Light from the Sidra

Pesach (Passover) 3 April 2015. 15th Nissan 5775

Torah: Exodus 12:21-51; Numbers 28:16-25. Haftarah: Joshua 5:2-6:1.

Please note that unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from Tanach (The Artscroll™ Series/Stone Edition, April 2013. Published and Distributed by Mesorah Publications, Ltd, 4401 Second Avenue / Brooklyn, New York 11232)


The Mystery of the Middle Matzah

Life is full of mysteries. What happened to the crew of the Marie Celeste? Who assassinated JFK? Is there a monster in Loch Ness? Why can you never get a plumber to come out at the weekend? Why, in the Passover Seder, is the middle of the three pieces of matzah – the afikomen –taken from the matzah tash, broken in two and the larger half of it hidden away? Why, at the end of the Seder is the broken matzah brought back and shared as a dessert? What’s that all about? Ask any two Jewish people and, as they say, you’ll get at least three answers.

The origins of the ceremony and the meaning of the term afikomen are shrouded in mystery. The earliest occurrence of the word occurs in The Mishnah, in ‘Pesahim’ 10:8: ‘… no food may be eaten after the [matzah afikomen].’ Although there is disagreement over what the word ‘afikomen’ actually means, most scholars agree that it is Greek not Hebrew. Some think the term is derived from the Greek word for ‘dessert’, epikomoi. Others suggest it comes from epi komon, a call for after dinner entertainment, while others think it derives from epikomion, a ‘festival song.’

All these suggestions, however, are almost certainly incorrect. In 1925, the German scholar Robert Eisler proposed that the afikomen was part of the Passover observed by Jews at the time of the second temple and that the broken matzah represented the Messiah. Eisler’s thesis was opposed by both Jewish and Christian scholars and was largely forgotten until 1966 when David Daube, a Jewish scholar at Oxford University, revived it and produced further documentation to support Eisler’s theory. The term afikomen, Daube argued, is derived from the Greek verb afikomenos meaning ‘the Coming One’ and that the ‘Coming One’ was none other than the Messiah.

In a lecture entitled ‘He that Cometh,’ Daube set forth a case that the unleavened bread Jesus gave to his disciples at the Last Supper was the afikomen. When Jesus announced, ‘This is my body’, said Daube, he was making use of an existing prophetic tradition to reveal himself as the Messiah. According to Daube, the messianic symbolism was eventually lost, deliberately distorted or possibly suppressed by rabbinic authorities, giving rise to the later interpretations of the word as a ‘dessert’ or an ‘after-dinner entertainment’.

None of this, of course, explains how, why or when the afikomen was introduced into the Passover. If the breaking of the middle matzah was an established part of the Seder ritual at the time of Jesus, why and when was it introduced? The answer, I believe, is to be found in the book of Daniel 2:44, which states, ‘In the days of these kingdoms, the God of Heaven will establish a kingdom that will never be destroyed… it will crumble and consume all these other kingdoms, and it will stand forever.’ In an astonishing comment on this verse Rashi says, ‘in the days of these kings’ is a reference to ‘when the kingdom of Rome is still in existence’! In other words, the kingdom of God was to be established by the Messiah during the period when the Roman Empire existed. Either that prophecy came to pass or Daniel was a false prophet.

The ninth chapter of Daniel confirms that the Messiah would come in the first century of our era, before Jerusalem and the second temple were destroyed: ‘…from the emergence of the word [of Cyrus for the Jewish exiles] to return and to build Jerusalem until the anointment of the prince will be seven septets… after the sixty-two septets the anointed one [Mashiach] shall be cut off… and the people of the prince will come and will destroy the city and the Sanctuary [the Temple]…’

In the first century of the Common Era, Israel was occupied by the Romans and there was great messianic expectancy among the Jews, no doubt because of Daniel’s prophecy of the four kingdoms. Rome was the fourth and final kingdom of Daniel’s quartet of empires and the kingdom of God had to be established while that final kingdom was in existence.

Daniel was clearly a prophet, so why is his book not included in the section of the Tanakh known as Nevi’im? Why is he relegated to the Ketuvim? Why is Daniel not included in the Haftarah readings? A rabbinic ruling reveals that Daniel is indeed a prophetic book and that the book reveals the time of the coming of Messiah. The Talmud informs us that ‘the Targum of the Prophets was composed by Jonathan ben Uzziel under the guidance of the prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, and that ben Uzziel sought to reveal the inner meaning of the Ketuvim, the division of the Bible in which Daniel is found. However, says Megillah 3a, a Bath Kol – a voice from heaven – forbade ben Uzziel to reveal the inner meaning of the Ketuvim because in it ‘the date of the Messiah is foretold’!

To this day, Passover is linked by Jewish people to the coming of the Messiah. At every Passover Seder, a place is set at table for Elijah, the forerunner of Messiah, and at the end of the meal, after the afikomen has been eaten, the children are sent to the door to see if Elijah is coming.

If you are Jewish, at the Seder this year you will repeat a ritual that should remind you that the Messiah had to set up the Kingdom of God before Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed by the fourth of Daniel’s kingdoms: Rome. And having been reminded of the truth of the One who is coming, you will send your children to see if Messiah’s forerunner is outside the house.

However, you need wait for the Messiah no longer. He is here. His kingdom is here, even though you don’t see it. Only those who have entered that kingdom are able see it and when they do they are astonished to think they could ever have been so blind not to see it. It’s called being born again.

How do you enter the kingdom? Through repentance and faith in the Messiah you have rejected for so long. And when you repent and believe, your sins will be forgiven. All of them. Forever.

This year, before you celebrate the Passover once more, repent and believe the Good News and see Pesach in a new way, and enjoy for the first time a redemption greater than the one from Egypt.

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