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Shabbat Parashat Metzora| 5764
Ask the Rabbi
Question: It seems that every year we have a conflict between those who want to rush to eat the afikoman by chatzot (astronomical midnight) and those who want to allow the seder to advance at its own pace. What should we do?
Answer: It is hard enough to try to decide for someone whether or not to be stringent. In this case, resolve to be stringent on the time of afikoman often causes reduced observance of other elements of the seder. In addition to the feelings of a wife/(grand)mother who slaved to prepare a meal fit for those celebrating liberation, there is the issue of curtailing the mitzva d’oraita of sipur y’tziat Mitzrayim (telling the story of the Exodus) or rushing the children, whom Chazal saw as central figures in the seder experience. So, one cannot compare the situation of those who can easily make it by chatzot with a little planning and those who have understandable difficulty. Study of the sources is needed to put the matter into perspective.
There are two main elements to the eating of afikoman. Firstly, it is part of the mitzva to eat matza on seder night, and, according to a minority of Rishonim (Rashi, Rashbam on Pesachim 119b), is the main fulfillment of this mitzva. The Rosh (Pesachim 10:38) puts the stress on the idea that afikoman is a reminder of the korban pesach, which we no longer have, and, therefore, it is eaten on a relatively full stomach and is not to be followed by other food.
By when do these elements need to be done? R. Elazar b. Azaria and R. Akiva dispute if the korban pesach needs to be eaten by chatzot or by the morning (Pesachim 120b). Rava (ibid.) says that the time for eating the korban pesach is also the time for eating matza. Thus, both elements of the afikoman depend on this machloket. The Rambam (Chametz U’matza 6:1) and apparently the Rif pasken like R. Akiva, that we have until the morning. Yet, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 477:1) writes: “One should be careful to eat [the afikoman] before chatzot.” This is either out of deference to those who pasken like R. Elazar or because R. Akiva agrees that one should distance himself from possible sin and eat the korban pesach and the matza by chatzot (Gra, ad loc.). Usually, the terminology of “one should be careful” in the Shulchan Aruch is somewhat more than a suggestion but somewhat less than an outright, binding halachic decision, and this is logical based on the sources we have seen. We must remember also that we are not talking about eating the korban pesach itself or our first matza of the night after chatzot, just the additional element of the afikoman (the Mishna Berura 477:6 makes this distinction).
Therefore, the following guidelines should provide a good balance. Try to start the seder promptly. Proceed through it without looking at the face of the clock, but at the faces of the children and others who should be learning, sharing in, and enjoying the full experience of the seder. During the meal is when one should start trying to “make it by chatzot.” It is best if all concerned get used to the idea that there is usually too much food at the seder. If less is prepared, and we remember that there are 7-8 days to partake in the bounty, there will be less chance of insult if dessert is skipped. Also, while the afikoman should be eaten on a full stomach, it is best that there be some appetite left for eating the afikoman (Rama 476:1; Mishna Berura ad loc.:6). However, habits are hard to break, and feelings should not be ignored.
(Some are aware of a sharp halachic trick to obviate the problem. It has both merit and some potential problems and is beyond the scope of our discussion.)
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