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The hillel sandwich

R. Steve Bernstein


Zechariah 12 CJB

10 and I will pour out on the house of David and on those living in Yerushalayim a spirit of grace and prayer; and they will look to me, whom they pierced." They will mourn for him as one mourns for an only son; they will be in bitterness on his behalf like the bitterness for a firstborn son.

This verse from Zechariah has rather obvious messianic overtones. The sages have some very interesting things to say about it in their interpretation.

Talmud Bavli Sukkah 52a

What is the cause of the mourning [mentioned in the last cited verse, Zech 12.10]? — R. Dosa and the Rabbis differ on the point. One explained, The cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph,7 and the other explained, The cause is the slaying of the Evil Inclination. It is well according to him who explains that the cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, since that well agrees with the Scriptural verse, And they shall look upon me because they have thrust him through, and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for his only son;

According to the sages, this verse, Zechariah 12.10, speaks of Israel mourning, because of the slaying of the Messiah, son of Joseph. The Talmud specifically indicates the Messiah, son of Joseph, differentiating between him and Messiah son of David. It is interesting that in the time the conclusion of the discussion is given before the discussion itself. The discussion continues after the conclusion, but really only brings out why the verse cannot be construed as indicating mourning for the death of the evil inclination. This is a strong indication as to the strength of the opinion that Zechariah 12. 10 is referring to the death of the Messiah, son of Joseph. Not surprisingly, anti-missionaries choose not to look at this particular section of Talmud.

We are in the season of Pesach, the season of our freedom. Because the Torah teaches us,”when your children ask,” we sit down on Erev Pesach for the Seder meal. Yeshua held a school Seder with his talmidim the evening before the actual Seder. Most of the elements of the Seder were present at this school Seder, but the Korban Pesach, the sacrifice itself was missing. The other main elements of the Seder were present, the matzoh, and the bitter herbs.

During the Seder, immediately before the festive meal itself is eaten, there is a very interesting practice. This practice was instituted by Hillel, who had passed away only some 10 years before Yeshua’s birth. This practice was the eating of matzoh and bitter herbs together.

Today, we call it the Hillel sandwich. We engage in this practice because, as Hillel points out, Torah commands us to eat it (the Passover offering) with matzoh and bitter herbs. In light of Zechariah 12.10, we can see an even deeper meaning and understanding.

Understanding that the cause of the mourning of the children of Israel is the death of the Messiah, son of Joseph, the unique son, and the bitterness of his travails, brings the ceremony of the Hillel sandwich into a new light. Mixing the matzoh, symbolic of Yeshua’s body, with the bitter herbs, symbolic of his travails, is all the more poignant because of the sages understanding of Sukkah 12a.

John 13 CJB

21 After saying this, Yeshua, in deep anguish of spirit, declared, "Yes, indeed! I tell you that one of you will betray me."

22 The talmidim stared at one another, totally mystified -- whom could he mean?

23 One of his talmidim, the one Yeshua particu larly loved, was reclining close beside him.

24 So Shim`on Kefa motioned to him and said, "Ask which one he's talking about."

25 Leaning against Yeshua's chest, he asked Yeshua, "Lord, who is it?"

26 Yeshua answered, "It's the one to whom I give this piece of matzah after I dip it in the dish." So he dipped the piece of matzah and gave it to Y'hudah Ben-Shim`on from K'riot.

According to verse 26, Yeshua is dipping a piece of matzoh into a dish. What part of this Seder ceremony is this? Since the time of Hillel, we know that matzoh is being dipped into a dish of horseradish, so that we may eat matzoh and bitter herbs together, as Hillel instructed. Yeshua is making the Hillel sandwich. He is taking matzoh, symbolic of his body, mixing it with bitter earth’s, symbolic the bitterness of his travails, and handing it to his betrayer.

This year, as we sit and eat the Pesach Seder together, let us remember the bitterness of Yeshua’s travails and His sacrifice for us as we eat the Hillel sandwich. Make a point to actually dip our matzoh into a bowl of horseradish, as Yeshua did. Have a blessed and meaningful Pesach.

Sat, February 24 2024 15 Adar I 5784