Re-energizing your Passover Seder

by Rabbi Kliel Rose, Beth Shalom Congregation

The Pesach Seder is one of my absolute favorite rituals. Nonetheless, I am acutely aware that it is not everyone’s “cup of tea” or in this case, “cup of wine”. As someone who has been leading S’darim for many years I am always looking for ways to enhance the rituals so that they reach people on many different levels. I have maintained that the more action oriented our rituals are the more likely they are to be enjoyed, remembered and God-willing, perpetuated by the generation of Jews who will succeed us.

In this spirit I offer one example below of a way to bring greater satisfaction to those who are searching to reenergize the Seder experience for themselves and the other people who join them on this sacred night.

I start first with the mechanics of the ritual and then will suggest a valuable insight we can glean from this part of the Seder ceremony.

The fourth step according to the Haggadah is the Yachatz or the “breaking” section. Traditionally we split the middle matzah, hold up the smaller piece, and recite Ha Lachma Anya – “This is the bread of poverty – let all who are hungry come and eat, let any who need come and make Pesach.”

An old Syrian custom calls for acting out the exodus narrative from Egypt whereby we use the larger piece of the broken matzah which is saved for the Afikoman or the dessert.
The Syrian afikoman ritual works in this way:
Holding up a very broken-looking piece recite the words, “Let everyone who is hungry come and eat”. (This tends to work best with a round hand-made matzah) We then break the matzah very carefully into one big piece like the letter daletד and a small piece (like the letter yud י). The big piece is then wrapped in a cloth or afikoman cover. Then we act out the exodus from Egypt in this way: Every person takes the afikoman in their right hand and holds it over their left shoulder, and recites these words from the Exodus story:
“Misha’aortam ts’rurot b’simlotan al shechmam uv’nei Yisrael asu kid’var Moshe”
“What they had left was tied up in their clothing on their shoulders, and the children of Israel did what Moses had told them.” (Exodus 12:34-35)

Each person says it according to whatever language they feel comfortable with. Then everyone (or the leader) asks them three questions and they answer, like this:
Q: “Where are you coming from?” (in Arabic:) “Minwen jaiyeh?”
A: “From Egypt!” “Mimitsrayim!”
Q: “Where are you going?” “Lawen Raiyech?”
A: “To Jerusalem!” “Liy’rushalayim!”
Q: “What are you bringing?” “Ishu zawatak?”
A: “Matsah and maror!” “Matzsah umaror!”
The person holding the afikoman waves the bag over their head three times in a circle and then passes it to the next person. The afikoman is returned to the Seder leader, who puts it down or hides it. Then the leader takes the small piece of matzah in hand and begins the Magid or “telling” section”.

Beyond the “fun” or enjoyment of the ritual as described in the format above, what is the significance of inviting the hungry to join us in this moment?

Rabbi David Seidenberg, an ordained Conservative Rabbi and student of the late Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi ZT”L, the founder of Jewish Renewal, offers a compelling answer:

“Some people are most generous when they feel they have more than enough for themselves…Maybe I gave $200 to a charity knowing that a lot of that would go to taxes if I didn’t disburse it myself. This act of giving, good as it may be, creates a hierarchy, where one person is a benefactor and a recipient. But even the poorest person is mandated in Jewish law to give tzedakah. Economically, sharing the lechem oni (a reference to the matzah) or poor bread means that we invite other hungry and needy people to truly join us, as equals, in our poverty”.

The haggadah here functions as a way to momentarily break down the ordinary economic hierarchy and financial disparity between us. In addition, it challenges us spiritually to acknowledge our brokenness, and then go beyond our own suffering in order that we may be able to see the general good of all.

The Yachatz section begins with holding the matzah, “the bread of the poor”. And the circle is closed when we are finally able to eat the afikoman or dessert (that is assuming we can find it). If matzah is “the poor person’s bread”, afikoman, that which is hidden and then revealed, is understood to be “the bread of redemption”

I do not know what redemption looks like exactly, but this year when we gather around our Seder tables may we each recite the words Ha Lachma Anya – “This is the bread of poverty – let all who are hungry come and eat, let any who need come and make Pesach.” with sincerity and a sense of personal responsibility to reshaping the economic disparity in our society. And just maybe, this will serve as a taste of redemption so that when we conclude our Seders we can say with absolute conviction, “This year we are slaves, but next year we shall be in Jerusalem”, next year may we arrive at a place of wholeness.