The Afikoman

In this article, originally published in “New Menorah,” Reb Zalman takes us from that moment in our Seders when we will eat the Afikoman, to the opening of the door for Elijah the prophet, and beyond.  Please consider these suggestions for your Pesach celebrations.  (Gabbai Seth Fishman, BLOG Editor

When we read through the section of the Hagadah that deals with the Wise Child, the way the response is written implies that one is to give the Wise one all kinds of instructions in Halakhah because of hir having asked an excellent and intelligent question.  And one such Halakhah, singled out in the text is the laws of Afikoman.  Specifically, it states:  After having finished eating the Afikoman, one may not follow this with any dessert.  This seemingly trivial law must be taught to the one who is wise.

In the time of the Holy Temple, the afikoman rule meant that after having eaten the Paschal Lamb, one was not to refresh one’s palate with anything else; the taste of the Paschal Lamb was to linger. 

In our day, too, although we are no longer able to offer the sacrifice in animal form, the commentators say that we are to have the taste of the matzah, the Afikoman food of our time, linger with us for the rest of the night. The only other taste in which we can still partake at that point of the Seder is the wine in the cups that are to follow; and especially that of the cup of Elijah.

Now I want to talk about these two points in the Passover Seder, (afikoman; Elijah’s cup), and I want to first draw upon something we have learned from Reb Arthur Waskow.  Reb Arthur points out a way we can understand the image of the fringes at the corners, the tzitzit, which occur in many laws in the Torah.  There are subtle extensions as a mitzvah injects itself into the fabric of our lives and Reb Arthur has described this as the tzitzit.  So, I’d like to bring to mind this image, as we continue to look at the way that the  lingering taste of the mitzvah of the afikoman extends.

The celebration of the Passover Seder touches us deeply, such that even those with infrequent connection to Judaism during the year come and participate.  It seems almost as if their souls must have the Passover “fix;” they want to be included in the Seder.  This phenomen suggests that its motivation is beyond rational explanation, sitting deep, deep down in a shamanic area within the realm of soul.

Although the Seder associates itself with meanings of freedom, equity and welcome to strangers, the real power and the elemental source stems from the shadowy realms, (as, for example, the inexplicable injunction, ‘break not the bone of the paschal lamb’ (Ex. 12 46), another of those “shamanic”, “totemic” practices of the past).  So it is important for us to recognize that we will never rationally plumb all the trans-intellectual reasons for the Passover Seder.  Thus, we can also look to the Seder as a time for contemplation and reflection. 

We may ask ourselves:  How can we best fulfill all the processes and all the halachot, (translated as obligations, requirements, but deriving from the word tahallikh which in turn comes from the root HLKh, either “to walk” or “to proceed”), that the Wise Child would apply to the Seder?

So I’d like to present the following possibility:  Use the process of taking Afikoman as a time for the participants to share, each one going around the seder table in turn, expressing and naming those experiences that they feel are going to linger with them from this year’s Seder.  And then, once your Seder gathering has begun to linger in this way, I suggest you now take hold of the opportunity that is to present itself soon afterwards to meet prophet Elijah.

Elijah is the witness to our covenant, (he is said to be present at circumcisions), and he comes to every Seder.  He is also said to appear to us in many guises.  He is the messenger who brings us the messages of Eyl and YahHu, the two parts of his name, (AlephLamed, and Yodhehvav), which are both theophorics, God bearing names.

This Eliahu is a remarkable being! 

It may be worthwhile at this time to tell some stories of him.  He is with us also every Saturday night at Havdalah, but this time, the special Seder time when we open the door for him after having poured him the cup of wine and invited him to come and inspire us, at this time, we need to ask him to tell us what we need to know in order to come closer to the Messianic redemptive point for the whole world.

About Eliahu Hanavi here is a remarkable teaching:

From Rabbi Levy Yitzhak of Berditchev

because Elijah never died!

Rabbi Levy Yitzhak asked: 

“Why do the Rabbis promise that all questions will be answered specifically by Elijah the prophet, who will also come to announce the Messiah, but not, e.g., by Moses himself, of whom it is said that he, too, will be resurrected at that time?” 

And he answered his own question:

“Moses died, and we cannot hope to be helped in our current-day problems by him because when Moses, (Peace upon him), completed his life, at that time the Torah was placed into our hands. 

