Next week at this time I will undoubtedly be scrambling to be ready for seder. If there even is such a thing as being ready. I take comfort thinking of our Israelites ancestors who left in a haste. Our rushed preparations have mythic precedent. So I am going to take this opportunity to share some seder Torah in anticipation.
The Haggadah famously teaches, "In every generation, each of us is obligated to see ourselves as if we personally went out from mitzrayim." Years ago I learned a beloved Sefardi custom from my teacher Rabbi Ebn Leader that I think most honestly fulfills this teaching. Every year at our seder, when we arrive at the Maggid section, we physically go outside and find the famous full moon of Nisan. And then we walk by its light around the block. Like all good rituals, it begins as a theatrical moment, inviting our kids to reenact a mythic story. But inevitably it becomes part of our story too.
Certainly the journey from the front door of our row home to the backdoor is hardly a sea-crossing. But nonetheless, there is a felt sense of this collective leave-taking. And certainly a cry of "Dayenu!" from the little ones.
While the Israelites left b'hetzi ha'lailah - in the middle of the night - we are more likely to be doing this at 6pm than midnight. Nonetheless, I am already anticipating the magnetic pull of that luminous moon, which, according to some, has the power to turn day into night.
The song of this month, as curated in our newsletter by Rabbi Mó, is called "Karev Yom." Its haunting melody attributed to the Baal Shem Tov draws on the closing words of a 6th-century piyyut by Yannai that appears in the concluding Nirtzah section of the Haggadah:
Karev yom / Bring close the day
A-sher hu lo yom v'lo layla / which is neither day nor night...
Ta-ir k'or yom chesh-kat layla / Illuminate, like the light of day, the darkness of night.
Every year as I stand beneath the full moon, I Imagine the desert headlamp it must have been, and still is for so many. So strong was its light, that it was able to transform the darkness of night into the light of day.
The full poem is actually called "Vayehi bahatzi HaLayla" / "And so it will be in the middle of the night" and it is actually a reworking of a midrash in Bamidbar Rabbah 20, which describes all the miracles that took place in the middle of the night. Moments like Jacob wrestling with the angel, Israel's escape from Mitzrayim, King Ahashverosh's decision to save Mordechai and the Jews, to name a few. The poem goes on to make the bold claim that רב נסים בחצי הלילה / "most miracles happen in the middle of the night."
Most often I think of night as a time of increased danger and profound vulnerability. Our liturgy calls on the Holy One to spread over us a canopy of protection as we descend into the dreamworld. Eager to wake and express gratitude for the return of breath to our bodies.
But here this poem reminds us that night can also be a time of miraculous transformation. This should be a comfort to those of us who struggle to sleep. It is in the middle of the night that the seams of the world are loosened and more things are possible. Not to mention, most births happen at night.
As we sit around our seder tables this year, I invite you to call close the day that is neither day nor night, the liminal time where miracles abound. Just as the haste of our ancestors made way for unimagined freedom, may our hurried preparations bring us closer to a world that is entirely just and peaceful.
Shabbat Shalom and wishing you each a Zisn Pesach,
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.