I know, I know. My holiday is over. But, I have another Pesach (Passover) story to share with you.
The 7th day of Pesach started Sunday night. Which meant that some of my table sharers were celebrating Easter while others, like me, were still crunching on our matza. And, during the festive meal, we parsed the question of why the 7th day (and the 8th for those who don’t live in Israel) is celebrated as a special day. (The holidays of Sukot and Pesach are both 7 days long; some of those days have rules that stipulate no work or use of electricity; others, called ‘chol hamoed’- or the secular portion of the holiday- follow. Except for Pesach, where the 7th day is also a ‘yom tov’, a special day.)
[I know that some folks think that Sukot is celebrated for 9 days outside of Israel (8 within the geography of the holy land), but that is a misconception. Sukot is 7 days long. It is followed by a mysterious holiday, called (gee, what a surprise!) the Eighth Day of Assembly, where we are commanded to exult in Hashem. It’s 1 day in Isreal- hence the “eight” days of Sukot, and 2 outside.]
So, what’s so special about the 7th day of Pesach? We know that we were freed from Egypt (Mitzrayim, the narrow place) after we sacrificed the lamb, while Hashem was terminating all the first-born (humans and animals). But, the 7th?
On the 7th day, Israel was still facing the sea, but now the chariots of Paroh were rapidly approaching. It’s why the folks complained, “Is this why we were freed from Mitzrayim? There weren’t enough graves there? So we could die in the desert?”
This stalemate existed all night long. Until the bones of Yosef (Joseph), the 11th son of Yakov (Jacob), were brought forth to the front. And, then Nachshom ben Aminadev, the leader of the tribe of Yehuda (Judah) entered the sea, and Hashem’s winds split the sea for the rest of the Jewish people to cross. To be saved from the onslaught of the chariots and warriors.
Now, reading this in English diminishes the clues. The word for bones in Hebrew is “Etzem”. And, etzem also means essence. The Jewish people needed to acknowledge the essence of Yosef to be able to cross the sea.
What was Yosef’s etzem, his essence? Sure, he was the favorite of Yakov, sold by his brothers to be a slave, and imprisoned by the Potiphar (the chief of the Paroh’s guard). And, impossibly, this foreign Jewish lad became the vizier of Mitzrayim, a nation that distrusted all foreigners.
But, Yosef was also manifestly different from his brothers. Yosef’s brothers were all shepherds, keeping order and preserving the old ways. (This is also known as the conservative element in society.)
Not Yosef. Yosef was a dreamer, a creative type, looking to find new ways to do things. That’s the essence of Yosef the Jewish people needed to capture- the concept of dreaming, of thinking outside the box.
Sure there was a body of water that could drown them. But, Hashem promised them freedom and the chance to build new lives in the land of Israel. We needed to believe in that dream, to unshackle us from our conservative ways, and help bring about the perfection of the world (tikun olam) that is our lot in life.
That’s why we celebrate the 7th day as a special holiday. To remind ourselves to not stop dreaming- moreover, to dream big. But, more importantly to act on those dreams to make the impossible possible.