Shabbat and Rabbit Hunting

April 22, 2016

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, April 22, 2016.

Shabbat and Rabbit Hunting

This odd Passover illustration appearing in a Passover Haggadah published in Prague in 1526, depicts a rabbit hunt complete with a mounted shofar blowing hunter, hunting dogs, and hares. Although this particular Haggadah is called “The Hare Hunting Haggadah,” it’s actually a theme in several early printed Haggadahs. What? Hare hunting? Passover? What could the connection possibly be?

Well... it’s all the fault of the Shabbat. There are so many blessings at the beginning of the seder, that remembering the order of the blessings can be complicated, especially if a seder (this year, the second seder) is on a Saturday night.  Do you do Havdalah? (The ceremony that marks the end of the Sabbath and the beginning of the work week.) Or, maybe you don’t – the second night of Passover isn’t really the work  week. Do you light a candle before the seder like you would on a weeknight? What gives?

DON’T WORRY ABOUT A THING! There is a special mnemonic abbreviation designed to help you remember what to do. (Bear with me... I know this doesn’t seem to have anything to do with rabbits. Yet.) That abbreviation is:

(Pronounced YaKNeHaZ)

Broken down, it’s the first letter of the name of each of the blessings at the beginning of the seder:

Ya… Yayin. WINE (The basic blessing over wine.)

K...  Kiddush (The more extended blessing after the wine blessing that blesses God for the Exodus from Egypt.)

Ne… Ner (Candle), the blessing for the holiday candle. This is a little complicated because if you are observant, you can’t really light a match to light the candle. However, since it’s the second night of Passover, you can use an already lit flame to light the holiday light. People used to use the “pilot light” of their stoves (that’s a flame that’s always on, and ignites the gas when you turn on the burner), or a candle that burns for over 48 hours.

Ha… Havdalah. The blessing for the Havdalah candle. Usually the blessing mentions the separation between the Holy and the Profane, but on this night it blesses the separation between “the Holy and the Holy.”

Z... Zman. Season. This is the Shehecheyanu blessing praising God for bringing us to this season. (Actually, we won’t be saying this blessing because it’s actually the second night of Passover, and not the first night.)

OK. So this whole acronym is Yaknehaz, right? Well for German (or Yiddish) speaking people, this word sounds like “Jag den Has” which means “The Hunt of the Hare!” Hence the illustration of a Rabbit Hunt! I know, I know… it sounds like a lot of trouble to remember the order of the blessings on Saturday night if that night is actually the second night of Passover. However, it’s really more than that. This “Hunt of the Hare (or Rabbit)” in the Haggadah has taken on huge symbolic meaning. Especially for Medieval Jews, the hunt of the rabbit symbolized the vulnerable position that we Jews have been in through much of history. It was as though we were hunted by enemies and those who hated us. Notice, in the illustration, that the rabbits are escaping. They are un-captured. They survive just as the Jews have survived through the millennia.

Shabbat Shalom, and Chag Sameach... Happy Passover