“If it should be that one happens to have been created with a soul from the side of grace, then every thing is pure, permitted and kosher.  On the other hand, if it should be that one happens to have been created with a soul from the side, i.e., of rigors, then the opposite holds true. 

“Yet, each one, according to hir rung, is a vehicle for the word of the living G-d. 

“This is why the sages, realizing the need for grace in this world, set the halakhah down according to the teachings of Hillel (on the side of grace), for this is the world’s need. 

“Now, s/he who is alive and in this world knows well what the needs of the times are and which of the attributes, for the particular time, we need to live by.  But the one who isn’t alive and on this plane at the particular time, does not know the attribute which we need to live by in this world at this time. 

“Now since Elijah is existing, and alive, and he never died, and he never tasted the taste of death, and he remained all that time right here on this plane, for this reason, he is suited more than another to resolve our doubts.” (Q’dushat Levi, Muncazs 108b)

So Reb Levi Yitzhak is another very special guest to have at the Seder.

There are many important stories about Reb Levi Yitzhak and Passover: 

One year, before the blowing of the Shofar, Reb Levi Yitzhak uttered the following prayer:

“May it be thy will O Lord Our God, that if the holy angels whom we create though the Shofar blasts of  t’Kiah, Shevarim, t’Ruah t’Kiah (making K’SH’R’K) are too frail, then they can be given extra assistance by those angels that we create through the vigorous cleaning as preparation for Pessach, by Kratsen, Shoben, Reiben Kasheren, [scraping, sanding, scrubbing and koshering] (also K’SH’R’K.)”

What Reb Levi Yitzhak meant was that the vigorous angels of Jews preparing for Pesach are very powerful ‘ombuds-beings’ to help us complete our cause as begun on Rosh HaShannah.

There is another teaching from Reb Levi Yitzhak about the white letters of the Torah:

As we read “The Song of the Sea” at the end of the Passover week, and as we observe how it is written out in the Sefer Torah resembling a kind of lattice brick-work, so we are reminded that there are white spaces interspersed with the places of writing.  And in this regard, Reb Levi Yitzhak raised these questions:

“Why is it that no letter in the Torah may touch another letter in the Torah?” and, “Why is it that those white spaces are there?”

And in the answer to the question, he said:

“It is now before the coming of the Mashiach, before that time of full realization and enlightenment for all of us.  And so it is now a time in which all we can read are the black letters of the Torah

“But when the Mashiach comes, we will also be able to read the white letters of the Torah.   Then, the whole truth will be clear for us.”

How interesting it is that this idea is also reflected in the words which the prophet told us, that (cf., Hebrew from Jeremiah 31;21-22), “It is the female that surrounds the male.”

Thus, every letter that represents the figure is surrounded by a white ground, the matrix in which it finds itself.

Thank God that in our day we are closer to receiving the insights from the white letters of the Torah which represent the Torah of the women.

So as I mentioned above, I would like to invite us to do the following in our Seders:  Before we open the door for Eliahu Hanavi, sit quietly and ask deep inside, “What questions are so important for our lives going on after Pesach that we would want to invoke the presence of Eliahu Hanavi so that we can pose them to him?”

Then, when we sing “Eliahu Hanavi, Eliahu Hatishby“, and we open the door, we should sit quietly and try to address the questions to Eliahu from within our deepest places; and not rush to resume the Seder.  Please wait at this time for what you might hear as Eliahu‘s response for us.

In this way, we can all experience the wonderful grace of giluy eliahu / the revelation that comes to us through Elijah.

It may be that we will find ourselves ready and available to discuss the questions with our friends at the Afikoman time; but it may be that we are not ready and we will have to take it deep inside of ourselves, to keep it in our heart before we make it public and speak about it.

And one additional thought:  After Pesach we will have the opportunity to count sephirah again. I so look forward to that time in which every day is given extra meaning as we move from the Chesed of Chesed of Pesach all the way to Malkhut of Malkut before receiving the Torah.

There are several wonderful resources available for us to do that, for instance, Rabbi Ted Falcon in his work (, Rabbi Yonassen Gershon (, Gloria Krasno’s Sefirah (e.g., and the Meta-Siddur of Reb Dovid Wolf-Blank, (z’l).

May you have a deep and holy experience this coming Seder and may the Afikoman of counting Sephirah night by night accompany you all the way to the receiving of the Torah on Shavuos.

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