One of the best known traditions of Pesach takes place towards the end of the seder when we search for the missing afikoman.
The afikoman is the larger piece of the middle matzo that was broken early on at the start of the seder. The smaller piece, the “poor bread,” stayed on the table during the seder while the larger piece was missing-in-action. Our seder is not complete and we don’t leave the table until the afikoman is found. This time is always one of the children’s favourites because of the gifts that are associated with it. It is only when the afikoman makes its way back to the table that we can complete the seder and conclude with “Next year in Jerusalem.”
There are many important lessons and great symbolism in this tradition. I share with you an afikoman insight that I believe has great relevance for our Jewish community today.
The afikoman – the broken piece of the middle matzo – represents the Jewish people. Often, throughout history, the Jewish people have been broken. We are a fragmented people, divided into two groups, the unengaged Jew and the committed Jew. The larger part of this matzo is not at the seder table, the larger part of this matzo has gone elsewhere. The majority of our people “have left the seder table.” They are not engaged Jewishly. Synagogue membership is down, assimilation is on the rise and Jewish schools are struggling to stay open because of low enrolment.
How many Jews today are entrenched in Jewish learning and celebration of Jewish life observance? How many are committed to giving their children a Jewish education?
Most Jews today are choosing to search elsewhere. Only a small part of that matzo is left at the seder table. Only a small minority of our people are committed to the celebration of Judaism and to sharing with their children the story of our people.
The Haggadah teaches us that we can’t finish our seder with only the little piece of matzo on our table. But rather we have to search for the afikoman, the larger part that is missing and bring it back to the table. Only then is our seder complete. The Haggadah reminds us that we can’t feel satisfied with our own involvement in Jewish life and with the fact that we have taken care of our own families and children. We are not capable to declare “Next year in Jerusalem” if the matzo is fragmented, if we are missing some Jews at the table.
Yes, we are fragmented, but we are one matzo, we are one people. We need to search, to reach out and figure out a way to engage every single Jew in Jewish life and education. Only then, when we are all reunited at the seder table, when our matzo is all together, can we say that we have finished our task.
The Haggadah enjoins us as a community to join forces and strategies as to how we are going to find our Ottawa afikoman and create an engaged Jewish community for tomorrow.