The Mysterious Ziz

The morning after the Pesach Seder, a Yid approached Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein very much moved by something that had happened at his Seder. “I feel obligated to relate to the rov what my son did last night,” he said emotionally, “so that others may learn how deep the purity of a Yiddishe child is.

“As is the custom in many Yiddishe homes, our children compete with each other in finding the Afikoman. It’s exciting for them and keeps them awake. On the Seder night, I was surprised to see that one of my younger sons, who’s usually shy and laid back, was very active in finding the Afikoman and securing it for himself. To everyone’s surprise, it was this child who ended up with the matzoh. When I asked him for it to fulfill the mitzvah, he answered with a determined look on his face that he will not return the precious matzoh until we promise him, as is our custom, to buy him a nice present.

“I was a bit concerned. When a young child asks for a present, not always can his request be fulfilled. It could be something that we cannot afford or something that isn’t good for him to have. And how, then, would we fulfill the mitzvah? Certainly we won’t take it away from him with force.

“I asked him, ‘Yossele, what would you like for your gift?’

“His answer surprised all of us and brought tears to our eyes.

“‘Totty,’ he said, ‘I don’t want a present. All I want from you is a bracha. I want you to bless me that I will be successful in learning Torah and that I may be able to honor Totty and Mommy properly. If you give me this bracha, I will return the Afikoman immediately,’ he said with an earnest face.”

Understandably, the deal was consummated immediately. The father placed his hands on the boy’s head and, in a choked-up voice, bestowed upon him his most heartfelt bracha. The child felt so fortunate. One could see a look of elation on his face.

Rav Zilberstein added that the father was not a gaon in Torah or a well-known tzaddik. He was a simple ehrliche Yid. Yet, his young child understood how precious a father’s bracha is and that it carries special powers and effects. And he cherished this more than any other prize.

On Pesach night, we sit before Hashem as the heavens are opened above us. Our Father in Shomayim is happy to bestow upon us His blessings. All we have to do is fulfill the mitzvos of the night and put our minds and hearts into the avodah. Each and every point of the Seder carries a separate bracha, treasures that remain with us for eternity.

Among the many fascinating things about Yiddishkeit are our customs that have been passed down through our mesorah from generation to generation. Pesach is chock full of minhagim, and it is especially interesting to discover reasons we were never aware of for things we have been doing our entire lives. One of the time-honored traditions mentioned in the Mishnah (Pesachim 114a) is to put two cooked items on the Ke’arah, or Seder plate. The Gemara there explains that this is a remembrance of the two korbanos we ate on this night during the times of the Bais Hamikdosh, the Korban Pesach and the Korban Chagigah.

There is a machlokes in the Gemara as to precisely what these two cooked items should be. One accepted minhag is to place a roasted bone with some meat on it as a zeicher for the Korban Pesach, and a beitzah, a hardboiled egg, for the Chagigah. Why these two objects in particular?

The Bais Yosef (Orach Chaim 473) says that the bone represents an outstretched arm with which Hashem redeemed us, and the egg is a symbol of mourning over the Bais Hamikdosh and over the fact that we cannot bring the Korban Pesach at the present time.

Recently, I came across another reason for the beitzah. The Shibolei Haleket, written by Rabbeinu Tzidkiyahu Bar Rabbeinu Avrohom, a Rishon, writes that the egg is a reminder of the ziz. What, you ask, is a ziz? I wondered that myself. It is based on a posuk in Tehillim (20:11). Hashem says, “I know every bird in the mountains, veziz sodai imadi, and what creeps upon My fields is with me.” Rashi explains that this creature creeps in the fields. The name ziz implies movement, as it moves from place to place. This, in and of itself, is pertinent on this special night, for the posuk tells us that Hashem knows even the small organisms that creep in the field. Surely He watches over us, His beloved nation. This is the central theme of Pesach.

 But apparently, this is not what the Shibolei Haleket meant. He writes that the minhag is to place a fish and an egg on the plate. The fish is a remez to the Livyoson, which we will eat when Moshiach comes, and the beitzah is for the ziz. Evidently, this, too, will be food we eat in the future.

The Gemara (Bava Basra 73b) quotes Rabbah Bar Bar Chanah, who related, “One time, we were traveling on a ship and we saw this bird with water up to its ankles and its head reaching the sky…” Rav Ashi said this was the ziz. The Medrash says that when the ziz spreads its wings, it covers the entire form of the sun and it is a bird of many various tastes (Yalkut, Tehillim 50:15). This, too, is very appropriate and timely, for on this night of geulah, we envision the wonderful blessings that we will experience with the final redemption.

This is puzzling, however. According to this, the ziz is a gargantuan bird. How does this correlate with Rashi’s translation of it as a creature that creeps in the field? It would seem that the ziz is quite miniscule in size. Perhaps there is a deeper remez inherent in the ziz.

Not everything is the way it appears. You can see something that at first glance appears large and of great significance, but after further investigation it becomes clear that it has little importance. Conversely, we may see something that doesn’t impress us at first, but with a bit more reflection we recognize that it is of great value. Big things can come in small packages. It is the same with numbers. A large amount is not necessarily reflective of true value. This is a message we see in the song Echad Mi Yodeia that we sing on the night of Pesach. Those numbers that we sing about are very small. But look at the immeasurable prominence that they entail. One is Hashem… Two are the Luchos Habris… Three are the avos… Four are the imahos. Etc.

The ziz, in fact, is born as a tiny creature that creeps across the fields. But looks can be deceiving. It has tremendous growth potential far and beyond what anyone could imagine. In its full size, its head reaches the sky and its wingspan covers the sun. And here is where things get really interesting. You see that this bird, which will be fed in the future, is very much like the people who will be indulging in it. For we, too, appear nowadays as regular in size, but when Moshiach comes, things will be quite different.

Rav Yochanan sat and darshened, “In the future, Hashem will bring precious stones and diamonds that are thirty amos by thirty amos and carve out an entrance ten amos wide and twenty amos tall and place them at the gates of Yerushalayim…” The Gemara asks how this will be high enough for us. We learned that Rav Meir says that we will be two hundred amos tall and Rav Yehuda says that we will only be one hundred amos tall, but according to everyone, an entrance of twenty amos will not suffice. The Gemara answers that those will only be the windows of the gates, but the entrances themselves will be much higher (Bava Basra 75a).

This tremendous growth spurt will indicate our true stature. In golus, when there is hester ponim and the truth is obscured, we appear to the world as regular people. For to a society that worships the body and gives in to all of its desires and ignores anything spiritual, things are evaluated by the way they appear to the naked eye. But in Shomayim, we appear totally different. “Even the transgressors in Yisroel are filled with mitzvos like a pomegranate” (Eiruvin 19a). Surely Yidden who strive to fulfill the Will of Hashem are great and of a stature beyond what we can imagine. When Moshiach comes and the pure emes will be revealed, the entire world will see our true eminence and they will pay us the homage we deserve.

On this night of Pesach, when we experience a bit of the clarity that we will have during the times of Moshiach, we must remember who we truly are. Because of the hardships of golus, our own personal challenges and the constant bad news going on around the world, we can easily get depressed and forget who we really are. The ziz reminds us that our true appearance is much different than the way we feel, that our stature is truly magnified in the eyes of Hashem and it is serving Him amidst our struggles that makes us so great.

It is also a reminder about the importance of every single minhag that we keep. Even the most minute detail is important. Even something that seems insignificant entails tremendous spiritual nutrients that help us grow into this tremendous stature that we will realize in the future. Each one carries an abundance of blessings from Hashem. May we all be zoche to prepare ourselves for this great avodah of the Seder. There is still some time left. Perhaps we will be zoche to celebrate our newly found elevation b’Yerushalayim habenuyah. Chag kosher vesomei’ach.