Crossing through on Dry Land... and Creating the World Anew!

This year, especially, it's easy to get lost in the first part of the Passover story, with its emphasis on the suffering of slavery, the crying out, the plagues, and the sheltering at home waiting for the angel of death to pass. But the second half of the Passover narrative -- the part about exiting into a new future, and the birth of a whole new world -- is just as poignant and relevant, and equally important to focus on.

Tonight we enter the final leg of the Passover holiday: "shvi'i shel pesach," literally the seventh day of the festival (although in Diaspora, it's celebrated for two days, extending Passover into an 8-day holiday). The Torah is explicit about this festival, stating (in Exodus 13:6): "Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a festival of the Lord." The Torah is not, however, clear about why there is to be a festival on the seventh day. The midrash fills in an explanation: that the miracle of kriyat yam suf, the splitting of the sea, took place seven days out from the Israelites' departure from Egypt.

About a month ago, I heard Rabbi Shai Held give an extraordinary lecture on Exodus and its Cosmic Significance (on Zoom, of course). He talked about ancient cosmologies, in which water symbolized chaos, and God had created the world by slaying sea monsters. In this famous part of the Exodus story, he pointed out that as Moses lifts up his staff over the water, splitting the sea so that the Israelites can march into the sea on dry land ("b'toch hayam vayabasha," in Hebrew), the language echoes that of Genesis 1, when upper and lower waters are split, leaving an expanse of dry land called earth (again, "yam" and "yabasha"). In other words, the splitting of the sea is not just a tale of escape, but a new creation story in and of itself. As our ancestors left behind Egypt and Pharaoh, darkness and chaos, they stepped into a new world altogether, forging a new nation, embracing a new destiny, and creating a new life for themselves.

This year, especially, it's easy to get lost in the first part of the Passover story, with its emphasis on the suffering of slavery, the crying out, the plagues, and the sheltering at home waiting for the angel of death to pass. But the second half of the Passover narrative -- the part about exiting into a new future, and the birth of a whole new world -- is just as poignant and relevant, and equally important to focus on.

When we emerge from our covid cocoons, we will have the opportunity to take part in building a whole new world too. We will be living a contemporary creation story of its own. What will our new world look like? How will we draw on the lessons we've learned during this crisis to ensure that our society is more fair and just, that we recognize the sanctity of life and dignity of each human being, that freedom rings for all the inhabitants of our country?

There are so many answers, and each of us will play different roles -- drawing on our interests and areas of expertise. But, one important component that we already know to be of collective interest to the Kavana community is preparing for the 2020 election. Before the pandemic began, we were talking about organizing Kavana volunteers, working with a local organization called "Common Purpose," to help protect voting rights and increase voter registration and turnout all over the country this year. Tomorrow/Wednesday night at 7pm, all who are interested in this aspect of building for the future are invited to join an open-to-all public lecture, "Now or Never: How We Protect Voting Rights in 2020," by David Domke (a UW Professor and Founder of Common Purpose) -- please see below, at the bottom of this newsletter, for more information and a link.

Meanwhile, as we enter into the Passover homestretch, my wish for all of us is that we experience our own version of this miraculous transformation, as we begin to regain our footing on dry land and solid ground.

Wishing you a happy 5th day of the Omer, and a chag sameach one last time,

Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum