A Seder for Our Time
By: Rabbi Lori Shapiro
This morning, as I ran on the beach at 6:00 am, I saw the Full Moon Set into the ocean. An Orange Orb in the sky, its face seemed as astonished as I was by the experience. The moon, the Luminary of Darkness, was Dipping into the Waters; not the Sun. At Sunrise, I was greeted not by the Dawn Breaking, but the Darkness Descending.
We are Living Through Historic Narrative, and our Torah will be Forever Transformed through this Time. Torah glows most brightly when it is allowed to do what it does best – turn and return – as a Sefer Torah, in its essence, is a spinning symbol of adaptation and renewal. Our rabbinic tradition continues to re-write the “how-tos” of Jewish Law; and this year offers a prime opportunity to do that – this year, in Cyberspace; next year, in Jerusalem.
However, even our Mishnah Pesach, (some of the earliest writings of Rabbinic Oral Law), begins with a curious expression: “Ohr L’arba’ah asar bodkin et hahametz l’ohr ha’ner” translated as: On the night of the fourteenth they must search for leaven by the light of a candle.” The rabbis translate the first Hebrew word for LIGHT as NIGHT. Why would they do this?
The answer Illuminates this Period of Darkness. The Ohr in question is attached to the ritual described in b’dikat chametz , or the Search for Chametz (or levening). Chametz also represents our bloated egos, our myopic blindness, the transgressive patterns that we cease to surrender. Ohr is used twice in this verse introducing our Search for Chametz: As an opening word, translated as “night,” and another time to describe the candle used in the ritual search. But, is the first Ohr really night, so mysteriously inserted at at the opening of the Mishnah? Or, might it be attached to another image – that of Light in Darkness, the “Ohr HaGanuz,” Hidden Light?
The Concept of a Hidden Light begins in Creation’s First Day, when God creates primordial light. It is not until the fourth day that the God character creates the constellations. These luminaries are NOT the Light of Day One; they are distinct, and Rashi’s commentary describes the original light as “Wicked (people)…unworthy of using it, and therefore [God] set it apart for the Righteous in the Future Time.” Rashi’s statement carries a moral ontological heaviness; the Light of Torah is available only to those who seek it as a source of spiritual enlightenment in a “Future Time.” Those who use it for evil will be shut out.
The Ramchal (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzuto) writes in his 18th century Kabbalistic work Sefer HaKlalim: “God made a separation in the illumination of the light, that it should not flow or give off light except for the righteous, whose actions draw it down and make it shine. However, the actions of evil block it, leaving them in darkness, and this itself was the hiding of the light.”
This image makes me think of the Statue of Liberty. Our symbol of American Empathy carries a Torch – Her Hidden Spiritual Light Illuminated, Lighting the Path to Our Nation, an Ohr HaGanuz of its own merit. As we move through this time of unprecedented Darkness in our Lifetime, May we all Lift up our Torches – be it small candles guiding our way through tonight’s search for chametz or an inward torch to understand our own psyche and dark corners. May we use this Time of Quarantine Passover to do the Real Work, with the goal NOT being Liberation, Freedom or Change, but The Goal Being the Cultivation of the Hidden Light Within. The Mishnah teaches us that Passover begins with Ohr. And so, Let us Begin!
There is great work ahead of us. We have only just begun to move through this Plague of Darkness. But, we are fortified through Community, Ritual and Spiritual Practice. The Time has Come for Each of Us to cultivate our INNER LIGHTS OF BEING so that, when we emerge, each of our Hidden Lights will combine with others.
Open Temple offers many different ways to cultivate our inner light through a Jewish Spiritual Practice. Our Mussar Group meets weekly to deal with our inner darkness head on; our collaboration with At the Well’s Holy Bodies series is another opportunity. For children and families, we have Barbara Olinger’s groups as well as Open Temple’s Creative Torah Academy. Tamar Frankiel offers Kabbalah to transform. And we begin it all this Thursday Night, when our Second Seder will be led by the Generation that will Lead us to a New Time: Our Children.
And so – who are we becoming through this time? Torchbearers of Enlightenment? Spiritual Warriors seeking Justice and Shining our Lights in search of ridding the world of chametz? Or are we going to hide the light from ourselves, through fear, darkness and narcissistic patterns? Passover comes at the perfect time this year, and asks us: Who do you want to Become?
Become with us.
with Love, Gratitude, and a Blessing to Continue Flattening the Curve,
Rabbi Lori and Open Temple Board