Maggid ben Yoseif / Jerusalem Torah Voice in Exile

18 Nisan 5761 (Wednesday, April 11, 2001)



Yoseif's birthright


and the hidden





A search for meaning and significance in the Afikoman


One of the most frequent questions I am asked at each Passover Seder (and a question I have asked myself repeatedly) is “What is the meaning and  significance of the Afikoman – the larger part of the unleavened bread after it is broken, which is wrapped in a napkin and hidden away to return just before the Third Cup.


The point at which the Afikoman is returned is called the TZAFUN in the Seder, which means “hidden,” so there is definitely some kind of mystery associated with this practice.  This leaves room for “theoretic license” and among mystics that can easily get out of hand. So we should at least first consider the major schools of thought and tie our ideas to those, out of respect for the sages who have so pondered this mystery before us.


Since the overriding theme of this website is The Return of the House of Yosef, you may be able to guess what we are going to propose. However, I don't think I'm reading a whole lot into the idea of the Afikoman relating to the “breaking away” of the Northern Kingdom – the “House of Israel” and its Return. Let me explain.


I am going to assume that you already know a lot about the Seder and hone in on the portions of it that may apply specifically to the Afikoman to make my case:


First, immediately before this “breaking away” of the Afikoman, there is a step in the Seder known as KARPAS, which is the dipping of a vegetable in salt water.  Since the Hebrew word for “parsley” is KARPAS, this is almost universally done with that green leafy vegetable, (although some use onion tops, boiled potatoes or white radishes). The dipping in salt water is almost universally believed to be a reminder of OUR bitter tears of slavery and possibly the salt water of Yam Suf which Hashem parted for OUR Freedom. However, RASHI mentions the word KARPAS in commenting on Yosef’s special garment which his father Ya’acov made for him and which was apparently the object of the jealousy by his brothers, particularly SIMEON and LEVI, who were next in line for the birthright after REUVEN was disqualified but also were disqualified by leading the conspiracy against the men at Shechem. Only if Yosef were first somehow discredited or disposed of could they hope to regain their status.


The Megillat Esther (1:6) mentions the phrase KARPAS U’T’CHELET  usually translated “woolen and blue”.  There is also this unusual custom mentioned in the Talmud (Abodah Zarah 28a), of dipping parsley in strong wine as a remedy for certain symptoms called the “forerunner of the Angel of Death.” This mixture is known in Aramaic as KARPESAH, (ending in an ALEPH characteristic of many Aramaic words) and therefore has no semblance to PESAH (“Passover” ending in a CHET) except in similarity of sound. I would dismiss it altogether except that the symptom that brings on this condition is also an unknown but is related to “bowel irregularity,” which anyone who has had experience with unleavened bread can understand. And the “forerunner of the Angel of Death,” has strong connotations to Hashem passing over the homes whose occupants dipped into a lamb (or goat’s) blood to paint their doorways.  It is as though that blood atoned for the sin of Yosef’s brothers who dipped his KETONET PAS’IM (fine woolen garment) in the blood of a goat. It often bothered me why the children of Israel are given the choice of a Passover LAMB or KID but almost universally choose the LAMB. Does this betray a message about the reconciliation? 


The custom of dipping parsley into salt water (or possibly wine?) is understood by Rashi as relating to the JEALOUSY that brought Israel down to Egypt in the first place. And the symbol of that jealousy was Yosef’s woolen garment which was dipped in the blood of a goat. In fact, this “tiur” (teaching) was popularly disseminated about two weeks before Passover this year (2001) among most all of the English-speaking Jewish community in Jerusalem through a publication called “Torah Tidbits” which is disseminated throughout the shuls here every week.


