The Magnificent Humbling Aspect of Passover

From the time I was a teenager, I led my family’s Seder. My relatives were no different from most: Let’s move on so we can eat. Were I a super idealist, I would argue that my relatives were not disinterested; they were just ashamed to admit how little they understood about the Haggadah. I would argue that my relatives really were interested in telling the story, but were too embarrassed to admit their lack of knowledge. Therefore, the let’s move on so we can eat mantra was merely a way to save face. Alas, I may be an idealist but I am realistic also. My family was not interested in anything but the meal.

Even if we focus exclusively on the Passover dinner, it is certainly true that many of us know little about the Haggadah beyond the surface. The Passover Seder is certainly humbling in the sense that insights and observations about the Haggadah text extend far beyond our
limited expertise. Even with paragraphs and themes familiar to us, there are often deeper historical and theological meanings we have not even considered.

As an example: We know the basic story of the Four Children. We know how the wise child is especially inquisitive; we teach him/her all the laws of Passover through the law which we generally translate as: After eating the afikoman we eat nothing else. Our understanding is that at the end of the Seder we eat this final piece of matzah, called the afikoman. Most of us know about the afikoman and we even know that the afikoman is the last food we consume during the Seder.
However, such was not the original meaning of afikoman. Although open to interpretation, afikoman is a Greek word. Its origin may lie in the ancient Greek symposium; an elite feast generally reserved for men only. The symposium consisted of serious discussion, food and strong drink; followed by an after dinner entertainment which included music and paid performers. It is quite possible that the afikoman was originally that after dinner entertainment. As elements of the symposium infiltrated Jewish practice (including our Seder), Jewish families would have concluded designated festive meals with an afikoman; a form of entertainment borrowed from their Hellenist neighbors. On Seder night however, such an afikoman/after dinner entertainment would have been inappropriate. Therefore, the original law shared with the wise child might not have read: After eating the afikoman (ie piece of matzah) we eat nothing else. Rather, the law would have read: After the meal we do NOT have an afikoman (ie, the entertainment customary following other banquets). Ergo, the afikoman was not something of which we partook at the end of the meal; it was a form of entertainment of which we did not partake at the end of the Seder meal.

Over time, our customs and practices adjusted to the needs of a post- Temple Jewish world. The afikoman evolved from a type of entertainment, to the matzah we eat at the end of our Seder. Along with the afikoman/matzah itself, we introduced the brilliant and insightful practice of hiding the afikoman so that children would be engaged throughout the Seder and not lose interest. The afikoman became another expression of our tradition’s desire to include our children. Nowadays, the afikoman matzah is well established as a basic custom of the Seder. Understanding however, that the tradition of afikoman is much more elaborate and rich in history; we learn an interesting lesson about the grandeur of the Haggadah and the Passover story.

Next year, before we rush forward to the meal, it might be worth further examining a paragraph or two of the Haggadah to uncover some deeper meaning. If nothing else, we may better appreciate the text and the story as a wonderful challenge to discover and to probe.

Shabbat Shalom and Hag Sameach!
Rabbi Klayman
Saturday, April 15 Shabbat/ Hol HaMoed Service 9:30 am
Sunday, April 16 Sunday Hol HaMoed Service 9 am

Monday, April 17: Seventh Day Study Session 10-11 am
Please note that on the seventh day we will have a study session only.

Tuesday, April 18: Service for Eighth Day(Yizkor) 9:30 am

On the eighth day we will observe Yizkor at some point during the service. As we cannot say an exact time, we invite you to join us for the entire service.