As many Jews sit at home watching the clock on the last day of Passover, thinking about the slices of pizza they will soon devour, Chabad houses around the world will usher out the holiday with mini-seders, including four cups of wine and lots of matzoh.
This is the moshiach seudah, or messiah meal, first instituted by the Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of chasidus, and later refined by the fifth Lubavitcher rebbe, Sholom Dovber Schneersohn, into today’s tradition. It is a staple of the Chabad calendar on the last day of the holiday, which has its own energy distinct from the rest of the holiday, according to Rabbi Ephraim Simon, director of Friends of Lubavitch of Bergen County in Teaneck.
According to the Talmud, the month of Nissan – Passover begins on the 15th of Nissan – is the most auspicious time for the arrival of the messiah, Simon said. The first two days of Passover represent the redemption from Egypt, while the last two days represent the final redemption of the Jewish people by the messiah, he said.
Wine, he added, brings joy and delight, “which is what will be when moshiach comes” and why the fifth rebbe added the custom. In addition, he said, the four cups represent the four stages of redemption: sanctification, deliverance, redemption, and completion. Just as at the end of Shabbat, with the shalosh seudah (third meal), Simon said, the moshiach seudah marks the holiest period of the holiday when the energy of redemption is at its strongest.
“You come together with people in words of inspiration, singing chasidic melodies, and coming in tune with the energies of the day,” Simon said. “It’s a wonderful way to bring the energy of Pesach into the mundane – into the rest of the week and ultimately into the rest of the year.”
Rabbi Dov Drizin, director of Valley Chabad in Woodcliff Lake, said about 50 people usually come out to sing, hear stories, and discuss the meaning of moshiach. At his table each year, the conversation focuses on that meaning.
“It’s a meaningful time to say, as Jews, we not only look at the past, where we’ve come from, what we’ve accomplished. The inborn natural trait is thinking about tomorrow and what that means in a very practical sense,” he said.
Many people hear the word messiah and think of Christianity, Drizin said. During the meal the rabbi will often cite sources such as Maimonides’ 13 Principles of Faith – the 12th principle states, “I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the messiah. However long it takes, I will await his coming every day” – to support the idea of moshiach and then discuss interpretations of whether it is an actual person, a time of peace, or something else entirely.
“We still find many individuals who were taught directly or thought or assumed that moshiach or that type of idea is not Jewishly based,” he said. “The biggest block is we are all stuck in patterns. It’s difficult to think outside the pattern, therefore moshiach seems like such an impossibility. At the same time, all human beings have a natural inborn hope that tomorrow will be better.”
The meal helps bring down the concept of moshiach into something people can grasp, said Rabbi Mordechai Shain, director of Chabad on the Palisades in Tenafly, which attracts more than 100 people every year for its moshiach seudah.
“For many of us, moshiach is a nice idea, it’s a good hope,” he said. “The idea of eating the meal is saying, just like this matzoh is a physical, tangible matzoh, the wine we drink is physical, tangible cups of wine, so too moshiach is a real thing.”
For more information on moshiach seudah, including where to find a local meal, visit www.chabad.org.