Once the parsley is dipped (we submit reminding US of the enmity between Yosef and his brothers and the resulting slavery first to Yosef but ultimately to all of Israel), there is the step in the Seder known as YACHATZ. This is the breaking of ONLY the middle Matzah, which is sandwiched between two other Matzot before the Seder begins.  There are various opinions about what the 3 Matzot represented. Some opinions say the top Matzah was the "Cohenim," the middle Matzah the "Levites" and the third, the rest of Israel. Others say they represent the three Patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzhak and Ya’acov or the three "seahs" (measures) of flour from which Avraham baked Matzot for the three angels or three types of thanksgiving offerings (which the Torah requires for persons 1) released from prison; 2) recovered from a serious illness or 3) who have crossed an ocean or a desert). All of Israel was in one of these three categories and therefore OWES Hashem a thanksgiving offering (Orchos Chayim, Maharal, Rav Sherira Gaon and Mordecai). I recently heard an interpretation that the middle Matzah represented the Tzaddik who was a “bridge” between Hashem and Israel, although I don’t have any sources for this idea, unless the Passover is viewed as a time of  “renewal” of covenant, and then one might bring Rebbe Nacham (as I have done below). There is also a school promoted by the Vilna Ga’on that only TWO Matzot were used in the Seder. Your mind can run wild with that: Hashem and Torah, The Two Torah’s – Written and Oral, Hashem and Israel OR … THE … TWO … HOUSES. Without clear rabbinic guidelines it is possible to place any connotation you desire on the resulting Afikoman, which is admittedly a MYSTERY because, again, it is referred to with the word, “TZAFUN” (hidden) in the Seder.


But let's at least START our analogy of the Matzot and the two houses concept along traditional lines. For clarity's sake, instead of calling the Assimilated Northern Kingdom the "House of Israel," I will refer to them as Yosef-Ephraim (because it is often confusing to speak of the House of Yehudah as distinct from Israel).


If the middle Matzot represents the LEVITES, then the fact that the larger half is broken and hidden away signifies the exile of a part of Israel from which the priesthood was chosen. Remember that the priesthood (among Israel) in Egypt was still of the order of Malchizedek (Shem), the "firstborn" of Noah, to whom Avraham paid his tithe and who survived well into the life of Jacob. The firstborn sons WERE the priests of Israel before Hashem instituted the Levitical order of priests because of the zealousness of the Levites at Sinai. (The sages wrote that when you can separate Levi from Simeon, then Levi’s zeal can be used for GOOD!). I believe it is also significant that the portion of Israel REDEEMED in Egypt was THE FIRSTBORN, who at that time were the “priests” in each home.


The Hebrew word for "firstborn" is BECHOR. But as represented in Hashem's choice of Avraham, Yitzhak, Ya’acov, and Ephraim, the BECHOR is not necessarily the first to come out of the womb. Rather, it is a spiritual designation, right and responsibility. However, it was the PHYSICAL firstborn who were REDEEMED in Egypt (through the application of the blood on the doorframes). Maybe this was to rectify whatever shortcoming the PHYSICAL firstborn lacked in not qualifying? But it definitely seems that the SPIRITUAL firstborn is lost in the shuffle. The sages explain this as something forfeited when Ya’acov used deception to “steal” the SPIRITUAL status of the firstborn at the insistence of his mother.  And when Hashem decreed that the Levitical priesthood should re-assume this role, it seems that the "tribe of the firstborn," Yosef-Ephraim, again was set aside for some reason. In other words, if the authority of Torah itself did not tell us otherwise, we might be led to believe that the Levites USURPED the spiritual responsibility of the firstborn. Even so, the prophet Ezekiel foretold a time when a branch of the priesthood called the Zadokites (who today are unknown) will assume this role as pre-eminent among even the Kohanim (who are known today). These Zadokites will decide in matters of controversy and be charged with the traditional responsibility of the Seat of Moshe today assumed by the rabbonim.


Rashi brings an interesting tradition that the Messiah ben Yosef, the precursor of the Messiah ben David, will hail from a family of Ephraim who lived among the Zadokites  when they were exiled after the priesthood became corrupted.  These Zadokites may be the same sect of the Essenes so referred to as the “sons of Zadok” in the Dead Sea Scrolls.


