is it important in Palestinian culture. Hyssop is called za’atar, and is the main ingredient in the spice mixture called za’atar. It can be gathered in the wild everywhere in the land, and is used in many foods and dishes. But in these times, za’atar is also an important symbol of Palestinian steadfastness in holding onto the land. In fact, in 1977, then-Minister of Agriculture Ariel Sharon decreed a ban on gathering wild hyssop — ostensibly meant to protect the wild plant, but also meant to strike a blow against indigenous Palestinian culture. Gathering hyssop therefore became an act of resistance in many places in the land.

Hyssop is already represented on the seder plate, according to some, by the karpas, the parsley or celery or other greens we eat first in the seder. But I invite you to put actual hyssop on your seder plate this year, or if you can’t find hyssop, use a sprig of one of its close relatives, thyme or oregano, to remind ourselves that something essential to Jewish culture can also be essential to Palestinian culture, and that both cultures are nurtured from the same land.  (Thyme and oregano, which like hyssop also have purifying and antibiotic properties, are sometimes used in za’atar.)

In this time of conflict, hyssop is one of many symbols people are waging polemics over. Let’s use it differently, and well, as a symbol of a time when peace and justice reign, may it come soon. Hyssop is a ready symbol of coexistence, of mutually-shared foodways and ritual and connection to the land. So put hyssop on your seder plate, as a symbol of a shared future, a better future in store for all people, when together we pursue peace and justice. 

When you raise that sprig to ask “Eizov zo al shum mah?” you can say, “This is because of the blood on the doorpost that saved the Israelites in Egypt from the terror of the plague of the firstborn, and because we share this symbol with the Palestinian people, for whom it represents being steadfast. We imagine a time when none of our children will die because of terror or war, when the land will be filled with peace and justice.”

The third paragraph of’s prayer for the land and the state also fits here, if you are searching for more words:

“Rescue all of Your land, from the Jordan River to the sea, from the spilling of blood, and all residing and sojourning there, under every government, from haters without and hatred within. Grant peace and abundance and healing throughout the land, and secure calm to her defenders, lasting joy to all her inhabitants, and real hope for all her peoples. And let us say: Amen.”

הָצֵל נָא אֶת כָּל אַרְצֶךָ בֵּין יַרְדֵּן לַיָּם מִשְּׁפִיכוּת דָּמִים
וְכָל הַיּוֹשְׁבִים בָּהּ תַּחַת כָּל שִׁלְטוֹן מִשׂוֹנְאִים בַּחוּץ וּמִשִּׂנְאָה בִּפְנִים
וְנָתַתָּ שָׁלוֹם וְשֶׁפַע בְּכָל בָּאָרֶץ וְשַׁלְוָה לִמְגִנֶיהָ
שִׂמְחַת עוֹלָם לְכָל יוֹשְׁבֶיהָ וְתִקְוָה טוֹבָה לְכָל עַמֶּיהָ וְנֹאמַר אָמֵן


For more Pesach resources, including an Earth Day prayer for burning you chametz, and an app to help you count and reflect on the omer, go to:

About the Author
Rabbi David Mevorach Seidenberg is the creator of, author of Kabbalah and Ecology (Cambridge U. Press, 2015), and a scholar of Jewish thought. David is also the Shmita scholar-in-residence at Abundance Farm in Northampton MA. He teaches around the world and also leads astronomy programs. As a liturgist, David is well-known for pieces like the prayer for voting and an acclaimed English translation of Eikhah ("Laments"). David also teaches nigunim and is a composer of Jewish music and an avid dancer.
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