Pesach is drawing to a close, the week seems to have flown by with visits to Jerusalem, family get togethers, and generally eating and enjoying ourselves (and finally, the beautiful weather after a very cold rainy start!).
The seventh day of Pesach, “Shvi’i shel Pesach”, begins tonight, running straight on into Shabbat tomorrow night, giving us an “8-day Pesach” along with our fellow Jews in the Diaspora (who celebrate an extra day of the festival).
One of our visits was to the Kotel, as we do every Pesach and Sukkot, in order to fulfil the mitzva of aliya le’regel (pilgrimage). Despite the cold weather the Old City was packed to overflowing, and the kotel saw over 750,000 visitors this Pesach! This is almost a miracle in itself!
Shvi’i shel Pesach is the day the Children of Israel finally crossed the Red Sea into the Sinai Desert after fleeing Egypt, witnessing the miraculous Splitting of the Sea.
Crossing the Red Sea was not merely a physical feat for the Israelites. It was an expression of courage and faith, for the first one to jump into the sea, Nachshon Ben Aminadav, jumped into the sea before it had split. He had complete faith in Hashem that a miracle would occur. It was his faith that inspired the Israelites to follow him.
The Temple Institute writes:
Nisan 20, 5779/April 25, 2019
One week ago, we all sat at our Seder and told the story of how G-d redeemed us, (not just our forefathers, but us), from Egypt. How, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm He delivered us from slavery. One minute we were slaves, and the next minute we were bnei chorin – a free people!
But it wasn’t quite like that. Yes, it is true that at midnight of the fifteenth of Nisan G-d struck the firstborns of Egypt and Pharaoh, defeated, devastated, and utterly demoralized, told the children of Israel to leave Egypt at once. And Israel did, marching into the unknown with their unleavened bread. But soon after, Pharaoh, in one last tragic stroke of egotistical madness, did an about face and ordered his legions to pursue the escaping Israelites into the desert, where he was certain he could capture them and bring them back.
And that brings us to what we celebrate tonight, the Seventh, and final, day of Passover: the crossing of the Sea of Reeds and leaving the nightmare of Egypt behind us forever. It is true that G-d blessed Israel with two ‘free-people’ and ‘nation-building’ commandments just before leaving Egypt, the commandment to be responsible for the marking of the new moons and seasons, and thereby captains of our own destiny, and the commandment of the Passover offering, the bold performance of which united us as a people and fused our fate forever with the G-d of Israel. But there was one final step which the newborn nation needed to take before finally meriting to say goodbye to Egypt forever: Israel needed to demonstrate its ability to take the initiative, to forge ahead with the complete trust that the G-d who liberated them would be with them always, every step of the way. “HaShem said to Moshe, Why do you cry out to Me? Speak to the children of Israel and let them travel!” (Exodus 14:15) It is time, G-d was saying, for you, Israel, to take your own steps. You decide where your future lies, and don’t let anything, even the seemingly impassable sea which lies before you, to stop you. I, HaShem, believe in you. Show me that you believe in yourselves!
And so they did. They plunged into the sea, and G-d opened a path to their freedom, to their future and to the land of Israel and the building of the Holy Temple. On the first night of Passover we are instructed to tell our story in the first person: “G-d redeemed me from Egypt.” On the seventh day of Passover we must also tell our story in first person: “I took that first step into the Sea of Reeds, I earned my freedom that day.” Every day we must merit our freedom from the darkness of Egypt. And the very first essential step is to believe in the G-d of Israel, who believes in us! Chag Sameach – A Happy (seventh day of) Passover to us all!
May we all be similarly inspired and encouraged to keep our faith even when times are difficult, and to show courage even in the face of dire danger, just like our forefathers did when they left the slavery of Egypt for the freedom of being a sovereign nation serving Hashem.
I wish you all Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom!