The seventh day of Pesach is considered to be the day when our ancestors passed through the Sea of Reeds. Each of us is called to experience the Exodus from Egypt in our own lives, and this is the day when we too experience the sea parting and our arrival on the other side. Some have the custom of celebrating a special seder on the seventh day of Pesach, commemorating the journey.
A seventh day seder isn't a chovah, a religious obligation. The whole idea of a seventh-day seder falls into the category of hiddur mitzvah, "beautifying the mitzvah" -- in this case, the mitzvah of retelling and reliving the story of the Exodus from Egypt. Unlike the seder for the first and second nights of Pesach, this ritual retelling does not come with an inherited form.
On the seventh day of Pesach, after leading festival morning services, I sit down at my computer with my lunch, some grape juice, and some matzah. I have a date for a seventh day seder! David and I have decided to celebrate together remotely via videoconferencing. It is the first time I've ever celebrated the seventh day of Pesach in this way, and I've been excited about it all week.
We have an abbreviation and adaptation of Rabbi Evan Krame's seder for the seventh day of Pesach. We move through its seven steps, from kol / voice (beginning) to n'tilat yadayim (washing) to raglayim / feet (leaping) to eynayim / eyes (receiving) to oznayim / ears (believing) to peh / mouth (satisfying) to lev / heart (loving). I love that R' Evan has chosen gerunds. Everything is continuing.
We drink four swigs of the fruit of the vine, one for each of the four elements, one for each step of our ancestors' journey "which spanned treading the earth, passing through the water, reaching the rarefied air at Sinai, and receiving Torah from the fire." We read one of my favorite Hasidic texts about elemental trust, and a teaching from R' Evan about the brickwork of the song at the Sea.
We preface each swig of juice with the kabbalistic intention of unifying the Holy Blessed One and Shekhinah, divine immanence and divine transcendence, God far above and God deep within. We sing the psalms of Hallel, read Reb Zalman's translation of psalm 100 ("This is how you sing to God a thank-You song..."), and count the Omer. We close with a bissel of Yiddish and some laughter.
A few of our preparations didn't yield exactly the fruits we intended. Half of the lunch I meant to eat didn't make it with me to shul today. David couldn't find grape juice, and had to settle for Nantucket Nectars "grape-ade." In lieu of a pitcher of water for hand-washing, we each have hand sanitizer. In lieu of gluten-free matzah, he has a gluten-free kosher-for-Pesach black-and-white cookie.
But we find holiness even in the mishaps. The Nantucket Nectars bottle's label depicts the sea -- it could be the very sea which we experience ourselves crossing on this auspicious day! The black-and-white cookie hints at the Torah -- as midrash has it, the Torah is "black fire on white fire," and both of them holy! It reminds me of our undergraduate days, sanctifying whatever we had on hand.
We manage to drash (make or find meaning in) even the items on our lunch plates. David's eating sushi, which is obviously a representation of the Sea. I'm eating eggplant, which is purple, the color of royalty, hinting at the Sovereign Who redeemed us from slavery. When it comes time for the R'Evan sandwich -- a slice of onion atop a piece of fruit, reminding us that even bitterness or pain can be a catalyst for growth and enhancement -- we have no onion, so we make do with wasabi.
We're laughing as we make these substitutions on the fly, but we're also feeling something real. All of this is performative midrash happening in realtime. It's part of the never-ending work of adding to tradition's story that is in some ways the core mission of Jewish Renewal -- as the Haggadah says, whoever enlarges the retelling of the Exodus is praiseworthy. Jewish tradition isn't something fixed, unchangeable. Our task is always bringing it to life in a way that speaks to who we are here and now.
This is the work of spiritual life: working with what we have, instead of what we thought we might have. Sanctifying what is, even if it isn't exactly what we expected. Resisting the impulse which says "I'm not ready for transformation because I don't have all the items on my list" -- if we wait until we feel fully ready, we might never leap at all. The seventh day of Pesach is about leaping even when we don't feel ready, trusting that loving arms will catch us; that the sea will part for us.
Look up from the muddy sea floor. Notice the miracle. It's the seventh day of Pesach. What song of rejoicing will you sing now that we have come through these narrow straits, these walls of water, and emerged on the other side?