Pesach 5773 / 2013
Sarah Yehudit Schneider

The 12th step in our seder is called Tsafun—meaning hidden or secret. It follows the festive meal and marks the time for “dessert” which, at the seder, means our last portion of matzah, called the Afikoman. Really, the dessert should be the Paschal lamb—the sacrificial centerpiece of our evening’s ritual, but without the Temple there is no way to truly sanctify the lamb’s slaughter so we substitute matzah instead.

In the original Passover (in Egypt) we needed to start eating the lamb by midnight and to finish by dawn.[1] The rabbis subsequently added a fence. They ruled that from Temple times onward a korban Pesach must be finished by midnight. There are a range of opinions about whether we should also eat our Afikoman by then. Some say yes, and some rule that other factors take precedence. All agree that at the very least, the first portion of matzah and maror (stage 8 & 9 of the seder) should be completed by midnight.

Nevertheless, at whatever point you do eat your Afikoman (whether before, during, or after midnight) that moment becomes for you “like midnight”[2] ( כַּחֲצֹת הַלַּיְלָה), for you are reenacting the first korban Pesach eaten in Egypt around 3325 years ago.

The drama of that event is nearly impossible to convey. Huge upheavals ripped through the cosmos on both its inner and outer planes. Forces converged to produce a paradigm shift that brought heaven down to earth with all the sweetness and anguish that entails. Below are three perspectives on that event which can serve as kavvanot for eating the Afikoman.

1 – Pshat. The Torah paints the scene as follows: The Israelites divided into groups that gathered in a single home and shared the same Paschal lamb. As evening approached they slaughtered their lambs and (as per instruction) smeared its blood on their doorposts and lintels, an ominous sight that lent an air of foreboding to their preparations. They roasted the entire lamb in one piece (stripped of its skin) arranged in a fetal position רֹאשׁוֹ עַל-כְּרָעָיו וְעַל-קִרְבּוֹ )3 All this despite the Egyptians’ worship of the lamb as one of their gods.

At dusk each group gathered in the home where it would eat its korbon. Once the sun set, no one was permitted to exit that space until daybreak under threat of death.[4] They began their seuda, saving the Paschal lamb for dessert. The blood on the lintel dampened the atmosphere. And then, at midnight, while eating their korban Pesach, chaos erupted outside their blood-stained doorways. Screams and cries filled the streets. Every Egyptian household bewailed its dead. The Torah does not exaggerate when it states that there never was and never will be a cry of anguish that compares to this.[5] All the while the Israelites stayed locked in their homes, hearing the shrieks, gazing upon their bloodied doorways, eating their korban Pesach, the god of Egypt.[6]

2 – Seder night was the conception and shevii shel pesach was the birth.[7] The Israelites in Egypt were like a fetus in its mother’s womb.[8]

Kenesset Yisrael (the mystical Body of Israel) was conceived by Avraham and Sarah, floated through the fallopian tube with Yitzchak and Rivka and implanted in the dark womb of Egypt when Yaakov descended there with his clan of seventy souls. They gestated “like a fetus in utero” for 210 years and then, on seder night, they prepared for birth. The contractions had begun nine months earlier with the first plague, but on seder night they crowned (a medical term that describes the child’s head as it first appears to the outside world in the birth canal).[9]

According to kabbala the third (and highest) level of soul, called neshama, enters the child at the point of crowning.[10] The nefesh takes root at conception (when the sperm and egg ignite with life), the ruach at forty days, and the neshama only at birth.

Yet if we define conception as the point when a soul first comingles with a body, then there is a conception of sorts when the child crowns, for the neshama first makes contact with its fleshy self at that time. That child will spend the rest of its days integrating the profusion of lights that comprise its holy neshama. So though we usually think of conception as preceding birth by nine months that is only partially true. A second conception occurs after forty days (when the ruach enters) and a third conception transpires at the very end, when the neshama drops into the body at the point of crowning—at the start of birth.

