“Shvi’i Shel Pesach – The Seventh [Day] of Passover,” receives special attention in many Jewish communities worldwide. Let this be our introduction, and we’ll return to clarifying the significant events of the day, soon.
With Divine miracles and the Exodus, G-d elevated the Jewish People from the slave pits of Egypt along with its spiritual muck into which they’d sunk. He chose them as His bride despite their imperfections, with the purpose of ultimately bringing them to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah: the ultimate wedding gift, endowing them with the ability to heal and illuminate the world through its Truth, holiness and goodness. As Hashem took us from the gates of our cruel captor Egypt, thus began a forty-nine-day journey of refinement: We began to take the Egypt out of us, as we shifted from slave-mentality, haunted by self-limitations, inner demons, unhealthy obsessions and fear of growth, to servants of Hashem empowered to overcome darkness and make a positive difference in this world.
“Rabah Emunasecha – Great is Your faith” in us, we marvel to G-d. You often believe in us and our potential more than we believe in ourselves. You choose to need and value us, so much that no matter how lowly or far-gone we seem, You perpetually bless us with opportunities to try again and break our boundaries; to grow, actualize our soul potential and bring more of Your light into the world. We accomplish this by recognizing and connecting with You through Your Torah, Mitzvot and every life-experience.
You’re Infinite, G-d, both surrounding and filling all worlds which You intimately know every detail of, because You’re the Source of them all and the only true existence. Therefore, everything is like absolutely nothing before You, totally absorbed within You; and, You’re always carefully watching us, so how can someone do anything that opposes Your will? So, Your greatness fills us with awe, and we remember how lowly we really are before You. And yet…You give life to all the worlds great and small, including tiny little me, because I matter to You and You desire a personal relationship with me in my existence. The proof? You created me and continually pump life into me; so I’m here for a reason, since “Hashem didn’t create anything except for His glory” (Pirkei Avot). That’s so powerful! It draws me close to You, and I want to reciprocate my love, give or do something in return. So, I begin to think about You, and what is important to You, because then it becomes important to me. “Nisava Lo Hakadosh Baruch Hu Dirah Betachtonim – The Holy One, Blessed Be He, desires a dwelling place in the lower realms” (Midrash Shemos Rabbah). The “tachtonim” are physicality, the “lows” of life, or anything that seems to hide You and Your light; yet, it’s within these realms with us where You desire to be and are most potently, discovered. Accordingly, I want to feel, see and become familiar with you in my everyday, mundane life – not just the ‘holy’ and ‘spiritual’ things!
Now having made these feelings part of us and our consciousness, nothing can stop us as we “Turn away from evil and do good,” in our thoughts, speech and deeds to actualize the world You envision. To keep this passion alive, we also need to make time to spend together with You. How about an evening with coffee, G-d? I think about You every time I make a blessing on it, thanking You for the goodness You bestowed, and my soul too gets recharged from the drink – rather Your energy within it. Why don’t we call it for shvi’i shel Pesach – could there be a more perfect time?! It’s a date.
Why shvi’i shel Pesach; what is so special about it? On the seventh day after the tender Jewish nation’s departure from Egypt, when frighteningly trapped between the Reed Sea’s shores and their encroaching enemies (who regretted their decision to release the people), G-d revealed Himself to them and split of the Sea in an open miracle turning the laws of nature on their head. Israel was led across dry land to safety while their pursuers were thrown into confusion and drowned. Now, they could finally take a deep sigh of relief, the fear of Egypt breathing down their necks no longer. A free nation now devoted to G-d alone, they broke out into joyous dance and inspiring praise of Him! Even a maidservant experienced prophecy higher than the great prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, and others!
Each year on this anniversary, the same lofty G-dly energy is being channeled anew into the world, and we have the opportunity – and ability – to tap into it. Once more, we can experience the splitting of the sea. “Mayim rabim – many waters” (mentioned in Psalms and prayers) allude to the multi-layered, coarse materiality of this earth, which on this night are stripped away to reveal the what’s concealed within and beneath, the ‘seabed’ and foundation, the true core: G-d Himself. We can embrace G-d’s deepest Essence as He is embedded within this world, through His Torah and Mitzvot. This is a time to palpably sense Him in our lives, and celebrate that, as demonstrated by the Jewish children at the Sea. They literally pointed and sang, “Zeh Keili v’Anveihu- This is My G-d, and I will glorify Him!” Their choice of Divinely-inspired words appropriately indicates the feeling the closeness – “MY G-d” – and furthermore, they commit that inspiration to fuel their spiritual service: to glorify Him, build Him a beautiful dwelling by making Him familiar and comfortable in this world. The Seas part and we see it’s all only Him.
Therefore, shvi’i shel Pesach is distinguished by a popular worldwide Jewish custom to remain awake the entire night before (recall how traditionally, the preceding night commences the new day) and study Torah, with some time devoted to understanding the mystical meaning of the sea’s splitting and its timeless messages for us. Many wonderful learning programs are offered; try to join one if you can, and don’t let this precious opportunity pass you by!
