11 May HAG HAMIMOUNA
from Maghen Abot by Ribi Mordekhai Lebhar s”t
Every Moroccan knows about and anticipates the end of Pesah in order to celebrate Hag haMimouna, one of the most festive and enjoyable holidays of the year. We have the custom to eat special foods such as moufleta and sbeqia, sing songs, play festive Arabic music, decorate our houses, dress in djelaba oulkaftan, and much more. We open our houses to the people of the community and allow them to come in and taste from the wonderful foods and take part in this joyous occasion. It is only after one of our friends walks into the finely decorated house, praises the table spread, and begins asking questions, that we realize we don’t really know so much about this beautiful holiday.
Origins of Mimouna
Contrary to popular belief, the Mimouna is not exclusively a Moroccan minhag (custom). In Turkey, Syria, Tunisia, and other countries, the common minhag was to put out a bowl of flour with coins or green vegetables a sign of berakha (blessing) that the future will bring. It seems that the underlying theme of Mosaé Pesah is one of a time for berakhot.
Ribi Eliyahou Bitton s”t in his sefer Netibot haMa’arab explains that Mimouna dates back to the time of the Geonim. The final day of Pesah is associated with the coming of the Mashiah (the Messiah), and as we conclude the Hag haGeula (Pesah) our hopes turn to the building of the third Bet haMikdash and partaking in the feast of the Mashiah, speedily in our days, Amen. It is for this reason that we read the traditional ‘Od Hayom haftara (in Hebrew and Arabic, or Ladino), which discusses the arrogant Sanherib’s conquest of Jerusalem and his subsequent downfall, with many allusions to the Pesah redemption from Egypt and the final redemption that is still to come, b”H. With this, our hopes of the Mashiah’s arrival are high at the end of Pesah, but many are left downtrodden and depressed after the Hag when he does not arrive. Therefore, Mimouna is done to uplift the spirit of the people of ‘Am Yisrael, to strengthen their emuna (faith) and to assure them that the Mashiah is still just around the corner, even though he might not have come this Pesah.
The Noheg BeHokhma by Ribi Yosef Benaim zs”l brings several other possible reasons for the holiday of Mimouna:
- The Jews of Tripoli in Libya who have a tradition that the Rambam’s father passed away on the 29th of Nisan and the Mimouna celebrations are in memory of him (according to this, the name Mimouna comes from Maimon, the Rambam’s father).
- The word Mimouna refers to food, and this night marks the time when it is again permissible to eat staple grain foods, hence the custom to eat moufleta and couscous on this night.
- In Tafilalet, Morocco there were refugees from a city near Sudan called Temimona, which had been destroyed, and they prayed during Pesah that G-d return them to their ancestral homeland.
- Mimouna is related to the Hebrew word for faith, emuna, and this celebration is an expression of the Jews faith in G-d that they will be redeemed in the month of Nisan, just as the Redemption from Egypt happened in Nisan.
As we see, the reasons behind this night are deep and meaningful, therefore we should be especially vigilant to keep an aura of holiness to the night, and not, has veshalom, waste the tremendous opportunity the night has to offer to achieve higher levels of kedusha.
Practices of Mimouna
An especially important practice that was common in Morocco was that on the night of the Mimouna one would go to a Tora scholar and asks for his blessing.
Noheg BeHokhma mentions an account in the Talmud (Pesahim 30a) where Raba went to see his teacher Rab Nahman on the last day of Pesah; this seems to be the source for the custom of going to a Tora scholar to ask his blessing on the night of Mimouna. In the writings of the Arizal it is mentioned that special spiritual emanations descend on the last day of Pesah thus making it an ‘et rason, an opportune time, to receive blessings.
The minhag we have to prepare and eat moufleta on Mimouna stems from that which the Kaf HaHayim wrote (Siman 491, sq 11) that the Gaon MiVilna zs”l would strive to taste some hames immediately after Pesah. The reason behind this is to declare that we never really wanted to refrain from eating hames, rather we did it solely in order to fulfil the commandment to do so. We show this by eating hames as soon as we are allowed to. Ribi Haim Halberstam of Sanz zs”l (1793-1876) would make habdala at the end of Pesah on beer specifically for this reason.
Other Foods and Customs
The Moroccan Jews have the minhag to place various foods on the Mimouna table which all serve as a good sign and to ward off any bad luck or other bad items that prevent berakha (blessing). Some of these foods include: a whole fresh fish, fresh fava beans in their shells, a bowl of flour, a jug of buttermilk (le Petit Lait/Llbn) to make brkoks, dried fruits, lettuce, butter, honey, almonds, and dates. Some stick five fava bean stalks alone in the flour to symbolize abundant food (the flour) and the spring months (the greens), in hopes that the produce of the fields would be bountiful. Others place five eggs, five green fava beans, and a cup of oil in the flour. All of these are arranged in fives to ward off the evil eye throughout the year and to bring only berakhot.
Many have the minhag to put gold jewellery or cash bills in the flour, and to put a plate on the table with the fresh fish laid out on a bed of romaine lettuce with coins lining the plate, and a coin covering the eye of the fish. This so that we should multiply (like the fish) and be prosperous (the money). The minhag of Ouazan (and other parts of Spanish Morocco) is to take a pinch of flour and smear it on the foreheads of everyone present for berakha.
Many have the custom that the head of the family dips leaves of Romaine lettuce into butter and honey and gives it to each member of the family to eat along with a special blessing. This is done to show that on Pesah we dipped the lettuce in maror but now we are free and dip in honey. Some do this with dates and butter in them (Tmar Bj’bda), because dates in the Tora are referred to as debash (honey), and eating them represents a good sign and a good mazal (destiny). This night we say to one another “Trbhu Usadu” – “You should be prosperous and successful”, and some say “Trbhu Usadu Utfarhu” – “You should be prosperous, successful, and happy”. Ribi Yedidya Monsonego zs”l, the former Chief Rabbi of Morocco, explained this common custom, that when the Jewish people left Egypt and crossed the sea (which happened on the seventh day of Pesah), they were too busy taking stock of the Egyptians wealth that they did not wish each other success or blessing until after the holiday, hence we bless our friends on this night.
 The era of the Geonim took place from 4349-4798 [589-1038 C.E.] which followed the Amoraim (Talmudic Era) and preceded the Rishonim.
 Baal Sem Tob, Hayom Yom, pp. 47