And this applies equally to our collective self that “crowned” on seder night and was delivered seven days later, as we passed through the sea (our cosmic birth canal). Kenesset Yisrael was born on the other side—a people charged with holding, embodying and modeling Hashem to the world—the same task given to Adam over 2000 years earlier in Gan Eden.[11]

The second Afikoman kavvana then is to conjure the experience in your mind’s eye: At midnight, while eating our korban Pesach, in the midst of the scene described above, our collective neshama made contact with our crown and we were jolted into messianic consciousness. The Targum Yerushalami employs metaphor to convey this altered state:

“…I carried you on clouds as if on eagles’ wings…I transported you to the Holy Temple [on high] where you fulfilled the ritual of korban Pesach…and then I brought you back the very same night….[12]

Obviously the Temple did not exist on the physical plane and our fleshy bodies did not actually travel to Jerusalem. The Targum is describing a prophetic episode. The heavens opened and the people were drawn “in” and “up” to the chamber of vision (where the sof maaseh b’machshava techila[13] resides), the place called crown.[14] There they ate their firstkorban Pesach with the enlightened consciousness we will attain in our fully rectified golden age. And so, when eating our Afikoman, we too should follow our soul thread “in” and “up” to the chamber of vision and imagine ourselves fulfilling this mitzvah basking in the radiance of Divine Presence, when “knowledge of G-d covers the earth like a sea fills the ocean bed.”[15]

This is the reason that our Birkhat HaMazon on seder night includes a line recited only once a year at this ritual meal (immediately after eating our Afikoman):

May the Merciful One bequeath to us the day that is only good—the eternal day—the day when the Righteous will sit with crowns on their heads, enjoying the light of Divine Presence. May our lot be with theirs![16]

3 –R. Eliezer says the world was created in the month of Tishrey [on Rosh HaShana]. R. Yoshua disagrees. He says the world was created in the month of Nissan [on Pesach]. (TB RH 11a). The Ari (R. Isaac Luria) resolves the dispute by clarifying that in Tishrey the thought of creation arose in the mind of God while on Nissan it was embodied as a physical entity. [Ari, Shaar HaKavvanot, RH drush 1].

This last section is not really a kavvana but conveys instead the larger context within which these first two kavvanot emerge. Tishrey, says R. Luria, is when the thought of creation arose in the mind of G-d which is actually more like conception than birth.[17] (היום הרת עולם). This Tishrey creation, in the mind of God (so to speak), is the one depicted in the first chapters of Genesis and, according to Kabbala, it unfolded in the world ofBriyah (which is the mental plane).[18] The lowest level of Edenic reality—the bodies of that paradisiacal world—are thus best characterized as thought forms.

Corporeality only came into being after Adam’s eating from the Tree of Knowledge.[19] Reality shattered and tumbled level after level before collapsing into the configuration that we now experience as the physical plane. Down here, every sliver of soul has an opaque skin or shell that marks it out from every other producing the illusion of multiplicity.

Yet it is not only the appearance of things that coarsened but also the rhythm and units of time. We (in the world of Asiyah) live at a completely different pace than the world of Briyah. The entire history of our cosmos (from its big bang to its end-of-days) occurs within a single hour of creation time (maybe even a rega).[20] The long-awaited messianic era will culminate in our return to Eden as a fully rectified (and reconstituted)Adam who unites the entirety of creation into a single harmonious whole (just like the original Adam did back then).[21] And when we get there we will be shocked to discover that an almost insignificant amount of time has elapsed by Briyah’s clock. The world will just be transiting into the Seventh Day or cosmic Shabbat and we will arrive just in time (our absence hardly noticed).

The last thing to appear in the Genesis odyssey (or Tishrey scenario) wasAdam, a creature distinguished by its capacity to know the oneness of G‑d on the deepest possible level (called the 50th Gate of Understanding).Adam is not synonymous with Homo sapiens. That same sequence recurred down here below when Edenic reality reconfigured on the physical plane (in Olam HaAsiyah) and Adam again marked the finale.

