At the beginning of the first Palestinian uprising, the Israeli army built an open-air prison called Ketziot, near the border with Egypt. The prison, which was meant to warehouse Palestinians arrested in Gaza and the West Bank, sat a few miles from the site of Kadesh Barnea, where Moses defied God. Moses was punished for his transgression when God denied him entrance to the Promised Land. The prison at Ketziot held, at various times, as many as six thousand Palestinians, from the lowliest rock throwers to the leaders of the uprising. Three hundred or so Israeli soldiers made up the staff. The food, for prisoners and soldiers alike, was kosher, because the Israeli army is a kosher army. So at Passover, the prisoners ate only matzah, just as the soldiers did.

One Passover day, a leader of the prisoners, a terrorist who had murdered a Jew several years earlier, summoned a soldier to the barbed-wire fence that surrounded the compound. He explained politely, with a good deal of hesitation, that the Palestinian prisoners didn't actually like the taste of matzah. The solder said, "We don't like it either" and explained the notion of the bread of affliction. "But we're the afflicted!" the prisoner cried out. The soldier said, "You murdered a Jew and you say you're afflicted?" The conversation went nowhere, as these sorts of conversations tend to do. And yet the soldier learned something from the encounter.

A couple of days earlier, at the soldier's seder--a rushed seder under an army tent--the afikoman was broken, signifying, among other things, the shattering pain of enslavement. At the end of the seder, when each participant is meant to eat a piece of the afikoman, thereby completing the journey to the wholeness of freedom, the soldier ate, but with an unsettled feeling. It was, he realized later, a feeling of ongoing affliction that made the afikoman bitter.

The afikoman is a very useful metaphor. A child's literal search for the afikoman symbolizes our own search for wholeness. We have within us a profound desire for harmony, for feeling at one with our fellow men and women. Prisons symbolize the brokenness of the world. And yet we are tragically aware that we need them. The afikoman is a reminder that, for now, the world is unfixed, that it is, in its own way, a prison, in which even the free are captives.

haggadah Section: Maror
Source: The New American Haggadah