The 'Bsisa' ritual being performed at a Beit Midrash in Jerusalem
At this time of year, midway between Purim and Pesah, Jewish women from Tunisia and Libya have preserved a strange custom which involves turning their house key in a bowl full of barley, fruit, honey and oil. (It is not clear if the mixture was then eaten). My Jewish Learning explains:
On Rosh Hodesh, the first day of Nisan, the Jewish month during which we celebrate Passover, Jews from Tunisia and Libya partake in a ritual called “Bsisa” or “El Bsisa.” The ritual serves as a bridge between the holidays of Purim and Passover and takes place entirely in the home. The ritual is centered around a dish called the “Bsisa” which is made in a deep bowl and is filled wheat, barley, dried fruits, honey, olive oil and other sweets. Since in the biblical narrative, Rosh Hodesh Nisan is the culmination of the building of the Mishkan, the holy tabernacle in the desert, the dish is meant to replicate what Moses made in celebration of completing the building of the Mishkan.
The ritual differs from community to community in Tunisia and Libya, but according to those who remember celebrating the custom in those countries there are a number of important features. In all communities the focal point of the ritual was the turning of a key in the Bsisa mixture while a blessing in Arabic was recited (see translation below). In addition to the traditional formulaic blessing, it was common for the mother of the family to offer additional blessings. In some communities it was common to lock the doors of the home from sundown until the next morning and not allow any members of the house to leave. In others, women took off their gold necklaces and bracelets and placed them in the “Bsisa” to symbolize the gold that women donated to the building of the temple.
What is clear throughout these various customs is the mirroring or replicating function that the Bsisa played in offering the celebration of the building of the Mishkan and the Temple to be understood on the level of each individual home.
The role of the mother of the family cannot be understated in this ritual. In many communities the preparations for Passover were incredibly time consuming and intensive. In Tunisia and Libya, Jews would begin making matzah immediately after Purim and the entire community would join together in preparing for the holiday. Amidst these intense preparations, the Bsisa would mark the high point in the work leading up to Passover. It is clear that not only did women lead these preparations but they also did so with great intention and leadership.
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Bsisa Instructions and Translation
Ingredients: 2 cups Barley (cooked), ½ cup wheat berries (cooked), date honey, almonds, dried fruit (dates, figs etc), fennel seeds, coriander, additional sweets, candies and olive oil.
It is also traditional for women in the family to place gold jewelry in the Bsisa mix in memory of the gold that women donated to building of the Mishkan.
Place all ingredients in a deep dish or bowl and mix them slightly- additional mixing will happen later.
- The head of the household (traditionally the mother) holds the key to the home in her right hand and turns it in the Bsisa In her left hand she holds a bottle of olive oil
- The head of the household pours the olive oil into the Bsisa while mixing with the oil and ensures that the oil covers the fingers of each members of the house. The blessing for the Bsisa is recited and any general blessings that the mother has for the household are included.
- All family members place a finger (does not matter which finger it is) over the center of the bowl
- Each member of the family then takes the key and individually turns the key in the Bsisa mix. The key can be used as a spoon as well. While the member of the family turns the key they recite the Bsisa The mother of the family then adds additional individual blessings for each individual.
יַא פַתַח בְּלַא מַפְתַח
Ya Ftach Ble Miftach You, who opens without a key
יַא עַטַאי בְּלַא מַנַא
Ya Atai Ble Mna You, who gives without any donation
אֻרְזֻקְנַה וַרְזֻק מִנַּה
Arzekna Varzook Mina Give (success) to us and to others
וַרְזֻק לְעַבֵּיד לְכֻּלֻלְנַה
Varzook LeAbeid LeKoololina And give to all of us the believers