Thursday, April 28, 2011

Maimouna and Key-Challah

At the close of the 8th day of Passover, Chassidim gather to observe Moshiach’s Seudah, drinking four cups of wine, eating matzah, and singing songs of mystical import. 

North African Jews mark the conclusion of Passover with Maimouna, held later that night.  Maimouna is a derivative of the word emunah – faith.  Both Moshiach’s Seudah and Maimouna join together the first and last days of Passover.  We begin Passover by commemorating our initial redemption from Egyptian slavery, guided by Moses, and conclude Passover by anticipating our final redemption from our current exile, guided by the Messiah.  We have faith that just as G-d freed us from Egypt, He will again show us wonders, "as in the days of your exodus from Egypt."
Maimouna is also connected with the word mammon –money, and has another mirror custom practiced by some Ashkenazim.  The Maimouna tables are laden with foods that symbolize blessing:  bowls of coin-spangled wheat, garlands of leaves and flowers, milk products, fruit and nuts, and mofletta, a stack of sweet yeasted crĂªpes slathered in butter and honey.  The doors are open to welcome in celebrants, who wish each other success and good fortune. 

The first Shabbat after Pesach, many Ashkenzim bake “shlissel-challah,” key-challah.  This bread might be shaped like a key, with the house-key baked into it, flat like matzah bearing the impression of a key, or a loaf into which a key has been inserted and turned, as if opening a lock.  Shlissel-challah is said to be an amulet for financial good-fortune and for faith.  Song of Songs, traditionally read on Passover states, Open for Me, My sister My beloved.  G-d says, “If you make a small opening by doing just one mitzvah [Shabbat] I will unlock the gates of Heaven and pour down blessings upon you.”

The common theme underlying these various post-Passover customs has its roots in a recreation of a national experience.  When we entered the Land of Israel under Joshua, the Jews “ate of the old grain of the land on the next day after Passover, unleavened cakes, and dried grain in the same day; and the manna ceased on the next day” (Joshua 5:11-12).  This event marked a developmental turning point.  Instead of being provided for in a miraculous fashion – manna from Heaven – we would have to work for our sustenance.  But at that brief moment we ate manna, matzah, and leavened bread at the same time.
Each of these types of bread captures a different concept.  Manna is the daily bread that descended without any effort on our part.  Matzah is the bread of faith.  Our ancestors fled Egypt with no food but the dough on their backs, trusting in G-d to provide.  Leavened bread is our toil to integrate the pleasures of this world (yeast symbolizing our animal instincts) into our service of G-d.  And while we draw sharp distinctions between these paths to sustenance, in truth they stem from a single source: G-d.  Eating all three types of bread at the same time indicated our awareness of this truth.
Today, Maimouna and Key-Challah remind us that while the effort to earn a livelihood is in our control, the outcome is in G-d’s, and that Our faith in Him is as much an effort to create livelihood as the work of our hands. “Three keys in the hands of G-d are not entrusted to an agent.  These are the key of rain (livelihood), the key of conception and childbirth, and the key of revival of the dead” (Taanit 2a.) 

May G-d open His treasure-house to you, and may the Heavens rain down blessing upon you.
Shabbat Shalom.

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