The point at which this cosmic Adam reappeared down here below was seder night when Kenesset Yisrael crowned and integrated its neshama. In that moment the world acquired its potential to grasp Divine oneness at the 50th Gate of Understanding. The vision that arose in the Mind-of-God (in Tishrey) was now fully embodied on the physical plane. All the pieces were in place though it would still take millennia for Adam (with its newly integrated neshama) to find its way back to the Garden that was its starting point…and then to move beyond.

That paradigm shift of consciousness, the birth of Kenesset Yisrael—theShekhina embodied—released a tsunami of lights that swept through the universe on that momentous night. Now one would expect those heavenly lights to produce pure joy, but the truth is apparently more complicated.

There is a curious association between intense revelations of Divine Presence and the forces of indiscriminate destruction. And so, in preparation for this first Pesach HaShem tells Moshe: “I will pass through the land of Egypt”…The Haggada elaborates: “I, and not an angel…I, and not a seraph…I, and not a messenger.” Yet the verse goes on to explain that this special “visit” to the earthly plane will produce the tenth plague for the Egyptians. And even for the Israelites, instead of basking in the Presence, they are confined to their homes under threat of death and are even forbidden from peaking.[22] Rashi explains:

When the Destroyer receives permission to injure, he does not distinguish between righteous and wicked.[23]

The Midrash connects this with a very different (but surprisingly similar) incident when (after securing forgiveness for the Golden Calf) Moshe asks to see HaShem’s glory.

HaShem responds: “I will make all my goodness pass before you…but no man can see my face and live… I will place you in a crack on the mountain and while my glory passes by I will cover you with my hand. And when I have passed by, I will remove my hand and you shall see my back. But my face shall not be seen.[24]

Rashi presents a very surprising explanation for why Moshe must hide in a crack covered by the “hand” of G-d, while His goodness (כל טובי ) passes by:

HaShem spoke to Moshe: “There is a place prepared by Me for your needs, where I shall hide you so that you will not be harmed”[25]… My attribute of goodness will pass by the mountain and you will hide (צפון ) in the cave[26]…From here we learn that permission was given to the destroyers to destroy.[27]

And the word Rashi picks to describe Moshe’s hideaway is the very same term employed by the Haggada to mark the point in our seder when we eat the Afikoman—the 12th step that is called Tsafun.[28] The Targum translates “HaShem’s protective hand” in the verse above as “HaShem’s protective word (מימר )”. It is possible that the Israelites were also protected by HaShem’s word—His command to sacrifice the Paschal lamb and their fulfillment of it.

The birth of Kenesset Yisrael that occurred at midnight on Pesach eve unleashed a watershed of Presence that smote and enlightened. It struck the firstborns of Egypt and enlightened the Israelites who (like Moshe in the mountain’s cleft) hid in their homes, did not look out, and experienced the revelation as an inner prophetic vision (described by the Targum above).

We learn from this that the proper response to an intense revelation of Presence is to go in and up with closed eyes and experience the revelation from within,[29] as we also see from Moshe’s instincts at the burning bush when he “turned away [from the bush] to see it [with his inner eye] [30](סר לראות)…and Moshe hid his face for he was afraid to look upon God.”[31]

As we eat the Afikoman we re-access that moment of intense revelation when HaShem “passed through Egypt”—He and not a messenger—and the Israelites, inside their homes, eating their korban Pesach[32] were catapaulted into a collective devekut that we can also taste at this moment if we close our eyes and direct our attention inward and upward as we eat our Afikomen.

May it be that on this Pesach night as we pull down a new level ofneshama that holds all the wisdom and lessons that we will integrate this coming year, let us go in and up to the chamber of vision and eat our Afikoman there. And may our faith become so energized that we bring the world on board (for it really is a win-win all around) and may we reconstitute our collective Adam and bring mashiach now.


[1] Rashi on Ex.12:10.  And implied by the midrash Ex.R 15:5. And theShem MiShmuel brings the Yerushalmi that apparently translates thegezera sheva of halayla (by the korban and by the maka—Ex. 12:8 and 12:12) as “at chatzot” instead of “by chatzot” like the Bavli (Pesachim120b; Zevachim 56b) .

[2] Ex. 11:4.