Rabbinic tradition states that the “co-conspirators” we alluded to earlier, Levi and Simeon, were the most vocal proponents of disposing of Yosef before he was sold into slavery. Reuven, who had already lost the birthright, and perhaps hoped to regain it by some act in support of his brother Yosef, who he realized was dear to his father, Ya’acov’s heart, was against the idea. But spiritually the jealousy of Rachel did not enter into the scenario until the birth of YEHUDAH, the fourth son of Leah who she named in “Praise” of Hashem. With Reuven, Simeon and Levi all disqualified, Yehudah would be next in line for the birthright from the family of Leah but only once Yosef and Benyamin, his younger brother, were out of the picture.


We often overlook the fact that Yehudah’s willingness to stand in the place of Benyamin was – before he knew that Yosef still lived – an admission to Hashem and his father, Ya’acov, that Benyamin now had the uncontested right of the “firstborn.”  In other words, the jealousy of Leah and Yehudah by Rachel had come to an end.  Whatever spiritual ROOT that aroused that jealousy -- if it were possible to “bribe” Hashem (which of course it is not), Leah may have succeeded in making Rachel think that she had done so – also had come to an end.


Obviously then, Hashem's purposes with Yosef-Ephraim being the TRUE BECHOR should have begun to surface at that point. But as we know, they did not. After Yosef’s death, we hear very little about any spiritual leadership in the form of a priesthood and hardly any from the descendants of Ephraim. This right of the FIRSTBORN promised by Ya’acov to Ephraim  remained HIDDEN, in EXILE if you will and awaiting the fullness of REDEMPTION in the same way we await the revealing of the Zadokite priesthood today.


The known Levites today of course are Jews. So you can see that Hashem "broke off" a piece of the priesthood by replacing the role and responsibility of the FIRSTBORN Yosef-Ephraim with the LEVITES, who are of the House of Yehudah.  The whole concept of REDEMPTION is another topic, but we should keep in mind that it is usually connected with a KINSMAN or near kin, yet we have the precedent of REDEMPTION with the blood of the Pesah lamb in Egypt, but contextually limited to the PRIESTHOOD. True, however, that without a priest in a family that entire family does not have much hope. So by extension, the deliverance in Egypt applies to ALL of the family of Israel through the KINSMAN PRIEST.


The analogy with the middle Matzah representing Yitzhak doesn't seem to fit at first glance. There is no CLEAR division of Yitzhak. But Yitzhak represented a korban Pesah in some sense when Avraham told Yitzhak that Hashem would provide the SEH (lamb), which WAS Yitzhak before Hashem caused an AVIL (ram) to be caught in the thicket. But since no bones of the korban Pesah were broken the analogy with Yitzhak (who never left Eretz Yisrael) seems hard-pressed to relate to any kind of EXILE.


But there is a very clear division of the BIRTHRIGHT from Avraham going to Yitzhak instead of Ishmael. Here again, this theme of the BECHOR comes through the promise that Avraham's SEED would be reckoned through YITZHAK. Mystically, that SEED is passed on through YA’ACOV and again, EPHRAIM, who Genesis 48:19 states will be the MELO HAGOYIM or "fullness of the Gentiles." Yehudah seems to have been completely bypassed in this progression, except for this "aspect" of Yitzhak that is not "broken" or – like the Lechem Oni of the Passover Seder related below – which is ever present as opposed to the Afikoman which is hidden and then returns. This is a picture that  Yehudah remained faithful to the covenant and Yosef-Ephraim did not, in the analogy I am suggesting. Yehudah is far from removed from the picture however, with the distinction of the “tribe of the Sceptre.” The point I am making is that although through a different set of symbols, we arrive at the same conclusion as it pertains to a HIDDEN BIRTHRIGHT.


The three measures of flour used to bake cakes for the angelic visitors on their way to destroy Sodom seem to relate very specifically to the Matzah, since this entire meal was prepared in haste. But as far as we can see the analogy ends there. We have no tradition that the Matzah prepared by Avraham for his guests were broken or its significance.  The charity of Avraham and Sarah do stand in stark contrast with the selfishness of Sodom. And if these Matzot prepared by Avraham were SHMURAH or guarded so that they were prepared within 18 minutes, there exists this contrast in terms of the LIFE (Chet-Yod) in Avraham’s camp and DEATH in Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities of the Plain.  Perhaps mystically this contrast points to the remedy for the bread of shame, which we have elaborated upon in more detail at our website and which DOES appear to have relevance to the House of Yosef in exile, again in FULFILLING the role of the BIRTHRIGHT.


