By Maier Solomon, Yerushalayim
Erev Pesach, I arrive at the Kosel Hamaaravi, the Western Wall. I’m here to say a special once-a- year tefillah: Amiras Korban Pesach. The Navi tells us: “Uneshalma parim sefaseinu” (Hoshea 14:3) – that when we say the Avodas Beis Hamikdash, it is considered as if we’ve actually done the avodah itself. And here for the first time I’m saying the tefillah right in front of the Har HaBayis, where it all took place not that long ago. I’m speechless, in awe.
A lot of people are here from all walks of life. I see black yarmulkes, knitted kippot, cardboard headcoverings. Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Chassidim, Litvaks, Yemenites, they’re all here. Old people, young people. People coming, people going. Everyone’s here for the same purpose.
As I start saying the tefillah, the guy behind me starts to get on my nerves – he’s davening a little too loud for my comfort level, not quite in the accent I’m used to. I try hard to ignore him, soldiering on, paying attention to what I’m saying.
My mind wonders to another time – another place …
• • • • •
The Kohen checks the lamb that our group brought. Days of planning are paying off. The math was the hardest – how many pieces of meat the size of an egg can be gotten out of this little lamb? Remembering how boys over the age of bar mitzvah are in our cousin’s family from Yavneh. My great-uncle from Teko’ah sent word months ago that his family was now, bli ayin hara, large enough for their own lamb.
What luck, we’re given the third shift – that means we’ll be eating the korban on Har Habayis!
Our group (don’t forget the lamb!) finally gets the word. The doors open, the second shift leaves, and we elbow our way in.
“Let us out, then you’ll be able to get in!”
“Hey, you’re stepping on my foot!”
“Yankele, where are you?”
“Watch my lamb – don’t damage it!”
“I was here first!”
“Shalom aleichem!” Ah, my friend Shlomo from Shevet Menashe! We met and became friends when we stayed in the same inn over Succos.
The trumpets sound, the Kohen takes the lamb, slaughters it and collects the blood in a conical golden cup. The cup is passed down the human chain until it reaches the Mizbei’ach, the blood is sprinkled, and then – and then it all begins. Thousands of people fall silent as the orchestra starts. The sweet voices of the Leviim pierce the silence. This is what the angels must sound like in heaven, I think.
I guess I wasn’t paying attention to our lamb – it’s already been flayed, spitted on a sharpened branch from a pomegranate tree. The smell of barbecued lamb wafts through the air. My mouth waters.
My grandfather takes out the matzah and the bitter herbs that we’ll be eating together with the meat. I stand on tiptoe, trying to see what’s going on, but am almost knocked over. The noise, the pushing, the smells are almost overwhelming.
Grandfather starts telling the story of the miracle of Yetzias Mitzrayim. He starts way before that, beginning his tale with Terach, the father of our forefather Avraham.
I look around to see what everyone else is doing, and notice that different families have slightly different minhagim, even families from the same shevet. The family next to us actually made sandwiches out of their matzah and roasted lamb!
Something really strange is happening. Suddenly I notice that there’s no more noise, no more pushing, no more smells. I have four empty amos all around me – hey, so does everyone else! Now I remember that my father told me about this: “Omdim tzefufim umishtachavim revachim.”
I make a shehechiyanu and dig in. I’ve never tasted anything like this piece of meat! Taam Gan Eden.
I chew slowly, picturing scenes from years ago. Pharaoh scared out of his wits, running through the streets in his pajamas looking for Moshe, begging the Jews to just leave, go, get out of Egypt! Blood from the Paschal lamb decorated the doorposts, but Pharaoh probably didn’t even notice. In the morning, in the light of day, thousands of people prepared to proudly leave this cruel country. Twelve columns of people marching, marching. Men, women and children, even babes in arms, heads held high. Leaving a once-mighty superpower in tatters.
• • • • •
Oww! Suddenly I’m back in the present. That hurt!
I guess the guy I bumped into got hurt, too. “Hey, watch where you’re going, buddy! You off in dreamland or something?”
I blushed. I guess I was. I guess I was.
I really hadn’t been looking where I was going, and someone else got hurt.
My uncle, Rav Elkanah Schwartz once explained the phrase “Omdim tzefufim umishtachavim revachim” to me in a different spin. If instead of being stubborn – tzefufim – he said, if only each of us would just give in a little bit to other people – revachim – we would be bringing the Korban Pesach in the Beis Hamikdash this very Yom Tov.