This Dvar Torah was given by Rachel Eisen on April 6th, 2018
Passover 7th & 8th day/Shabbat – Rachel Eisen
I know that Passover feels like a lot. Last week, my Facebook feed was filled with the usual complaints about cleaning and plenty of jokes about what was found in the oddest of places, from chametz (leavening), to toys, and everything in between. I work at Mayyim Hayyim, a mikveh, and every year someone writes a blog post for us about immersing before Pesach – not just to spiritually prepare themselves for the holiday, but also to find relief from all the prep.
Then, of course, there are the think pieces that circulate in response: don’t you understand that we have to tell the story of Passover as if we, ourselves, were freed from Egypt? The hard work that we do to scrub our houses clean can only make us appreciate the freedom we celebrate at the seder even more.
Indeed, there is a lot of work for Passover — here, I’m loosely defining work as “things that have to be done or gotten through.” The Torah we read throughout the holiday reflects that. On the first day, we read about the paschal offering we must make in remembrance of the angel of death passing over the homes of Jewish slaves in Egypt. We continue to learn about the laws of sacrifice on the second day.
On the seventh day, we read about a different kind of work — not the work of remembrance, but the work it took to get to freedom: the parting of the sea, the wandering, the desperate need for water.
And coming up, on this eighth day, we will read about the work our community must continue to do: we must take yearly tithes of harvests, and we are once more reminded that we must make offering and sacrifices in order to observe Passover.
But amidst all this work, we also rejoice. On the seventh day of Passover, we read about how the Israelites broke out in song upon their escape from bondage. In the Torah reading for the eighth day of Passover, we are commanded twice to rejoice. And when, like this year, the eighth day falls on Shabbat, our expanded reading contains yet a third mandate.
I think it is significant that these specific, multiple commandments to rejoice come on the last day of Passover. If you pay attention, you’ll actually notice that none of the three seem to have anything to do with this particular holiday: the first (which is part of the Shabbat extension reading) has to do with how we live our everyday, or rather, everyyear lives – it is a directive to rejoice during the annual tithing. The second and third are commandments to rejoice during the two other major week-long festivals, Shavuot and Sukkot.
But these two other festivals of course have everything to do with Passover.
While Passover celebrates our physical freedom from bondage and slavery, Shavuot celebrates our spiritual freedom, gained through Torah and our covenant with God, and Sukkot commemorates the journey we took to become a people, in order to realize that spiritual freedom. Shavuot and Sukkot cannot exist without Passover.
What’s interesting is that the celebration of the Israelites at edge of sea that we read about on the seventh day is not technically referred to as “rejoicing.” It is primal, and reactionary. The Israelites break out into song and dance at the pure relief of finally being physically freed.
The commandments, samachta, “you shall rejoice,” that we find in our reading for the eighth day of Passover are similarly public, outward expressions of celebration. But in contrast to the primal celebration at the edge of the sea that was marred by the concurrent drowning deaths of God’s creatures — foes of the Israelites, to be sure, but as two different sages remind on us on two separate occasions in the Talmud, God’s creatures nonetheless — in this rejoicing we are obligated to include not just ourselves, but also people of all genders and ages, our own slaves, the strangers and the needy among us.
This is a rejoicing that understands not just physical freedom, but spiritual freedom and the journeys one must embark on to understand the difference. It includes all peoples and it is grounded in justice.
As we now draw toward the end of Passover, this holiday which is marked by effort and work, and continue on our journey toward Sinai and covenant with God, I encourage you to consider what it means to rejoice intentionally and what it means to rejoice for justice and spiritual freedom, too.