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In a Passover Shadowed by Darkness, Finding Light in the Afikomen

By Rabbi Ari Berman

As Jews around the world observe Passover, it feels more difficult to celebrate its central theme of redemption. After all, our brothers and sisters remain in captivity, our soldiers are still in harm’s way, Israel is being threatened and antisemitism is rising in America and throughout the world. But rather than detracting from the seder, appreciating our current reality amplifies its significance.

At the beginning of the seder, right before we begin to tell the story, we perform the ritual of yachatz — breaking the middle matzah and setting aside the larger piece as the afikomen, to which we will return at the conclusion of our meal. While this is a source of delight for the children, as it begins their game of hide and seek with its promise of future presents, the ritual carries great meaning for us today.

Yachatz reminds us that there are times in our lives when we feel broken. Hardships, disappointments, losses, both small and large, some seemingly unbearable. This is, of course, the nature of the human condition. And the lesson of the seder is that the response to our natural vulnerability is to have faith in the future and to believe with conviction that the best is still yet to come.

Throughout our lives, we search for the afikomen. We seek joy and meaning, personal fulfillment and accomplishment. We aspire to contribute to something greater than ourselves, to give back to the next generations and to leave this world in a better place than when we arrived. And throughout our lives, we have afikomen moments, in which we feel less broken and more at one with ourselves, with others, and with God.

The flow of the seder night reflects the flow of our years. We start the night with the fracture and end with the healing. In between, we tell an intergenerational story that was passed down to us by our parents, grandparents, and ancestors, and that we, in turn, pass down to our next generations. It is a foundational story of salvation in a time of servitude, of faith in freedom and in God who infuses our lives with meaning.

With yachatz, the seder teaches us that the first step to wholeness is acknowledging when we are broken. And as great as it is to find your own afikomen, there is no greater joy than when your children find theirs.

This past week, I was blessed to personally feel this experience. A few days ago, my daughter Tamar got engaged to a wonderful young man from Israel. My wife Anita and I flew to our home in Israel to be with the newly engaged couple. Watching their happiness brought us overflowing joy. They have found their other halves. It was their afikomen moment. Celebrating with them in my backyard in the Judean hills was not only one of the great moments of joy in my life but also a realization of the prophecies of old, stated at a time of complete desolation and seeming hopelessness for the exiled Jewish people: "In the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem ... the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and groom, will once again be heard" (Jeremiah 33:10-11).

(Please view the following link for the video: Returning the sounds of the bride and groom to Judea - Celebrating my daughter’s engagement)

As the Jewish people and Israel address today's challenges, I have complete confidence that we will ultimately emerge victorious. With the lessons of Passover to guide us, we will ward off our enemies, cultivate new friends, and remain true to our mission. Most of all, we will transmit this message of hope and promise to our next generations.

May this Pesach bring peace to Israel and America, the safe return of our hostages, and safety for our soldiers. May our homes overflow with love, joy, and the peace that comes from unity and shared purpose.