On Eighth Day Pesach
Seventh Day Pesach is perhaps the most overlooked “chag” in the Jewish calendar. The Torah is clear: the first day of Pesach is a holiday - do no work. And the seventh day of Pesach is a holiday - do no work. The end of the festival has the same status as the beginning. And perhaps it is even more joyful, because we are now coming to the end of a week of Matzah!
I grew up going to shul on all of the Hagim. It meant a great many days off school - I managed - although Pesach was usually in the Easter holiday. On seventh day Pesach I was very often the only child in the service, which meant I used to get the very cool honour of double gelilah - or as we called it: undressing and dressing the scroll twice - two scrolls that is, for two torah readings. I think I was nimbler and defter in those days, although not that nimble or deft, but it always felt quite a feat to disrobe both scrolls in time and wrap them up again.
Eighth day Pesach is something else entirely, of course, and that’s what we are celebrating this morning. Having grown up with a full eight days, I’ve wavered in recent years as Reform practice follows the Torah - which clearly states (in the same passage in Leviticus) that Pesach lasts seven days. There have definitely been some years when I’ve leant towards seven, but since founding the UHC tradition of Mimouna, it made more sense to wait until everyone was ready for their mufleta (or pizza and pasta) and so I have lapsed back into an eighth day of Passover.
But this year it’s different. Although I’ve won the domestic battle to keep our household free from kitniyot (although as a baby, Noam still enjoys a leniency), I lost the discussion on two seders and, as a result, on celebrating Pesach for seven days. My wife’s winning argument hinged on the fact that on the 1st Nissan, I made aliyah and am now both British and Israeli. And whilst that means I can proudly assert that I am technically now as Israeli as both my wife and son, it also means that I find myself swept up into a new identity and traditions. In Israel there’s only one Seder! Why would you want to do two? After forty years in the diasporic wilderness, you’ve now arrived home - welcome! But here Pesach lasts only seven days - who are you to argue?
And in my fatigued euphoria of the ascent of my aliyah, a peak hard-earned despite the mountainous bureaucracy and mostly due to Shelly’s persistence and insistent telephone calls with the Jewish agency, the interior ministry and more, I was just so grateful not to be deported along with every other un-visa-ed foreigner in Israel, in these difficult times of Corona. And so eighth day Pesach was lost, and we celebrated nightfall with the delivery of a pizza, and on to the mufleta tomorrow.
But whether your Pesach contains seven or eight days, at the end of the festival it’s time to light a yahrzeit candle in our homes and remember all our loved ones. As we read the story of the Song of the Sea, we also reenact the crossing of the Reed Sea, and celebrate the drowning of our enemies. As the midrash goes, the angels rejoiced and God asked them what they were doing, when his creatures had been destroyed. And so, on this occasion, our yahrzeit candle is for our enemies too.
So I hope you’ve had a wonderful Pesach - rejoice in its final moments. This year’s has been bitter and sweet - I was glad to zoom in on several of your seders - and I hope that next year, for one night or two, for seven days or eight, we can celebrate together in Jerusalem. Chag sameach!