It’s the night of the first seder and your grandfatheris sitting at the head of the table. He breaks the middle matza, wraps it upand hides it behind his pillow. This isthe afikoman which is destined to become the highlight of the seder.
You are still very young and don’t yet appreciate its value. Your grandfather gets upfor a moment and when your uncle points to the pillow saying, “Get it now,quickly, while he’s not looking,” you hesitate, feeling quite shy.
Itisn’t just this unfamiliar prompting, but it’s everything –the house looks sodifferent. The table is much longer than usual– it’s white and beautiful withlots of shiny glasses, sparkling silver and guests. All the table tops andcounter tops are covered with colorful plastic and the sink has some kind ofmetal tub inside it. Nonetheless, you finally get up and with a burst of courage you move closer to yourgrandfather’s chair, hesitating, until some one prompts you, “Quick, grab itand run.”
Fora second, you feel afraid, but as soon as it is in your hand, your brothertells you to quickly run and hide it. You run to do what he says and you startto feel excited and happy. The sedermoves ahead. Everyone has eaten. Just when you are starting to feel very sleepy, yourgrandfather asks you for the afikomen. You go to get it, and your big brother tells you to wait, and explainsthat you must ask for a really big present and get a promise before you give it back. This scene isrepeated in tens of thousands of Jewish households across the world on Passovernight.
Doesn’tit seem a bit odd? Here we are seeminglyallowing our small children to take something that doesn’t belong to them and ontop of that extort a prize for their efforts. All this takes place on one ofthe holiest nights of the year. How canwe possibly understand this conduct?
Usually the evil inclination tries to lure aperson into improper behavior using thrills and excitement. Even though we wantto avoid such conduct, the problem we face is that we simply cannot discard theevil inclination. As in the well known Medrash,when the Sages prayed to remove the yetzer hara and Hashem answered their prayers,even the chickens stopped laying eggs. The evil inclination is necessary but needsto be controlled. The challenge to us is to sur mei ra, avoid evil, yetpreserve our enthusiasm and direct it to our good deeds. But how do we do this?
We are, perhaps, doing precisely this whenwe encourage our children to take the afikomen. We are allowing our young and pure children to experience the excitementthat is motivated by the evil inclination when engaged in risky, dangerous andthrill seeking conduct. We do this bygiving them a controlled dose of the “taste of desire.” As the child grows up,that spiritual inoculation that was administered in the name of Heaven and withlove continues to act as an antidote against the infectious powers of the evilinclination. Indeed, that small dose, onPassover Night, affords the child the ability to rekindle those exuberant feelings directing them in a positive mode while learning Torah, performing mitzvos and good deeds.
How can the same small “taste of desire” act as a vaccine shielding the child from harm, while at the same time inspiring the child with enthusiasm for all things that are Holy? It is because of the setting in which this taste is given. The seder night is called, lay’l shemurim,the night of watching – the perfect night for this process to take place. It isa time when the forces of evil are subdued.
You may be wondering, how can this spiritualinoculation continue to protect us into our adult years? Possiblythe answer is we use booster shots! Oh,we are not suggesting that this Pesach you grab the afikoman, however we shouldwatch the child who is taking it and allow that small child inside of us torelive and rekindle those feelings of joy, exuberance and enthusiasm. Thatalone will allow us to tap into our wellspring of positive emotions.
Maywe all merit to bring the korbon Pesach,Passover sacrifice, to the Holy Temple inJerusalem soon in our days.
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