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. Other customs are to use raw onion, or boiled potato. The word comes from the Greek 'karpos' meaning a fresh raw vegetable. The karpas is traditionally placed on the seder plate on the left side, below the roasted egg. The liquid may be any of the seven which make food capable of becoming ritually impure, although salt-water or wine 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 general idea of dipping a vegetable into saltwater is to arouse the curiosity of the children, as per the theme of the Seder night that the story is to be recounted by way of question and answer. Such an action is not usually done, and thus arouses the curiosity of the children.
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 Greek word 'karpos' is very similar to the Hebrew word 'karpas' meaning fine linen. 
- Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Orach Chayim 273:14
- Esther 1:6 and Rashi's commentary to Genesis 37:3
- Why Does the Seder Begin with Karpas? By Gilad J. Gevaryahu & Michael Wise (PDF)
- Etymology of "karpas"
- Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, Peninei Halachah Laws Of Pesach , Page 277-280, Karpas
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