This Year, Let’s Sing the Sephardic Bibhilu at Every Seder Table

April 7, 2020
Photo from PxHere.

In these pandemic times, as we prepare for Passover seders that will be unlike any other, we can all use a special blessing.

Well, I have a suggestion. It’s a blessing Moroccan Jews, as well as some Tunisians, Algerians and Yemenites have been reciting for generations at the beginning of the Passover seder.

Ever since I was a toddler growing up in Morocco, I have never forgotten this moment. We were giddy with anticipation. Right before the beginning of the haggadah, my father would pick up the seder plate and wave it over the head of every person sitting at the table.

Meanwhile, everyone would sing the special blessing:

“Bibhilu yasanu mi-mitzrayim, ha lahma ‘anya, bené horin,”

(“With haste we left Egypt, this is poor bread, [now] we are free.”)

It’s a tradition that has never left me. Even if we have 30 people around the table—and we’ve had that amount—every person receives the blessing.

No one is left behind. It feels like that’s what we need this year more than ever: A statement that we’re all in this together. Even if we can’t see one another, even if we will have three people at our seders instead of 30, everyone receives the blessing.

Everyone is blessed to be liberated from this horrible disease and reach the ultimate destination: “We are free.”

There is a more mystical reason for this blessing—it’s connected to the Divine.

A few years ago, my friend Rabbi Daniel Bouskila explained the significance of the Sephardic seder plate, in kabbalistic terms:

“The three matzot correspond to keter (crown), chochmah (wisdom) and binah (understanding); the shank bone corresponds to chesed (kindness); the egg corresponds to gevurah (strength); the bitter herbs correspond to tiferet (beauty); the charoset corresponds to netzach (victory), the karpas corresponds to hod (splendor), the hazeret corresponds to yesod (foundation); and the seder plate itself represents malchut (kingship).”

The seder plate, he concluded, is no longer just a platter carrying a selection of ritual items. The special arrangement and designations, which he attributes to the great kabbalist from Tsfat known as the Ari (Rabbi Isaac Luria), transforms the seder plate into a “sacred representation of God.”

In other words, when the seder plate is waved above our heads during Bibhilu, we are being blessed by the spiritual strength of the Divine, as represented by the sefirot, or attributes of God. For the rest of the evening, the presence of the seder plate on the table represents the presence of the Divine in our midst.

Doesn’t that sound like something we can all use right about now?

Here is yours truly singing the melody.

You have time to practice before the seder.

May we all be blessed to see better days and say, “We are free.”

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