With Pesach coming up, here's something I’ve always wondered: Why do we place a chicken neck on the Seder Plate, and then leave it there uneaten? I always look at the empty Seder plate at the end of the night, with this lonely chicken neck left behind, and wonder, why is it there? 1


One of the most fascinating characters in the story of the Exodus is Pharaoh. He witnessed the downfall of his powerful country with his own eyes, experienced the miracles of the Ten Plagues firsthand, and saw how every prediction Moses made came true, yet he stubbornly refused to let the Israelites leave. Only when every firstborn Egyptian—including his son—died in the final plague, did he relent.

It is true that G‑d hardened Pharaoh’s heart so he wouldn't be moved by the miracles happening before him, but that is because G‑d helps people along whichever path they choose. Pharaoh hardened his own heart, so G‑d ensured that he would not get off lightly and kept him on the stubborn path that he himself chose.

Stubbornness is sometimes referred to as having a stiff neck. The neck connects the head to the body, representing the passageway that translates what we see with our eyes and know with our minds into what we feel with our hearts and do with our bodies. A stiff-necked person is unmoved by what they know to be true; they have a blockage and the message simply doesn't reach their heart. This was Pharaoh’s problem.

Indeed, the Hebrew word for neck is haoreph. Rearranged, those Hebrew letters spell Pharaoh. So the chicken neck that sits on the Seder plate and doesn't budge is a small reminder of Pharaoh and his stubbornness. After all the miracles and all the wonders, he is still there, same as ever, unchanged and unmoved.

When we sit at the Seder, we have a choice. We can be like Pharaoh, skeptical, cynical, and unimpressed. Or we can take our honored place at the table of Jewish history and marvel at the miracle that here we are, over three millennia after Pharaoh’s demise, still eating our matzah and celebrating being Jewish.

Chicken necks get left behind. Don't be one of those.


See Chukei Chaim, Siman 473, and Likutei Torah Arizal Vayeshev.