On the second night of Passover, we began our “count-down to Sinai,” marking each day from Passover to Shavuot. This year, I am taking the message of Passover with me on my Omer journey. Will you join me?
My Passover preparations began just before Rosh Hodesh Nisan and included four days of hiking in Northern Israel. The wildflowers were blooming, and we walked through shady groves of bananas, mangos, past lines of trees heavy with ripe avocados.
As I walked, I began to shed a bit of the weight of my sedentary life. I shared my pre-Pesach journey with my traveling companions, and with millions who have walked this rocky, rich, often-unforgiving land over thousands of years. As we walked, the birds above and around us sang songs of freedom.
The Mishnah teaches: “Nisan is the month of redemption. In Nisan, Israel was redeemed from Egypt. In Nisan, Israel will again be redeemed.” On Rosh Hodesh Nisan, I traveled to Jerusalem to join the courageous and committed women who rise at dawn and make their way to the kotel, the ancient wall of Solomon’s temple, to welcome each new month. I pray with the Women of the Wall whenever I am in Israel, adding my voice to prayers and songs of thanks to the Holy One for granting us a new month.
Renewed by walking a land awakening to spring, I wrapped myself in my tallit that bears the names of four of our matriarchs. I was surrounded by hundreds of women from across the world, and together we lifted our voices in joy. Men who supported us stood behind us, watching to see whether we would be arrested for the simple act of praying in ritual garb.
On Rosh Hodesh Nisan 5773, none of us was arrested, perhaps because we were joined by three new members of the Knesset, each wearing her own tallit. Together, we joined in song and dance on the first day of the month in which Jews around the globe celebrate liberation from slavery.
After I rejoined my hiking partners, we completed our hike with a visit to Gan HaNadiv, magnificent gardens that honor Baron Edmond de Rothschild, who was instrumental in helping settle much of Israel a century ago. We descended a rugged path that granted us panoramic views of the Mediterranean Sea, and when we arrived at our final destination, Ma’agan Michael, we were greeted by ocean birds that flock to the extensive fish ponds of the kibbutz.
As we Jews sat at our seder tables earlier this week, we lifted our voices and celebrated our peoples’ liberations, first from ancient Egypt, and then from pharaohs and narrow places in the centuries that have followed. But our seders are not only celebrations of freedom. Passover reminds us of the beauty and the power of the natural world, and the seder telling links the rebirth of nature to our birth as a free people. “In every generation we must see ourselves as if we, ourselves, came out of Egypt.”
As I joined my sisters at the kotel, and as I walked across the Galilee and the Carmel, I thought of all those who, again and again, take significant risks to stand for equality, freedom and justice. Will you join me in using these days to increase fairness in the world? May the songs of the birds answer our own songs of determination and hope and may we become God’s partners in ensuring that all may celebrate in joy.
Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell, Ph.D., serves as rabbi for the East District of the Union for Reform Judaism. Email her at: [email protected] .