Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Festivals of God - Pt. 3 Passover (cont.)

After the destruction of the temple, people lost the ability to offer a Paschal lamb. They also felt the need to make the holiday even more special, because of the diaspora, so they wrote special songs to be sung at the seder, added ornamentation in the form of candles and lamps, comfortable cushions on which to relax, and new foods from the various cultures to which they were dispersed. What was missing, was the roasted Passover lamb for the meal, as only a lamb sacrificed at the temple could be used, and that was no longer possible. The way of replacing the lamb was the creation of what is known as the aphikomen (afikomen). The aphikomen (to be explained shortly) is a mystery to the Jewish people as they don’t really know how it came about, nor for what it really stands. To see the importance of the aphikomen, we need to look at a modern day seder.

The modern seder has been altered to suit modern man. The homes originally were not to have any leaven in the house at all. Anything that might have the capability of becoming leavened must go. Bread, cookies, (even stray crumbs), yeast, baking powder and soda, grain products, etc. Nowadays if there is too much of these items in the house that the loss of it would be costly, there is a solution devised by the rabbis. The items are stored in one place in the house, preferably an unused room, or at least a high out of the way shelf. Then a Gentile friend can buy title to the items for a token amount of a dollar or two. Technically the leaven is no longer in the possession of the Jewish person, although it is still in their house. At the end of the week, the Gentile friend can sell it all back for the same price.

The following ritual was enacted in ancient times as well as today. Before the Passover officially starts, a prayer and search must be made by the man of the house for any leaven to make sure the house is clean. Since the man searches the whole house for leaven, (a symbolic search at best), he is given the credit for cleaning the house (isn’t that just like a man?), even though the wife or family does all the work. For the search, the man takes a child with him to hold a light, a wooden spoon, a feather, and an old cloth napkin. The man searches all the rooms until he comes to the last room. The wife clues him in as to which room should be last - (you have to wonder how many wives give them a hard time, just to get even for him getting the credit of cleaning the house), so that he can find a few crumbs left for the benefit of the ceremony (so that his search is not in vain). When he finds the crumbs, he sweeps them up with the feather into the spoon, then wraps the spoon, feather, and crumbs in the napkin and pronounces the house clean. The next day everyone gathers at a ritual bonfire (probably at the synagogues) to burn the bundles and then they go home for Passover. After the house is clean, the special dishes used only at Passover are taken out. For people too poor to have a second set of dishes, a complicated ritual of cleansing has to take place on the everyday dishes. Metal utensils have to be heated until red hot. Cutlery has to be sterilized in boiling water. Glazed pottery has to be soaked in cold water. Unglazed pottery cannot be purified and is therefore not usable for Passover unless it is only used for the Passover.

For today’s ritual, the best linens, dishes, clothing, etc. are used for this meal. The focal point of the seder is the seder plate. It is a large blue enameled brass plate. It is designed with divisions for each of the symbolic foods. Lacking this, a large serving plate may be used. The symbolic foods on the plate are much the same as the past centuries. As there is no longer a roasted lamb, they now put symbolically in its place a roasted shank bone of a lamb. This is called a zeroah, which means “arm” or “shoulder”. It speaks of the outstretched arm of the Lord by which He freed His people from Egypt. Next is a hard-boiled egg that is roasted to a brown color. Its symbolic name is haggigah, meaning the holiday sacrifice that was made in Temple times. Many interpret this egg as a symbol of new life and triumph over death (resurrection). Actually one has to wonder if it is somehow related to the importance of eggs in the Eastre (remember this goddess from the Babylonian mysteries?) pagan celebration, considering how many of the religious leaders were into kaballah. Anyhow, the plate holds three kinds of bitter herbs. Two we recognize as being bitter, horseradish root - chazereth, and freshly ground horseradish - maror. The third herb is lettuce, parsley, or celery - none of which we would really call bitter. It is called karpas and is the first food eaten at the actual seder meal. Last on the seder plate is the charoseth. Charoseth is symbolic of the mortar or red clay of Egypt, where they had to make bricks. The table holds three more items. The unleavened bread, the wine, and the Haggadah (the book which contains the order of service, questions, answers, prayers and songs).

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