Now we play hide-and-seek with the hidden half—that part of the matzah, cracked open and secreted away at the opening of our seder. This is the last stage of the feast, as the wise son is told: “One may not conclude the pesaḥ (sacrifice) with an afikoman (eyn maftirin aḥar ha-pesaḥ afikoman)” (M. Pesaḥim 10:8). The term “afikomen” derives from the Greek, meaning “dessert (epikomon)”, perhaps an allusion to the drinking and carousing following the traditional Roman feast (epikomion). In the Jewish feast we don’t go out carousing but stay in, munching on that half matzah divvied up as “just desserts,” symbolizing the paschal lamb. According to the dominant halakhic practice, the afikoman must be eaten by rabbinic midnight (ḥatzot), so the search entails a sense of urgency, a panic haste (ḥipazon) reminiscent of the anxiety of the first Passover in Egypt. The Israelites stood inside their houses poised for flight, with loins girded, sandals on their feet, and staff in hand (Exodus 12:11). Instead, we upend couch pillows, grope behind curtains and picture frames, in search of the symbol of our freedom. The children or grandchildren then bargain for a gift in exchange for revealing the hiding place
But what are we really engaged in when we play hide-and-seek at the conclusion of the seder? The narrative of our redemption is bookended by hiding. The Hebrew verb “to hide” (tz.p.n.) nests within the word tzafun, and appears at the opening of the Exodus. Moses as an infant is the first to be hidden away, when his mother defies the decree to throw all the Hebrew male infants into the Nile: “…And when she saw that he was good, she hid him (va-titzpeneihu) for three months. And when she could no longer hide him (hatzpino)…” she made a box, sealed it with bitumen and pitch, placed the infant in the little ark, and sequestered him among the reeds at the banks of the river (Exodus 2:2-3). There, Pharaoh’s daughter finds him, adopts him, and raises him in the palace. Moses is the first Marrano (“secret Jew”)—of Hebrew slave origins, raised as royalty in Egypt; both the prince and the pauper, he embodies a hybrid identity. Yet he never appears by name in the haggadah. Are we in search of the one who led us out of Egypt, strangely anonymous, invisible yet indelible (like lemon-ink) between the lines of the haggadah?
So let’s turn to the closure of the Passover seder. It ends with singing; in some homes the Song of Songs is recited. The theme of hide-and seek flits throughout the Song, as the two, the dod (the male lover) and the ra’ayah (the female lover) repeatedly pursue each other—ever elusive, ever desirous. “I sought him, but did not find him…” declaims the ra’ayah (Song of Songs 3:1); “Have you seen him? Have you seen the one I love?” she asks the guards (v. 3). Later, in what seems like a dream sequence, she pursues him through the night—“I sought him everywhere but could not find him. I called his name but he did not answer” (5:6)—until she encounters the guards again who beat her, bruise her, and strip off the shawl from her shoulders, those “watchmen of the walls” (v. 7). It is dangerous for a woman to pursue her lover, to go out at night in search of the one who has slipped away
The rabbis read the Song of Songs as an allegory for the love between the Holy Blessed One and Israel—the dod, the male lover, representing the elusive God, and the ra’ayah, the female beloved, the collective embodiment of the Jewish people. We are constantly in search of God, run ragged, perhaps even beaten, as we grope through the exiles of the past two millennia and the darkest century in Jewish history. But perhaps God too is in search of us. Just as we want to be sought after, God is engaged in the game of desire, looking for us and looking to be sought after by us. Like a young stag, “he stands behind our wall, gazing through the window, peering through the lattice” (2:9). The Song of Songs ends with an adjuration: “Flee, my lover, swift as a gazelle or a young stag, to the hill of spices” (8:14). The chase must go on!
One of the most mysterious lines of the Song features the root imbedded in tzafun: “The mandrakes (duda’im) give forth their fragrance. At our openings are all the choice fruits, new and also old (ḥadashim vegam yeshanim), my beloved which I have hidden for you (dodi tzafanti lakh)” (Song of Songs 7:14). According to midrash, the Jewish people are the mandrakes (duda’im), a play on the word “beloved ones” (dodim), who give sweet fragrance (Song of Songs Rabbah 7:14.1). The choice fruit represents learning and good deeds—laid at the openings of our homes, our synagogue, and our houses of study. The fruits are both “new (ḥadashim)”—full of creative innovation, ḥiddushim, in new interpretations of Torah and practice—and “old (yeshanim)”—traditional, continuous with our ancestors and the sages. But for whom do we hide away or store up these precious fruits? It is for the dod, the lover—“At our openings are all the choice fruits…my beloved which I have hidden for you (dodi tzafanti lakh).” And there God crouches, where all the sweet things are hidden at the threshold of our being, both singular and collective. And there God beckons for us to seek, in the new and the old, between the lines of lemon-ink, the Hidden Face of the divine being.