[3] R. Isaac Luria (Ari), Taamei Hamitzvot, Parshat Bo.

[4] Ex. 12:22.

[5] Ex. 11:16. One can only wonder whether the Torah really does mean that even the pogroms and holocaust do not compare to the cry of this night.  I have never heard anyone discuss the question.

[6] Ex.R 17:5.

[7] Haggada of R. Tsadok HaKohen, Mavo, ot 41. Which cites Ari, Pri Eitz Chayim, Shaar Hamitzvot.

[8] שוחר טוב ק”ז , ספר ליקוטי אמרים – אות טז

[9] Shaar HaKavanot, p. 108, amud 1,2,3.

[10] I know that I read this, I believe in the Rashash, but I do not have time to track down the exact source.

Although Judaism identifies five primary levels of soul (nefesh, ruach, neshama, chaya, yechida) only the lowest three are actually internalized, while the upper two (chaya and yechida) exert a more surrounding influence on the individual.

According to Jewish law, up until crowning, if the pregnancy threatens the mother’s life, the child is sacrificed for the mother’s welfare, since the child (with its ruach) is a lower level of life than the mother (who possesses a neshama). But once the child crowns, its neshama enters and the two are now of equal rank and neither can be scuttled for the other’s sake.

[11] TB Kritot, 6b; Lev.R 5:3.

[12] Targum Pseudo Yonatan Ex. 19:4: אתון חמיתון מה די עבדית למצראי וטענית יתכון על עננין הי כעל גדפי נשרין מן פילוסין ואובילית יתכון לאתר בית מוקדשא  למעבד תמן פיסחא ובההוא לילייא אתיבית יתכון לפילוסין ומתמן קריבית יתכון לאולפן אורייתי

[13]  “The final outcome was the original thought [or vision of creation].” From L’cha Dodi, Shabbat Liturgy.

[14]  “And it was when Izhak was old and his eyes were darkened from seeing,–because when his father was binding him he had seen the Throne of Glory, and from that time his eyes had begun to darken,–thathe called Esau his elder son, on the fourteenth of Nisan, and said to him, My son, behold, this night they on high praise the Lord of the world, and the treasures of the dew (ואוצרי טלין) are opened in it …” Targum Yonatan, Gen. 27:1. In the system of kabbalistic correspondences, the chamber of dew is in the partzufim of keter (crown). See Ramak, Pardes Rimonim, chapt. 23, orטל.

[15] Isaiah 11:9; See Rambam, Mishnah Torah, Hilchot Melachim 12:5.

[16] Haggada of Pesach, Blessing after Meal.

[17] R. Tsadok HaKohen on RH.

[18] Zohar III, Kedoshim 83a; R. S. Elyashev, HaDrush Olam Hatohu, II, p. 16, 79.

[19] BR 22:9.

[20] See Evolutionary  Creationism, Sarah Yehudit Schneider, 2005 (A Still Small Voice).

[21] TB Chagiga 12a.  “Adam (the first human) spanned from heaven to earth and one end of the world to the other.”

[22] Zohar 1:63a.

[23] Rashi on Ex. 12:22.

[24] Ex. 33:19-23.

[25] Rashi on Ex. 23:21.

[26] Rashi on Ex. 33:19 (“And I will cause to pass…). Some versions of Rashi have נתון במערה instead of צפון במערה.

[27] Rashi on Ex 23:22 (“And I will cover with My hand…”).

[28] As noted in endnote 26, some versions of Rashi are different.

[29] I am not aware of any other access road to the Bet HaMikdash shel Maala except by going in and up.

[30] TB Brochot 7a; Ari, Shaar HaPosukimShmot (below):

שער הפסוקים – פרשת שמות

ואומרו וירא ה’ כי סר לראות, ולא אמר כי נקרב לראות…וירא ה’ כי סר לראות, שעלה אל הדעת הנקרא סר…

מהרש”א על שבת דף סז/א

ירא ה’ כי *סר לראות בעין שכלו

[31] Ex. 3:4-6

[32] Ex. 17:5


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