Pesach 5774

Matzah is the food of a humble slave, who does not have time to let the bread rise, and who eats foods that will leave him feeling full for hours afterwards. (Orchot Chaim on Haggadah)  For this reason, matzah is called “the bread of affliction”. (Deuteronomy 16:3) The fact that the Jewish people ate slave food at the moment of their redemption indicates that the Jews were powerless to save themselves. They were slaves up to the last moment, and only through God’s miraculous intervention did they go free. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains “…in the great hour of liberation it would be impressed deeply on their minds that they had contributed nothing to their liberation, that in the very hour of liberation they were still slaves eating the bread of affliction until the word of G-d created anew the freedom which had been wrested from man… Thus did unleavened bread become an everlasting memorial throughout the generations to the redemption from Egypt brought about by G-d alone.” (Horeb 26:199) Matzah teaches us that the Jews did not leave Egypt through a successful slave revolt. It symbolizes the fact that the Jews were not liberated through outstanding human leadership, bravery or military cunning. Understanding the meaning of matzah, teaches us humility and inspires us to have gratitude to G-d.

The last piece of matzah eaten at the Seder is commonly referred to as the אפיקומן, afikoman. However the Mishnah (Pesachim 10:8) and Talmud (Pesachim 119b) use the word afikoman to mean “dessert.” The word is originally Greek and according to some means “after the fatty foods” (Tiferet Yisrael) or dessert (Yerushalmi)  Others understand it as a combination of two Aramaic words  אפיקן מנייכו  “take out the utensils” that is, “the meal is finished.” (Rav Ovadiah Mibartenuro) The Talmud suggests that the word is an acronym for the phrase אפיקו מן “bring out the manna” or “bring out the sweets”. Because the Mishnah forbids eating anything after the last piece of matzah by saying “do not end with afikoman,” it became the norm to refer to the last piece of matzah itself as “the Afikoman” (Shiltei Giborim on Rif)

More than any other time of the year, one should invite guests to join in the festival meals, as Maimonides writes (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Festivals, 6:18): “When one eats and drinks on the festival, one is obligated to feed the stranger, the orphan and the widow together with others who are poor and unfortunate.  However one who closes the doors of his courtyard and eats and drinks with his wife and children and does not give food and drink to the poor and the depressed – he does celebrate the happiness of a mitzvah, rather the happiness of his stomach. About these people the verse (Hosea 9:4) states, “… all who partake will be defiled, for their bread is only for themselves.” In addition, before the holiday, every Jew in the community is obligated to contribute to a special fund that helps needy people purchase items for the festival. The fund, called Maot Chittin is necessary above and beyond the regular charitable funds, because Pesach is such a costly festival. (Code of Jewish Law, Ruach Chaim, 429:1, Ramah)

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