Although my community did not offer an all-night event for this occasion, I was not deterred. I tried to coax a brother, a cousin, someone – anyone! – to stay up with me, and we’d make the most of the experience together. Alas, I was ultimately alone (but never truly alone with G-d by my side!); I’d also had a partial ulterior-motive, needing someone to help keep me awake, but that is where coffee stepped in. Otherwise, the night would have been far from a success.
Armed with a stack of books and printouts on various Jewish topics from Halacha to Moshiach to Chassidus, the learning began with a full cup o’ joe in the dining room, until the lamp pre-set on a timer before the holiday turned off at 1:30 AM. The study session moved to the couch in the sitting area, and coffee was replenished. The night was very quiet, save for an occasional whir of a car driving by outside. I felt peaceful, content, even a little dreamlike (coffee kick in yet?), but something was missing; where was my miraculous, magical moment at the sea? Then I asked myself, “Why are you even doing this? What’s your motivation? Are you doing this so you can have bragging rights that you stayed up all night and even accomplished something, or just because you feel like connecting to G-d and seek a ‘spiritual high’? Or are you doing this for Him?”
That’s right. I’m on a coffee date with G-d. The moment is lost if I’m not present and focusing on other, on Him; what is He saying? The Rogovetcher Gaon, Rabbi Yosef Rosen of righteous memory, once pithily remarked, “When I pray, I talk to G-d; when I learn, G-d talks to me.” What message does Hashem want me to receive from His holy Torah; how does He want me to make that message a part of my life and uplift the world in its entirety? Of course, there is this critical and practical element of learning in order to do, since “study is not the main thing but rather deed.” Inspiration must carry over to action. However, I also should be mindful to learn for its own sake (“lishmoh”), with complete devotion and bare of any other motives, just because Hashem instructs us to engage in studying His Torah; just as a gift to Him, the way He requests, with all our heart and soul.
At last, it’s getting serious. The ideas, now contemplated, are beginning the transition to my heart. I recite the words aloud, getting more excited. After a while, I closed my eyes (smart move, huh?) while trying to meditate on the Splitting Sea. I racked my brain for a personal experience to where I could apply the Torah’s formula, especially through the lens of Chassidus, to find G-d in the challenge, and elevate it. My brain turned somewhat dim, and admittedly, I think I dozed off – sitting straight up, with coffee in my hand (beginning to think I accidentally made the decaf), for just a few moments. When I jolted awake, the Shabbos/YomTov candles were still burning, and the night sky was no brighter. I went to wash my hands, stretch a little, then returned to learning…and so soon after, it hit me; the metaphorical lightbulb clicked on in my mind and soul. I froze as the thought, an initial flash of inspiration from above, became more crystalized in my mind. How strikingly clear were the parallels! I tried to articulate aloud what was swirling in my mind, and, overwhelmed, began to cry a little.
For the sake of others’ privacy and dignity, circumstances now do not permit me to detail what my Sea is that split. Perhaps in the future I can share the story, so others too can draw strength from it. All I will say, is that in the physical world, nothing is eternal; the exterior eventually perishes or fades away, but the raw G-dly essence powering every created being and moment is forever unchanged, and this is where we place the greatest emphasis and value. It’s hard to cope with change, and we all experience our unique challenges. It is easy to slip into “victim-mode,” but when we realize nothing is coincidental, rather guided with precision and love by G-d’s hand, and we are not alone in the pain, it is tremendously liberating. Our faith – finding G-d within it all – sets us free, and gives us something beyond this world to find security in and direction from, when this world itself becomes shaky. My sea split, its essence laid bare, and I felt comforted and invigorated. Where I had before felt I was drowning, Hashem opened a path with simple direction – ever forward, a step closer to Redemption – and down a stable, dry path. I was empowered to do something about my adverse experience and help others going through the same. I resolved to bring more light, love, goodness, kindness, holiness, truth and G-dliness into the situation and world, however I can.
I prayed a little, and cried some more. I continued learning until the horizon turned pale blue, and I could see the delicate pink blossoms of the weeping cherry blowing gently in the breeze outside. Morning blessings followed quietly, then an apple for breakfast, and some niggunim. It was nearly 7:00 AM; I had made it through the night, another Passover miracle, indeed. I didn’t want to stop, but also needed to rest a little before shul starting soon. Turning in, I reflected on the intensity of the night, and the closeness I’d felt with Hashem, like I was really being wrapped in a great Divine embrace. I thank Hashem for such a special experience, and pray for help to transmit the inspiration, sharing it with others and bringing the world a step closer to the Ultimate Redemption, for which Hashem awaits.
It will be a time when each creation fulfills its G-d-given role in harmony, as He planned; when all Hashem’s children will be reunited in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and we’ll sing to Him a new song of praise; when Heaven and earth unite seamlessly, and He will become clear throughout the entire universe. We won’t even need a splitting sea to perceive Him.
For the next coffee date, let’s meet in Jerusalem, dear G-d.