On the day preceding the Passover Seder we are constantly in a race to ‘beat the clock’. Halachah (Jewish Law) mandates that we must finish eating our chametz (leaven) by a certain time and that we must burn our leftover chametz by a certain time (about one hour after the eating deadline).
But our clock watching doesn’t end there. It ends towards the end of the seder when it is time to eat the Afikoman, the last food we eat at the seder. We are told to eat it before halachic midnight (12:43am in Israel this year) and most families have no problem doing so. In fact, some have already wrapped up their entire seder by that time.
The seder at my parent’s home always cuts it close. Yes, we always make it in time, but just barely. Inevitably, every year when Afikoman time rolls around, my parents tell the same old story.
It was their first year of marriage and they decided to travel from where they were living (they were students at the University of Wisconsin at Madison) to Toronto to spend the holiday with a rabbi they knew there.
The discussion at their host’s seder was lively and thorough. The guests, my parents included, asked the rabbi many questions on the haggadah. Finally, they got to the meal. As they were in the first course, just starting to eat the soup, the rabbi looked at his watch and said, “It is almost midnight now. So, I am going to stop eating now and eat the afikoman. The rest of you can continue to eat.”
My parents and the other guests watched as the rabbi ate his afikoman and ceased eating his meal from then on. They looked to his wife, the rebbetzin, who had made all this food and had a very unhappy look on her face, and continued eating the rest of the meal. The next night, at the second seder, my parents kept the discussion to a minimum so there would not be a repeat performance.
I was always disturbed by this story. Did the rabbi act correctly? Should the rest of the guests have also stopped eating? Maybe the rabbi was wrong, for there are opinions (like those of Rabbi Akiva and the Rambam) that the deadline for eating the afikoman is the whole night (and not just up to midnight). Or that eating of the afikoman by midnight is just a ‘precaution’ to eat it before dawn, but not a strict rule in itself. But, on the other hand, maybe the rabbi did do the right thing.
But upon further review, justifying if the rabbi was correct in what he did is not the point of the story – or why my parents tell it (and remember it) so many years later.
True, we should try to eat the afikoman by midnight (and I’m sure we’ll all succeed). But sometimes, in our rush to be makpid (stringent) on certain halachot (laws) we lose sight of what is important in the big picture. What about sensitivity to the rest of the seder participants? We do not hold the seder in a vacuum (each one on his own). We say the prayer ‘Chasal Siddur Pesach’ at the end of the seder in PLURAL (zachinu lesader oto/ ken nizkeh la’asoto), just as we have merited to order it (the seder), so too may we merit to do it (in the future) because we are all in this together. It’s not right that one person does one thing at his pace and another does something else. No, we are all one chavura (group), one mishpacha (family), one nation. If we are not ‘together’ at the seder how can we expect the geulah (redemption)? How can we say ‘le’shana ha’baah b’yerushalayim ha’bnuya’ (Next year in rebuilt Jerusalem)?”.
At the end of the Rabbi Riskin Haggadah, the following story is told:
“I recall an incident that occurred on one my visits to the Mea Shearim neighborhood ofJerusalem. I met there a very religious man named Reb Shmuel, who had leanings towards mystical thinking. He owned a book store, and he used to refrain for speaking (taanit dibur/speech fast) just like others might refrain from eating. When I visited his store, he welcomed me warmly and, to my great surprise, blessed me and even spoke a few sentences. When I asked him what was the source of his great joy and what brought on his unusual words of conversation, he answered: “The Moshiach (Messiah) is in Jerusalem!”
I smiled, and in spite of my skepticism I proceeded to the Kotel (Western Wall) and prayed with special fervor. That night, I listened to the news, without any great expectations, but with a glimmer of hope that maybe I’d hear a report about the arrival of the Moshiach.
In the meantime, the Shabbat had come and gone and on Sunday, before my trip to New York, I returned to his shop to visit Reb Shmuel.
“You told me that the Moshiach was in Jerusalem.” I said. “And I waited for him in vain.”
Reb Shmuel’s face turned serious and he said, “You are gravely mistaken. You think we are waiting for the Moshiach? No, my friend, the Moshiach is waiting for us!”
This seder night, let’s try to stick together. After all, the Moshiach is waiting for us – but only if we stick together and arrive as one group!