By Polokoff, Rabbi Eric
Everyone here been to a Passover Seder? So let me ask: what’s an Afikoman? Some kids make Afikoman bags. We still have the one my daughter made in religious school.
The Afikoman is really important in the Passover Seder. It’s what we teach the wise children… I quote the Hagaddah:
These children should be taught all the laws of Passover from beginning to end – ein maftirin achar haPesach afikoman – including the reference to conclude our Passover meal with the Afikoman.
So clearly, if the Afikoman was of no or little consequence, it wouldn’t have been singled-out for attention by our rabbis.
Only – what is an Afikoman? It’s likely from the Greek word Epikomios or Epikomion, meaning “after dinner entertainment” but more literally “that which comes after.” In fact our ancient Rabbis debated what it was… consider this teaching from the Jerusalem Talmud:
What is the Afikoman? Rabbi shimon said in the name of R. Inanini bar R. Sisi: it is a kind of music. Rav Ami says: it’s a kind of sweet. Shmuel said: It’s like the mushrooms and pigeons of Hananiah bar Shilat. (Y. Pesachim 10)
Music? Sweets? Mushrooms? Pigeons? Haniniah saw them as delicacies, mushrooms or pigeons – like caviar or pate. The one thing it isn’t is a piece of matzah.
The Afikoman represents a sort of finality, the end of the ceremony. But ending with matzah, felt the Rabbis in Babylonia, was precisely how the eating part should end – the taste of matzah the last morsel in our mouth. Why? I suspect because matzah flatness reminds us not to be too puffed up – to see ourselves and god as siding with those in need, overcoming hardship.
So notice that Jewish tradition evolves. Were you to say to Rabbi Shimon in the 4th century, “Let’s hide the Afikoman” – he’d have no idea what you were saying. He’d be forced to assume there will be no singing. But as we know, the Afikoman came to mean – end dessert with matzah.
There are other such changes in other parts of the Seder – Many of us now put an orange on the Seder plate – representing our embrace of equality and inclusion, amongst other rituals.
So with all this change, what’s the same? In all of this, the constant is the desire to observe Passover in the first place. And to relate to the ideas of liberation and being rescued.
So, knowing what you now know about the evolution of the Afikoman… From being something not known about… to now being one of the most identifiable elements, the finding of a lost half of a broken matzah, ideally by a child… Consider how it actually makes an excellent symbol for Judaism and Jewish community. We search in our lives and our world to create wholeness, bringing shattered parts together. Hopefully, with a sense of modesty. And definitely with an eye to the future, towards the next generation. And that act can be more meaningful than savoring truffles or caviar.
JFACT exists so that our community can promote those very values discussed on Passover – respect and freedom. May we appreciatereminders that bring us closer to the source of liberation, and of wholeness.
Cain yehi ratzon. Be this God’s Will.