by David Friedlander
“David, David, wake up!” I was hearing a voice, calling me from a great distance. Suddenly, I felt a hand on my shoulder shaking me and bringing me back to this reality from a deep sleep. At eight years old, I last remembered drinking two cups of wine with my family at our seder meal and, shortly thereafter, heading off to bed. Now, my brother had been sent to awaken me so I could tell the family, who were waiting at the seder table, where I had stashed the afikomen. Before heading upstairs to bed, I had surreptitiously “acquired” it from under the pillow of my father’s chair at the seder table…. The wine certainly had had its effect on me…. But, I was duly informed I had to produce the afikomen so the family’s seder could continue. NO afikomen, no conclusion to the seder story!
So, I awoke, best I could, and retrieved the afikomen from where I had hidden it, giving it to my father. Pieces of the afikomen were then passed to my mother, brother, two sisters and me, and all was well once again. I knew that, after Pesach, my father would reward me with the usual “fee” of gold-foil-wrapped chocolate coins, for the “feat” of stealing the afikomen. I didn’t understand all this, actually, nor many other customs and practices of the seder, but who was I to argue with chocolate coins?
It would take me another 25 years to begin to unravel the answers to the questions raised in my mind by the traditional Jewish seder celebration, especially my questions relating to the afikomen. As the youngest member of an Orthodox Jewish family in New York City, I found that questioning my elders on the purpose and meaning of age-old Jewish traditions was not well received. Even as a child, I had questions like: Why kill an innocent little lamb? What’s all this about leaven, anyway? Why do we break the middle matzah? And what’s the reason for putting it under the pillow? Many symbols, many questions, but so few satisfying answers. But, as an eight-year-old, my job was just to sit and listen to the Exodus story each year and to learn and accept the age-old traditions of my ancestors.
In my teens, I attended yeshiva in New York and studied Jewish law, Mishnah and Talmud. After college, I moved to Colorado in search of my life’s adventure. A year later, I met the woman who would later become my wife and, in 1975, we were married in a traditional Jewish wedding. Two years later, our first son was born.
In the spring of 1979, a new neighbor woman struck-up a friendship with my wife, Patti. This friendship included the woman telling my wife about Jesus and, before long, my wife “became a Christian!” How could she DO that? She then joined the neighbor woman in attending church, taking our infant son along! “But wait, we’re Jewish! You can’t do that! Come back!” My life was being turned upside down!
In the days that followed, during the spring of 1979, Patti would follow me wherever I went, reading to me from the New Testament. What chutzpah! “We’re Jewish,” I told her. “Jews don’t read or need the New Testament!” But the words she had read to me had sparked a curiosity deep within me. Something profound had been stirred up. I determined that when the wife wasn’t around, I would find opportunities to read one of the Gospels from the Bible my wife had “just so happened” to leave lying around. I started in Matthew. At that time, the six-hour, made-for-TV movie, Jesus of Nazareth, was having its television debut. It was to be shown in four parts, ending on Easter Sunday 1979. So, without my wife’s knowledge, I secretly began reading the Gospel of Matthew and determined to read seven chapters a day, to keep pace with the showing of the movie, which I would then watch on each of the four evenings.
This two-pronged approach had results for me that were like being hit with a hammer! Matthew is the only Gospel to say “This happened that what was written by the prophets might be fulfilled.” “Fulfilled?” I asked myself. How could that be? Was there more to the story that I had grown up learning at the yeshiva? I looked up the cross-references to the prophecy to which Matthew was referring, each of the nine times he used that phrase. It was like someone was showing me an entirely new wing of a house I had lived in all my life. It was astonishing! The more I read, the more I felt my eyes opening. Easter Sunday arrived, which meant nothing to me as a Jew, but I had now read the last seven chapters of Matthew and I was shell-shocked: Matthew related how the man claiming to be the Messiah of Israel was crucified and rejected by the leaders of his own people, my ancestors. How could this be?
As my wife left to attend church that evening, I turned on the TV to watch the concluding portion of the movie. Two hours later, the Messiah was crucified. The actor portraying Yeshua looked straight out from my TV screen. I “knew” he was looking right at me! His eyes pierced my heart. As he was crucified, I fell on my knees, prayed and wept. I wept for a long time, right there in front of the TV, in a pool of tears. I accepted Yeshua into my heart as my Messiah! A new wing of the house had opened its doors to me.
In my spirit, I then saw two hands coming down and, as it were, plugging together power to long strings of lights, each light representing a prior generation. I had been connected, with power, across the many generations of my Jewish ancestors, to the source of all power. I had come home! But I now had a thousand new questions, each vying for attention.
In the amazing weeks that followed, my wife became aware of my acceptance of the Messiah as she saw changes in me, and I was full of many questions. I had developed a tremendous hunger to understand, and I read the Bible like a starving man. The Easter season that year was right in the middle of Pesach. Patti met another Jewish believer in Jesus whom she invited to our house to help me understand and answer as many questions as he could. He even presented me with a Messianic Haggadah. The story of Pesach took on an entirely new dimension.
In the thirty-plus years since that day of decision, I have come to more fully understand and appreciate the Pesach seder. I see the afikomen which splits the middle matzah as representing the breaking of the body of Messiah as a sacrifice once, for all people, for all time. I also now see the wrapping of that piece of matzah in a white linen napkin and its placement under the pillow as symbolic of his death and burial. Even the buying back of the afikomen by the father for a small reward speaks to me of the Roman guards who were paid off by the Jewish priests to tell anyone who asked that the body had been stolen, as related in Matthew 28:11-15.
That afikomen is taken from its hiding place and pieces of it are shared among all seder participants at the third cup of wine which, not coincidentally, is called the Cup of Redemption, the same cup which Jesus drank at the Passover seder which we now know as the Last Supper. Most of my people do not make this connection between the Passover lamb and the Lamb of God, Yeshua. That little boy, so soundly asleep so many years ago, heard a voice awakening him from physical sleep to retrieve the afikomen. Many years later, he heard another Voice calling him to awaken him from a sleep of a deeper, spiritual dimension and, since then, nothing has ever been the same!! Dayenu!
“…for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Messiah is it taken away…. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” 2 Corinthians 3:14,16