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Seder El-Tawhid: Historical Perspective

The Egyptian Jews have an ancient custom to celebrate the night of Rosh Hodesh Nisan with a unique ceremony called ‘Seder El-Tawhid’. Kehilat Ahaba Ve Ahva, under the leadership of Morenu Hacham Alouf Shlit”a, has had the merit to carry on this precious custom here in the United States. It is a legacy which we are proud to continue and pass on to our descendants. In maintaining and preserving this custom, we display our true appreciation of the great traditions which our ancestors and Hachamim have bequeathed to us. As well, we fulfill the wishes of one of Egypt’s greatest Hachamim, Ribbi Refael Aharon Ben Shimon ZS”L (Chief Rabbi of Egypt 1891- 1921) who wrote the following in his Nehar Misrayim:

      “This custom has found much favor in my eyes, worthy are those who started it, worthy are those who established it, worthy are those who maintain it. To my great dismay, however, this custom has weakened... and there is nobody who is vying to ensure that this custom, which is unique to the land of Egypt, is strengthened…  Though I have great faith in G-D that this wonderful custom will be renewed in its’ full glory, and G-D will not withhold blessings from those who follow in his ways”…

The Seder is a religious ceremony in which special pesukim, piyutim, and prayers are recited. The liturgy relates to the themes of Rosh Hodesh Nisan, and is sung with beautiful melodies which elicit great joy and uplift the spirit. There is an oral tradition that this custom is over 800 years old, since the time of Rabenu Abraham the son of the Rambam. As well, a candle lighting ceremony takes place in which candles are lit to honor and commemorate our holy ancestors. We begin with our holy forefathers, then our prophets, followed by various great Talmudic scholars, culminating with the commemoration of the great Hachamim who served the Jews of Egypt throughout the years.   

Commemoration of the Past  
On Rosh Hodesh Nisan, Bene Yisrael received a long awaited message from Hashem. Moshe Rabenu informed them that they would finally be redeemed on the 15th of Nisan. The announcement itself was cause for great joy. After years of slavery, their hopes and dreams would finally be realized, and they would become the nation of Hashem. Hence, we read the Torah portion which contains these good tidings in order to commemorate the proclamation of the upcoming redemption and to celebrate it as well. The custom is even more meaningful to the Jews of Egypt, as they lived in the actual land and cities in which this proclamation was made thousands of years earlier.

Look towards the Future
As we commemorate the past, we also look towards the future. There is a Talmudic dictum “We were redeemed in Nissan, and in Nissan we are destined to be redeemed again”. As the month of redemption begins, we celebrate the past redemption and anticipate the coming redemption. This celebration serves to strengthen our faith and yearning towards the forthcoming redemption. Although the nation of Yisrael has experienced a long and bitter exile, we are confident that just as Hashem redeemed our ancestors who were oppressed and persecuted, He will redeem us from our oppressors as well. (Nehar Misrayim: Hilchot Pesah 2)

Time of Renewal
While Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the Jewish year, the month of Nisan is considered to be the first month. Hence, in a sense, Rosh Hodesh Nisan is similar to Rosh Hashanah. It represents a time of rebirth and renewal. It is for this very reason that the Mishkan was erected on this day as atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf. (Derasha of Hacham Alouf Parashat Ki Tisa 5776).  
Has the Tawhid changed in America? 
The authentic Tawhid contained ‘Seder Hayihoud’ (in literary Arabic) which told the story of the greatness of the Creator, His uniqueness, His wonders, and the great acts of kindness He has done with His people. The language stirred the hearts of the people with most powerful and amazing ideas about the awesome and unique Creator. The meaning behind this original Seder would be lost on our congregation nowadays (as there are only a handful of people left who understand literary Arabic). In lieu of this, our talented Hazzanim sing songs of praise and thanks to the Almighty. Many songs speak of our constant yearning for the time when Hashem will once again redeem his nation. 

May we merit to see the Redemption speedily in our days, Amen!

Wed, June 12 2024 6 Sivan 5784