By Gabrielle Kanik
For the Mitzpeh
For almost one-fifth of the students on campus, Tuesday meant the end of the Passover holiday. This year, Passover began at sundown Monday, April 10 and ended Tuesday, April 18 with a traditional last meal, which sometimes includes celebrating the messiah. Ways to celebrate the last meal vary as beliefs about the messiah are a subject of debate among the different sects of Judaism.
The word “messiah” is an anglicization of the Latin word “Messias” which is a translation from the Hebrew word mashiach which means “the Anointed [King].” The word has a lot of history, but the post-biblical concept says a descendant of David will restore the kingdom of Israel. As such, a last meal is celebrated.
Chabad held a Mystical Mashiach Meal at Chabad at the Beis Menachem Chabad Jewish Student Center in College Park at 7 p.m. Tuesday. As Tuesday was the last night of Passover, the last meal was literally called “the messiah’s meal.”
According to Charles Manekin, a professor of philosophy and director of the Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Center of Jewish Studies, the meal is based on a Chabad custom that claims the Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of the Hasidic sect, called the last meal of Passover “the messiah’s meal.”
“That’s the claim of Chabad, and they are the only Jewish sect that has the custom, and to my knowledge, the only people who attribute a messiah’s meal to the Ba’al Shem Tov,” said Manekin. “Other Jews have a final meal for other reasons.”
The Ba’al Shem Tov was a Jewish rabbi who lived in the eighteenth century and revolutionized Jewish thought through his teachings. He held that the purity of intent should be valued over achievement, and everyone could serve God through prayer.
Rabbi Eli Backman mentioned this teacher extensively throughout the meal, giving a background on why everyone outside of Israel celebrates the eight days of Passover instead of a traditional seven. The seventh day of Passover commemorates the final exodus from Egypt, during which God parted the Red Sea so the Israelites could escape the pursuing Egyptians. The eighth, however, day sets up the rest of the year to prepare oneself for the messiah.
Between talks, participants sang in Hebrew before Backman asked students if they had any reflections.
Zev Kaplowitz, a senior math major, talked about his upcoming trip to Israel following graduation, and his subsequent plans of joining the army. He asked questions about choice and freedom, to which the rabbi replied a person is not free completely to make their own choices in the army but he is allowed to make a choice because of a messiah.
Electronic devices and taking notes were forbidden during the meal, but even with an atmosphere students aren’t accustomed to, the table showed full attendance. The rabbi’s entire family attended, along with half a dozen students from this university. Not everyone was able to stay due to classes and homework.. The atmosphere was upbeat, however, even after 8:30 p.m. as the celebration of Passover came to an end.