The three categories who must offer a KORBAN TODAH (thanksgiving offering) -- the wayfarer, the one who recovers from a serious illness and the released captive could all have mystical connotations to the EXILES scattered across deserts and oceans, captive to the world and its ways and spiritually diseased without the Light of Torah.


Finally, there is the middle Matzot represented by the Tzaddik, the bridge, if you will. Here one might bring the entire chapter of Isaiah 53, which has strong allusions to the Passover Seder beginning with the Z’roah (which is what the shankbone is called) in verse 1.  The Tzaddik, whether alive or deceased, suffers on our behalf, takes upon himself our afflictions and makes intercession to Hashem for us through the process the mystics know as Tikkun.


But before one gets the idea that we are LIMITING this concept to the Christological  underpinnings of the Church or anything at all relating to DEITY, (which would make it idolatrous) we have it in the words of  the highly respected, even revered Jewish tzaddik, Rabbi Nachman of Breslev:

“If the Tzaddik displays exceptional spiritual powers, the mystery does not lie in some notion of intrinsic superiority.  The spirituality he possesses IS THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE TORAH ITSELF!! – for the Tzaddik is one who has brought his entire being so totally under the dominion of the Torah that his every thought is a Torah thought, every word he says is Torah, and every deed is for the sake of Torah.  This explains why the Rabbis said, “How foolish are the people who rise out of respect before a Sefer Torah (Torah scroll) but will not stand up in honor of a great man (Maccot 22b). For the Tzaddik is one whose every thought, word and deed is a MANIFESTATION OF TORAH. It is in this sense that the Tzaddik is the perfect exemplar of the COVENANT – because the TORAH ITSELF IS THE COVENANT. The Tzaddik does more than merely conform to the letter of the Law.  Even in what is permitted to him, he sanctifies himself to the ultimate degree. It is through his complete devotion to the highest ideals of Torah that the divine power of the Torah shines through him and gives him access to powers unattainable by those who have not reached a similar sanctity.” (From Rabbi Nachman’s Tikkun, Tikkun HaKlali, page 100, compiled and translated by Avraham Greenbaum, Breslov Research Institute, 1984)

You can see from this analogy that the same Afikoman that represents the “broken Tzaddik” also represents the “broken Torah.”


But I find it particularly significant that the smaller piece of Matzah -- the so-called Lechem Oni or "bread of affliction" (also alluded to in Isaiah 53), represents in the most authoritative commentaries the parts or portion of Israel that IS redeemed and the larger Afikoman the parts of portion that yet AWAITS redemption. Of course a JOE returning from exile would relate that to the regathering of Yosef-Ephraim, but the rabbonim include the more esoteric aspects of redemption which they say are yet incomplete.


According to the Sfas Emes, the HIDING of the Afikoman symbolizes that the Exodus was only the beginning of the process of redemption, AND PART OF IT IS STILL HIDDEN. This is why, he says, the eating of the Afikoman, which today symbolizes the Korban Pesah, represents our LIBERATION and begins the second part of the Seder, WHICH IS DEDICATED TO THE FUTURE REDEMPTION. This is also why the Afikoman is the last food eaten so that its taste remains in our mouth for the rest of that night.  In other words, ALL of the redemption focuses on the return of this larger portion of the unleavened bread. Another way of saying this is the whole meal points to the DESERT!!


Now before you go on stop and ask yourself a question. What would Hashem be pointing all of Israel toward? The answer of course is TORAH. In a related writing we suggest that this was also the objective of Y’shua at his final Passover Seder with his followers.  I believe, that when you understand the Passover Seder as the backdrop against which Y’shua instituted his “renewal” of covenant, that his pointing toward the Torah with the Afikoman and the  3rd cup of the Passover Seder is as plain as the nose on your face!


