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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Halachic Times (Zmanim)
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Passover - 1st Day (2nd Seder tonight)
Jewish History

On the 15th of Nissan of the year 2018 from creation (1743 BCE) G-d forged a special covenant with Abraham in which the destiny of the Jewish people was foretold: the Holy Land was bequeathed to them as their eternal heritage, but first they would have to experience galut--exile and persecution. "And He said to Abram: 'Know surely that your descendents shall be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they will be enslaved to them, and they will afflict them four hundred years... and afterwards they shall come out with great wealth.' And when the sun went down and it was dark, behold, a smoking furnace and a burning torch which passed between those pieces... On that day G-d made a covenant with Abram, saying: 'To your seed I have given these land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates'" (Genesis 15:13-18).

The Covenant Between the Parts
Great Wealth

When Lot was taken captive by the four kings who conquered the "five cities of the plain" (Sodom, Gomorra, Admah, Zevoim and Zoar), Abraham, aided only by a small band of loyal servants, went to battle to rescue his nephew; "the night divided for them, for him and his servants, and they defeated them, pursuing them to Hovah, which is to the left of Damascus... And he recovered all the property; also his kinsman, Lot, and his property were recovered, and also the women and the people" (Genesis 14:15-16).

Link: Abraham's battle

On the 3rd day following his circumcision at age 99 (see "Today in Jewish History" for Nissan 13) three angels visited Abraham: Rephael healed him, and Michael informed Abraham and Sarah that, in exactly one year, a son will be born to them. (The third angel, Gabriel, proceeded to Sodom to destroy the wicked city).

More on Angels

"G-d remembered Sarah as He had said; and G-d did to Sarah as He had spoken. And Sarah conceived, and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which G-d had spoken to him... Abraham was a hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born to him. And Sarah declared: 'G-d has made laughter for me, so that all that hear will laugh ('yitzchak') with me'" (Genesis 21:1-6).

The Resemblance
Learning to Laugh

"And Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. When he saw that he could not prevail against him, he touched the socket of his hip, and the socket of Jacob's hip became dislocated as he wrestled with him. And he (the angel) said, 'Let me go, for dawn is breaking,' but he (Jacob) said, 'I will not let you go unless you have blessed me.' So he said to him, 'What is your name?' and he said, 'Jacob.' And he said, 'Your name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel; for you have contended with G-d and with men, and have prevailed'" (Genesis 32:25-29). It was the eve of Nissan 15.

The next morning, Jacob confronted Esau in the flesh. Esau, who had come with a band of armed men with the intention to kill his brother, "ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him; and they wept". Esau invited Jacob to join him in his mountain kingdom of Se'ir, but Jacob replied, "Please, let my lord go on ahead before his servant; and I will lead on slowly, according to the pace of the cattle that goes before me and the children, until I come to my lord to Se'ir" -- a promise yet to be fulfilled (ibid., 33:4-14).

Wrestling with Angels
Facing Reality
Why Does Esau Hate Jacob?

On the 15th of Nissan of the year 2447 from creation (1314 BCE) -- exactly one year before the Exodus -- Moses was shepherding the flocks of his father-in-law, Jethro, at the foot of Mount Sinai, when G-d appeared to him in a "thornbush that burned with fire, but was not consumed" and instructed him to return to Egypt, come before Pharaoh, and demand in the name of G-d: "Let My people go, so that they may serve Me." For seven days and seven nights Moses argued with G-d, pleading that he is the wrong person for the job, before accepting the mission to redeem the people of Israel and bring them to Sinai.

Moses at the Burning Bush
I Am

At the stroke of midnight of Nissan 15 of the year 2448 from creation (1313 BCE), 210 years after Jacob settled in Egypt and 430 years after the "Covenant Between the Parts," G-d visited the last of the ten plagues on the Egyptians, killing all their firstborn. Earlier that evening, the Children of Israel conducted the first "seder" of history, eating the roasted meat of the Passover offering with matzot and bitter herbs, and sprinkling the blood of the sacrifice on their doorposts as a sign that G-d will "pass over" their homes when inflicting the plague upon the Egyptians. Pharaoh's resistance to free them was broken, and he virtually chased his former slaves out of the land. Several million souls--600,000 adult males, plus the woman and children, and a large "mixed multitude" of non-Hebrews who joined them -- left Egypt on that day, and began the 50-day trek to Sinai and their birth as G-d's chosen people.

