Midrash teaches that not until a man named Nachshon ben Aminadav walked in up to his neck did the waters part. The seventh day of Pesach is the anniversary of that leap of faith.
The custom of holding a seder on the first night or two of Passover is one of the practices most widely observed across the Jewish world. (In the Pew study that came out a few years ago, seven in ten Jews reported participating in Passover seders.)
The custom of holding a seder on the seventh day is less well-known, and less formalized -- and as a result, there's more room for ritual and liturgical creativity. This year's seventh-day seder (unlike last year's) took place without a haggadah. We had no foreordained plan for the journey. Instead we traveled with our mental map of the steps of seder, from sanctification to conclusion, and explored the internal territory revealed to us along the way.
The only ritual items we had on hand were wine to bless, and matzah: the bread of affliction and of freedom all in one. We gave matzah yet another meaning, declaring it to be the bread of choosing. One can always remain in familiar constriction, instead of taking the risk of stepping into the unknown. But authentic spiritual life calls us to choose becoming, instead. It calls us to take the leap into the sea.
We began Maggid, the storytelling step of the seder, by asking Four Questions of our own. We took turns contributing questions and answers, without preparation. Perhaps it wasn't coincidence that the questions that came to us in that ritual moment were big questions that don't have simple answers. That's the valance of this moment in the year: crossing the sea, not knowing what's on the other side.
We told the story of our people through the prism of our own story: from who we were then to who we are now; from times of constriction to times of liberation, not once but again and again. We remembered davening at the edge of an ocean not so long ago, and we imagined ourselves standing at the edge of the sea, taking the leap of trusting that the waters would divide and let us safely through.
Like last year, we made meaning in the items that were within reach. We turned my can of Fresca (with the aid of some gematria, a.k.a. Hebrew letter-math) into a parable about God lifting us away from Pharaoh, and turned a small rainbow slinky into the coiled spring which helps us leap from slavery into freedom. We laughed, but the meaning we found (or made) in what was at hand felt true and real.
Many of us spend the month before Pesach preparing diligently for the first two seders. The seventh day seder is different. It felt good to me this year to approach the seventh day seder in a spirit of openness. The seventh day is when we take a deep breath and walk boldly into the waters, not knowing for certain that they will part. No amount of advance preparation can truly ready us for taking that leap.
There's something extra-sweet about doing something free-form in between ritual experiences that are more fixed and more liturgical -- like the sedarim that Rabbi David and I led last weekend, and the services we'll lead this Shabbat. Perhaps if we're lucky we'll be able to take into our services a bit of our seventh-day-seder whimsy, a bit of the Not Knowing that can fuel our awe and our joy.