by: Mark Kirschbaum on April 11th, 2012 | Comments Off
Eyes talked into
Should a man come into the world, today, with
The shining beard of the
Patriarchs; he could,
If he spoke of this
Only babble and babble
Paul Celan, “Tubingen, Janner”
The Seventh day of Passover is a holiday, much like the first day. This is true of the fall festival of Sukkot as well, where the last day is a holiday as well, however, in that case, it is considered a new holiday with a different theme and context. The seventh day of Passover, on the other hand, is thematically similar to the first day, dealing with redemption, but celebrates another stage of the deliverance from Mitzrayim (Egypt), that of the splitting of the sea, allowing the Israelites to cross, and then returned to its natural state in order to swallow Pharoah’s cavalry, which had been in pursuit of the former slaves. The goal, of course, of the pursuit by the Egyptians was to bring them back to bondage; once the armies were destroyed it was clear to the people that their liberation was complete, there were no further pursuers, and their new history as a free people had truly begun. As a result of this miracle a song erupted from Moshe (Moses) and the people of Israel, the “Song of the Sea” recorded in Perashat Beshalach of the Book of Shemot.
Most commentators (myself included) deal with this song in its place as part of the book of Exodus. However, given the return of this theme as central to the seventh day of Passover, there is a tendency to deal again with this song, however, this time, in the context of Passover, which, particularly after the seder, is a context of recreating the process of liberation and redemption. We too, will follow this model and examine the role of poetry as liberation, which follows neatly from a central theme of the seder.
The central theme of the seder, celebrated on the first night, is that of re-experiencing the liberation from Mitzrayim- ‘In every generation a person is required to see ones self as though they were themselves liberated from Mitzrayim’. There is the historical redemption of several thousand years ago, however, in the mystical and Hassidic teachings, this Mitzrayim is not merely historical “Egypt”, but rather is equivalent to the Hebrew word ‘meitzarim‘, which means straits, or inhibitions. Those aspects of ones life which restrain one’s spiritual progress and keep one in spiritual servitude must be transcended; one must deliver one’s ‘true self’ from bondage (a bondage which may indeed be generated by the individual him or herself).
The Derech Hamelech (better known by his later book, the Aish Kodesh, written in the Warsaw Ghetto) explains this concept of freeing ones self in every generation, with a valuable set of teachings for self-empowerment. He states that it is clear that when an individual embarks upon a spiritual path, it is often the case that the seeker finds that they have greatly exceeded their own assumed ability. Much as a person in an emergency situation can suddenly summon up unforseen strength and abilities, and are able to undertake physical tasks they would never have attempted under normal circumstances, so too the spiritual seeker in moments of exhilaration can reach heights of unanticipated grandeur. If the physical can be exceeded in moments of need, and the body built up through exercise, the spiritual can be progressively developed and at times reach a state where ‘one’s whole self is annihilated, as though exploding from the great light’. This is what is meant by the mystics when they talk of ‘liberation from Mitzrayim’.