It’s the night (lay’l) of Pesach with all the family and guests joined together around the Seder table. After Kiddush on wine the head of the household (Bal HaBais)divides the middle matzah, wraps up the larger piece for the end of the meal (Afikomin) and puts it snugly behind his pillow. Later in the evening (seder) someone points to the place of the afikoman and whispers to the child, “Take it now, quickly, while he’s not looking.” The child hesitates, feeling quite shy having been brought up with proper values of respect and honesty. This night everything at the house looks so different. The table is much longer than usual filled with relatives and guests — it’s white and beautiful with lots of shiny glasses, sparkling silver. But then with a little more prodding and a burst of courage he moves closer to the treasured hidden away afikomen, hesitating, until some one prompts him, “Quick, grab it and run.”
For a second, he feels afraid, but as soon as it is in his hand, he feels an exhilarating surge of excitement and exuberance. Even after hiding it he continues to feel energized and successful. Much later, when the child is asked to return the afikoman, he doesn’t give it right back, being prodded by others to first ask for a nice prize.
Doesn’t this conduct seem a quite odd? Here we are seemingly allowing our small untainted children to take something that doesn’t belong to them and on top of that extort a reward for their efforts on one of the holiest nights of the year. How can we possibly understand this conduct?
Perhaps we can explain this unusual behavior as follows. Usually the selfish inclination (yetzer hara) tries to lure a person into improper behavior through offering feelings of ephemeral thrills and excitement. Even though we want to avoid such conduct, the problem we face is that we simply cannot discard the yetzer hara. As in the well known book of Medrashim, when the Sages davened to remove the yetzer hara and Hashem answered their tefillos, even the chickens stopped laying eggs. The yetzer hara is necessary but needs to be controlled. The challenge to us is to sur mei ra, avoid evil, yet preserve our enthusiasm and direct it to our ma’asim tovim. But how do we do this?
Perhaps, this is precisely what we are achieving when we encourage our children to take the afikomen. We are allowing our young pure children to experience the excitement that is usually motivated by the yetzer hara when engaged in risky, dangerous and thrill seeking conduct. We do this by giving them a controlled dose of the “taste of desire.” As the child grows up, that spiritual inoculation that was administered l’shem Shamayim with love will then continue to act as an antidote against the infectious negative powers of the yetzer hara. Indeed, that dose of controlled enthusiasm, experienced by the child on lay’l Pesach, will enable him to rekindle those exuberant feelings throughout the year directing them in a positive mode while learning Torah, performing mitzvos and ma’asim tovim.
But how can experiencing this “controlled taste of desire” both act as a vaccine shielding the child from learning mis-conduct, while at the same time inspiring the him with enthusiasm for all things that are Holy? It is because of the setting in which this “taste” is given. Let us remember, the seder night is referred to as – lay’l shemurim, the night of Divine protection – the perfect night for this process to take place as it is a time when negative forces are subdued.
You may be wondering, how can this spiritual “inoculation” continue to protect us into our adult years? Possibly the answer is we use “booster shots”! Oh, we are not suggesting that this Pesach we grab the afikoman, however we should watch the one who is taking it and allow that “small child” inside each of us to relive and rekindle our own feelings of inner joy and exuberance, thereby rekindling our youthful enthusiasm in the service of Hashem.
May we all merit soon to be able to fulfill the mitzvah of afikoman in Jerusalem at the final geula soon in our days.
(The attribute of exuberance and excitement was “stolen” (so to speak) by the negative powers (yetzer hora) through the errors of mankind. On the night of Pesach we are able to “re-capture” these sparks of holiness and use them to bring back Divine spirituality into this world Since the yetzer took it through “theft” we re-capture it, through an act that looks like theft, at this time of Pesach when the forces of darkness are vanquished.)