Afikoman

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Matzah, from which the afikoman is broken

The afikoman (Hebrew: אפיקומן, derived from Greek epikomen "that which comes after", "dessert") was in ancient times the last morsel of the paschal lamb, eaten at the end of the Passover meal. In modern times, it is represented by a portion of the middle matzot in the ceremonial Seder dish.[1]

Traditions

The afikoman is broken off by the leader and hidden until the end of the meal when, traditionally, the children hunt for it. When they find it, the leader asks for it back, and the children bargain for a "ransom" (usually a small treat or gift) before they will return it. In some homes the roles are reversed and the children hide the afikoman, with the adults (unsuccessfully) searching for it, and the children revealing its location in return for the ransom. The purpose of this is to keep the children involved, awake and curious throughout the evening. In many Sephardic homes, instead of hiding the afikoman, it is tied on the shoulder of a child, who leaves the room and then knocks on the door. He is asked:
"Who are you?" to which he responds: "Israel."
"Where have you come from?" "From Egypt."
"Where are you going?" "To Jerusalem."
"What are you carrying?" "Matzah."
The child then enters the room, looks at the festive table, and begins to ask the Four Questions. The afikoman remains on his shoulder until it is time for it to be eaten.

Symbolism

Tzafun ("hidden"), the eating of the afikoman, has tremendous significance. The matzah eaten at the beginning of the meal is symbolic of the past and of the deliverance from Egypt. The matzah reserved as the afikoman and eaten at the end of the meal is symbolic of future redemption. The hiding of the afikoman can be said to be symbolic of the hidden nature of the future redemption in Judaism, such as the uncertainty of knowing when the Messianic era will arrive and how it will come to pass.[2]

Only after eating the afikoman can the Birkat Ha'Mazon ("Blessing after Meals") be recited, and the symbolic invitation be given to Elijah, the harbinger of the Messiah, to join the seder table.

In Christian and Messianic seders, this becomes the symbol of Jesus Christ, much as the bread of the Eucharist. In these seders, it is considered that it is about the afikomen that Jesus said "This is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me." (Luke 22:19) The Passover cannot be completed without the afikomen, just as Christian redemption is not complete without Jesus, the Bread of Life.

References

  1. What is an Afikoman? "Pesach" OU.org. Accessed 18 February 2008
  2. Ransoming the afikoman United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
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