In fact, my son Aaron, at this writing age 10, once pointed that out to me … that AFI-KOMEN literally relates to the "nose on your face." In Hebrew, an AF, is a "nose" AFI is "my nose". KOMEN is from the verb in Hebrew that means to "rise up." So what causes your nose to rise up?  If you answered, Desert, I know you made your dear mother happy on those occasions when she came to the table with homemade apple pie alamode, chocolate cake, coconut cream pie or strawberry shortcake! If you answered TORAH, which is what we are supposed to discuss at every meal, so Hashem and His Torah come and sup with us, then you made Hashem smile as well.


We can't TASTE or SMELL the relatively bland AFIKOMAN because it is like a DESERT for which the full recipe is not yet available, for which we have not yet acquired the taste, and for which we do not yet have the spiritual senses to appreciate fully, because the REDEMPTION is not yet complete and the EXILE is still in EXILE. The mystic sages say that at the coming of Messiah, the sense of smell will be greatly enhanced and this is one way the Messiah will be recognized, because he will have acute sensory abilities, especially that of smell.


On the other hand, the celebration of the active REDEMPTION is confined to the MAGGID -- the telling of the story and this is done ONLY in connection with the Lechem Oni, the smaller portion of the broken Matzah, also called the Bread of Freedom. In the analogy, it seems pretty clear that this is the family of Yehudah, who for more than four Millenium HAS tasted Matzot every year for at least a week.


Most every Orthodox Seder will make this distinction and the incomplete Redemption very clear.  For instance, the Art Scroll Mesorah Family Hagaddah includes these two marginal notes next to YACHATZ and MAGGID: "A Matzah is broken and set aside for later use. The REDEMPTION is at this moment incomplete, we are free from Egypt but ... we still look forward to a future REDEMPTION when we will celebrate Passover, as of old, in the Holy Temple in a rebuilt Jerusalem."


Just the concept of a "rebuilt Jerusalem" is an awesome concept. Psalms 122 makes it clear that a rebuilt Jerusalem MUST include ALL of the tribes.


Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together: Whither the tribes go up, the tribes of Hashem, unto the testimony of Israel, to give thanks unto the name of Hashem … For my brethren and companions' sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee. Because of the house of the LORD our God I will seek thy good. (Psalm 122:3-4,8-9)

The four questions asked at the start of the MAGGID, also refer to stages of exile from complete slavery to "Pharoah" to complete "freedom" (as willing bondservants of Hashem).If there is one fact that becomes quickly apparent in DOING the Passover Seder or just PREPARING to DO it, it is that we may be free from Egypt, but Hashem has bound us tighter than ever to Himself. Without the heart desire to DO the dozens of halachic requirements (I think of this as the Torah written on your heart), it would be very easy to fall into the trap of thinking of these “extra-biblical” commands as LEGALISM and indeed, many remain mired in that anti-rabbinic sentiment.


The mystic sages, primarily the Ramzal, wrote that "four is the number of exile."  This is derived from the Genesis 1:2 "And the earth was TOHU (void) v'BOHU (and without form) with CHOSHEK (darkness) upon the P'NEI T'HOM (face of the deep) and the RUAH EL-HIM (Spirit of G-d) hovered over the face of the waters.


You also see a picture of this in the statue of the man of many precious metals seen in a vision by the prophet, Daniel. TOHU is the Babylonian exile (Head of GOLD) since it made the world spiritually barren. BOHU is the Persian exile (Arms and chest of SILVER) because of the confusion and genocidal decree of Haman. CHOSHEK is Greece (Belly of  BRASS) because of the LIGHT of spiritual darkness that Grecian culture has spread across the world at odds with Torah faith. The P'NEI T'HOM is Rome (Legs and Feet of a mixture of IRON and CLAY) because of the deep pit in which the nations have been mired through Roman systems and ideologies.  But the Messiah to Come (the STONE not engraved with human hands) is Hashem's deliverance, hovering over the face of the waters.