Links: 19 Flavors of Freedom; Exploring Passover

On the seventh day of his royal feast (see Jewish history for 9 Nissan), King Achashverosh demanded that the Queen Vashti appear unclothed to display her beauty before all the attending guests. When Vashti refused this obscene request, the king had her executed.

Her ignominious death on Shabbat was divine retribution for her penchant to force Jewish girls to work on Shabbat, and paved the way for Esther to become queen and save the Jewish nation from Haman's plot.

The Death Verdict
Mordechai and Esther

Daniel was cast into a den of hungry lions by Darius I of Persia for violating a royal edict that no man may pray to any god save the king for 30 days. Miraculously, the lions did not touch him, and he emerged from the den unscathed (Daniel 6:5-29).

Links: Monotheism in Rostov; more on Mesirat Nefesh (self sacrifice)

Laws and Customs

Click here for a summary of the Passover Torah readings.

The month of Nissan marks the ends of the "season of rains" in the Holy Land. Beginning with the Mussaf prayer of the 1st day of Passover, we omit the passage in our prayers praising G-d's greatness as a provider of rain (Mashiv haruach umorid hageshem), substituting it with the words Morid hatal ("Who brings down dew").

Link: Winter

"And you shall count for yourselves from the morrow of the Shabbat, from the day on which you bring the Omer offering, seven complete weeks they shall be; until the morrow of the seventh week, you shall count fifty days..." (Leviticus 23:15)

The "morrow of the Shabbat" referred to in this verse is the 16th of Nissan--the 2nd day of Passover, which begins tonight at nightfall. On this day, the "Omer Offering"--which included matzahs baked from the new crop of barley harvested that very day--was brought in the Holy Temple. (No grain from new harvest was allowed to be eaten before the Omer offering was brought.) Thus 16th of Nissan also commences the 49-day "Counting of the Omer", which retraces our ancestors' seven-week spiritual journey from the Exodus to Sinai. Each evening we recite a special blessing and count the days and weeks that have passed since the Omer. The 50th day is Shavuot, the festival celebrating the Giving of the Torah at Sinai. Tonight we count: "Today is one day to the Omer."

Tonight's Sefirah: Chessed sheb'Chessed -- "Kindness in Kindness"

The teachings of Kabbalah explain that there are seven "Divine Attributes" -- Sefirot -- that G-d assumes through which to relate to our existence: Chessed, Gevurah, Tifferet, Netzach, Hod, Yesod and Malchut ("Love", "Strength", "Beauty", "Victory", "Splendor", "Foundation" and "Sovereignty"). In the human being, created in the "image of G-d," the seven sefirot are mirrored in the seven "emotional attributes" of the human soul: Kindness, Restraint, Harmony, Ambition, Humility, Connection and Receptiveness. Each of the seven attributes contain elements of all seven--i.e., "Kindness in Kindness", "Restraint in Kindness", "Harmony in Kindness", etc.--making for a total of forty-nine traits. The 49-day Omer Count is thus a 49-step process of self-refinement, with each day devoted to the "rectification" and perfection of one the forty-nine "sefirot."

How to count the Omer
The deeper significance of the Omer Count
See also: "Sefirah" Mourning Practices

Outside of the Holy Land, biblical festivals are observed for an extra day. So in addition to the Passover Seder conducted last night for the 1st day of Passover, a second Seder is conducted tonight, when the 2nd day of Passover begins (on the Jewish Calendar, the day begins at nightfall of the previous evening).

www.Passover.net includes a Seder guide, text of the Haggadah, in-depth studies, and more
The Seder Wizard is a step-by-step guide to conducting the Seder

Daily Thought

Truth is simple: it has no clothes, no neat little box to contain it.

But we cannot grasp that which has no box. We cannot perceive Truth without clothing.

So Truth dresses up for us, in a story, in sage advice, in a blueprint of the cosmos—in clothes woven from the fabric of Truth itself.

And then, when we have finally come to a firm grasp of that teaching, Truth switches clothes. It tells us another story—entirely at odds with the first. It tells us new advice—to go in a different direction. It provides another model of how things are—in which each thing has changed its place.

The fool is confused. He exclaims, “Truth has lied!”

The wise person listens, he is patient, and through his labor he hears a third voice, one that brings harmony to these opposites he has learned.

Until he discovers that Truth is a simple, pure light no box can contain. And so, it belongs in all places, at all times.

Sefer Hasichot 5749, vol. 2, pp. 509–511; Likkutei Sichot, vol. 22, p. 10.