What is the best way to usher in the Passover season? Not with handwringing and housecleaning, but with celebration, blessing and sweet joy!
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. (We have included a guide to performing the Bsisa below). 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.