The fact that the word Afikoman is believed to be of Greek origin is another interesting point. Rav Hutner explains it this way: Edom (the Roman systems and ideologies which influenced much of Christian thought), is the last of the exiles. But it is the GREEK holdover or side of this exile of Rome or that part of Rome which is most problematic; those intellectuals and their science that promotes secular humanism, atheism or the idea that the "world came first, not Hashem." In one word, then the AFIKOMAN is STOLEN in the Passover Seder because of the ARROGANCE of the Nations against Hashem into which the Exiles have assimilated and must come out. Bringing them back is the aspect of the larger part signfifying the Redemption yet to occur.


As Rabbi Kantrowitz, one of my teachers at Yeshivat Ohr Someah here in Jerusalem said it, "the Geulah (Redemption) has come but the bigger half is yet to come. We are yet to see a COMPLETION of the redemption."


I am also reminded of the words of the Rambam, Moshe ben Maimon or the Maimomides:  "The redemption is not complete until the children of Israel return to their PLACE (land) and the exalted status of their forefathers."


The fact that one is not allowed to eat anything further after the AFIKOMAN and is allowed to drink only WATER (except for the two remaining cups of wine) is a means of telling us that when the other half, the missing part -- the portion of Israel still in exile or the JOES if you will -- return and reunite with the Lechem Oni, the redemption is completed and you can't improve on it any further.


The Maharal Prague brings an interesting idea that EXILE is a punishment but also part of Hashem's blueprint of Creation. The fact that Israel is EXILED to Mitzrayim (from the Hebrew word for the one afflicted with the Tza’arat affliction popularly called LEPROSY) indicates their punishment was for Lashan Hara, (slander, gossip and other sins of the tongue that diminish the reputation of someone in the eyes (and ears) of others. We also see this in the word PHAROAH, which is literally the "mouth of evil." Certainly it would take such a "mouth" to rule the METZORAHS, (unclean people with unclean lips).  And in the second sign, Hashem gave Moshe to relate to the Children of Israel, by which He said they WOULD believe that Hashem had sent him, is a picture of the deliverance of Lashan Hara which had afflicted the children of Israel and led to their Exile.  In fact, you could say that the oppression of Egypt was purely intended by Hashem to bring them to the realization that their Lashan Hara against one another was being judged.  When Moshe placed the hand afflicted with the Tza’arat affliction back into his bosom and pulled it out again and it was whole, Moshe, who himself had been a victim of their Lashan Hara, knew that the children of Israel had learned their lesson and were NOW ready for deliverance. The first sign … that snake Pharoah … would become a staff in Hashem’s hand to bring it all about!!


This is today one of the mystical intents of the Hagaddah, which means the “telling of the story.”  Lashan Hara (and all the meals to which we sat down without inviting words of Torah) are atoned for with HOLY WORDS. PESAH (Passover) literally means "mouth to relate."  But the story one relates is HOLY WORDS and a HOLY STORY.


But the Maharal Prague explains that EXILE (represented by the number “four”) is "four pulling out from ONENESS." So by the same idea the earth, which is far from flat or spatially defined in two dimensions has "four corners."


There are other allusions to the Afikoman relating to the portion of Israel who has yet to return from Exile. Most notable is the HIDING of the Afikoman and the search BY THE CHILDREN usually. In other words, the rescue and return was anciently foretold for a "future generation."


I also think the word Matzah, which means literally "found" is significant. This has special relevance to me personally and my work here in Jerusalem based on a message I received in the Torah Codes.  My given name is spelled DALET-LAMED GIMEL-RESH-YOD-PEH-NUN. The likelihood of that combination of letters showing up one time in any size equidistant interval in the Torah is 0.77 or less than one. Yet it shows up three times in the Torah and in one instance, keys on the phrase "beN yoseF YIMTZAH yisRael Gam s'guLah ephaDto." Note the word YIMTZAH, which is translated "He will find." The whole phrase reads, "a son of Yosef will FIND Israel, also his Ephod is s'gulah" (a mystical term I may explain at a later time)."


So the Passover Seder has become a VERY important occasion  when we should literally ACT OUT (in the context of the Orthodox Hagaddah) the FINDING of Israel in exile and their renewal of covenant and return to Hashem and Torah, deliverance from Lashan Hara and preparation to Return to Eretz Yisrael.


Maggid ben Yoseif