A Night of Learning

The seventh day of Passover, which begins tonight at sundown marks the splitting of the Red Sea, when the Hebrews finally broke free from Egyptian slavery and pursual.  Some people have the custom of studying all night long and in celebration of the great miracle.  I don’t study anything too well at 3 a.m., so I’m going to pass.

The splitting of the sea is such a great miracle that it is included in the morning prayers every single day, in addition to recognition of the entire exodus.  I remember as a child learning to read the prayer, which we would sing along to a tune, and I imagined that the Hebrews sang the same melody, dancing and chanting along with timbrels that Miriam, Moshe’s sister famously carried along. (For more about Miriam and recognition about her role you can see an article I wrote in the Washington Post about unique ways some Jews observe a Passover Seder.)

First Moshe calls out for a song, אז ישיר משה בני ישראל את השירה הזאת (Then Moses and the Children of Israel sang this song to the Lord… Shemot/Exodus 15:1).  Afterwards, Miriam calls out for a song with timbrels: “Miriam, the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women came out after her with timbrels and dances (Shemot/Exodus 15:20).

From this we see two things – first of all, there seems to be separate singing and dancing for men and women, giving basis, I think, to a tradition I still find slightly uncomfortable and new, which is gender-segregated singing and dancing among observant Jews.  Secondly, Miriam knew how to party.  In his book, אשת חיל, A Woman of Valor, Rav Shlomo Aviner שליט’א speaks about םירם אהותינו Miriam “our sister” (as opposed to one of the four “foremothers”) and her righteousness.  One of the things he cites is the well known midrash about her encouraging her parents to continue to have children despite Pharoah’s decree to throw newborn baby boys into the Nile.  Additionally, he says, she led the women and all the Hebrews to be strong and to not despair.  A prophetess, she knew of their salvation.  The women famously left Egypt in a hurry, without time to let the dough rise (which is why I’ve been eating cardboard, I mean, matzah, for six days now).  But they also brought along timbrels!  It’s something I’ve always known but never really thought about.  If you were told to leave your house right away and don’t know where you’re going and can only bring along a few things, would a drum make the cut?

כשיצאו ממצרים לא הספיקו הנשים להכין לחם, והרי הן ידעו שהם יצאו בקרב, מדוע לא הכינו את הבצק מבעוד מועד?  אך מעניים שכולן הכינו תופים, שאינם מודרים כה חיוניים! .. הן דאגו להוחניות ולא לגשמיות.  לא ללחם דאגו כי אם לתופים.  דבר מופלא הוא שבתוך המרירות הנוראה של מצרים, הן האמינו בד’ ובדרי הבטהתו. (עם ‘ 119–118

When they were taken out of Egypt, the women did not have enough time to make bread, but they knew that they would be leaving soon?  Why didn’t they prepare the dough in advance?  They were making sure that everyone prepared drums!  They were worried about the spirituality and not the physical needs – not the bread, but the drums.  It is amazing that during this bitter time they believed in Gd and his promise.

לא רק שבזכותה ניצלו הילדים שעל האבניים והבעלים החזירו את נשותיהם, אלא גם עברה בעם, עודדה ורוממה את הנשים.  ולכן בא הריקוד שהוא התרוממות והשתחררות מקרקע המציאות, מעל גבולות הארציות.  מי מדבר עכשיו על לחם?! ‘שיכחת’ הנשים להכין את הלחם כשיצאו ממצרים מוכיחה שהנשים חיו מעל המציאות הגשמית, מעל טבע האדם הפשוט האנושי.  הן חיות בעולם יותר עליון, משוחרר מן הצמצומים הטבעיים הפיסיקליים.  דעו לכן שכל הכוחות האדירים, כל השישים ריבוא, כל צבא ד’ האדיר –– זה אנחנו עשינו. (עם 126–127

It was not just on her merit that the children were saved and husbands returned to their wives, but women encouraged and lifted the entire nation.  Therefore, the was of dance of uplift and liberation. Who cares anymore about bread?  Their ‘forgetting’ to prepare bread when they left Egypt proves that the women were not living in a physical reality, but rather above simple human physical nature.  They were living a higher existence, shaking free from the natural psychological limitations.  They knew that all the mighty forces of the Lord would become apart of us.

And that is a reason given for why women are also commanded to participate in the Seder and the retelling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt.  Although women are exempt from most mitzvot that are time bound, and of course, the Seder most definitely is, אף הם היו באותו הנס, “They too were included in the miracle.”

While it seems a bit irresponsible to not care about packing proper physical provisions (I can tell you that having water, actually, is more important than bread, after my recent trek through the desert), it’s really interesting that Rav Aviner focuses not only on their faith in Gd and wanting to celebrate, but also that they overcome the psychological limitations.  A lot of the “straights” of Mitzrayim, Egypt, or narrowness, were the physical limitations of being a slave.

Part of counting the omer, which is also a count of the days leading to the festival of Shavuot, is a counting of days up.  The first commandment, mitzvah, that the Jewish people get is to keep their own months, be on their own time.  As a free people, the Hebrews, soon to become the Jews, became masters of their own time.

May our days continue to be one filled with much rejoice.


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Ilene Rosenblum is a writer and marketing professional living in Jerusalem.

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