The Baal Shem Tov, or Besht —  the founder of Chasidism — 
met the soul of the Messiah during an ascent to heaven. 
The Besht asked him, "When will the Master come?" 
The Messiah answered, "When your wellsprings break forth to the outside!" 
(from a letter written by the Besht to his brother-in-law about one of his soul ascents) 


Yachats: Sharing the Broken Piece

At Yachats we split the middle matsah, hold up the smaller piece, and recite הא לחמא עניא Ha Lachma Anya – "This is the bread of poverty – let any who are hungry come and eat, let any who need come and make Pesach." First I'll share a d'rash, and then I'll describe the Syrian custom for acting out leaving Egypt using the Afikoman right after Yachats. You can download a handout with the words and choreography of the Syrian afikoman ritual for use at your seder which also includes the d'rash below.

Holding up this very broken-looking piece and reciting the words, "Let everyone who is hungry come and eat" is quite a stark image. According to our words, we aren't inviting all those hungry people to share in the feast that will follow, or even to share the Afikoman that makes up the bigger half. The invitation is very literally to eat a fragment of a broken matsah that wouldn't even be enough for one person.

What does it really mean to hold up this small piece of matsah and invite anyone who is hungry to come share it? That is the question I held with me all night through the first seder a few years ago. Here are two answers that came to me:

1) Some people are most generous when they feel they have more than enough for themselves. Maybe I've set aside ten quarters to give out as I stroll down Broadway in the Upper West Side, knowing that I have ten dollars in my pocket for my own needs. 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 tsedakah. Economically, sharing the lechem oni, poor bread, means that we invite other hungry and needy people to truly join us, as equals, in our poverty. On a spiritual level, we invite others in despite our broken, limited perspective, without pretending to be able to see or understand the whole picture--which is represented by the afikoman.

2) We live in a society in which everyone wants a "whole share" – enough stuff to feel equal to everyone else, with a little more to spare. If this is what it means to have "enough", then all the world can't provide enough cars and TV's and 3 bedroom homes on 1/4 acre to take care of 6 billion people's needs. If we only give when we feel like we have enough, that is what we model. If we give even when we have less than enough, all of it comes back to us in an abundance of what surrounds us, not of what we own, but what we fit into, a greater whole that is richer than any material riches. That is the afikoman, the bread of redemption.

Syrian Yachats

In my family, we follow the Syrian custom, taking a whole, round hand-made matsah and breaking it very carefully into one big piece like the letter dalet ד (imagine an open-mouthed Pacman) and a small piece (like the letter yod י) that is maybe 1/4 or at most 1/3 of a circle. (This can be hard to do with machine-made matzah because of the linear perforations.) The two pieces spell out the word yad יד "hand" – a symbol of the "yad chazakah", the strong hand that liberated us form Egypt.

The big piece is then wrapped in a cloth or afikoman cover and we act out a piece of leaving 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"
משארתם צרורות בשמלותם על שכמם ובני ישראל עשו עדבר משה

"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. (There’s a teaching about this verse here on neohasid.) 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. I always take the time for every person to do this ritual--it's great fun and can be very dramatic. If you like you can just do the questions without the verse. In our family it would always be passed from the oldest down to the youngest, but now I usually just send it in a circle around the table. The afikoman is returned to the seder leader, who puts it down or hides it (the afikoman symbolizes redemption, which is hidden from us). Then the leader takes the small piece of matsah in hand and begins Magid.

Reb Duvid Mevorach Seidenberg



Design in progress © Rabbi David Mevorach Seidenberg 2006