Scaling the Walls of the Labyrinth: Psalms 67 and Ana b’Koaḥ

Psalm 67 is a priestly blessing for all the peoples of the earth to be sustained by the earth’s harvest (yevulah), and it is a petition that all humanity recognize the divine nature (Elohim) illuminating the world. Composed of seven verses, the psalm is often visually depicted as a seven branched menorah. There are 49 words in the entire psalm, and in the Nusaḥ ha-ARI z”l there is one word for each day of the Sefirat haOmer. Similarly, the fifth verse has 49 letters and each letter can be used as a focal point for meditating on the meaning of the day in its week in the journey to Shavuot, the festival of weeks (the culmination of the barley harvest), and the festival of oaths (shevuot) in celebration of receiving the Torah. Many of the themes of Psalm 67 are repeated in the prayer Ana b’Koaḥ, which also has 49 words, and which are also used to focus on the meaning of each day on the cyclical and labyrinthine journey towards Shavuot. . . .

סדר לפסח: אליהו הנביא | A reflection on despair and suicide awareness to be read upon opening the door for Elijah at the Passover seder

Although God often speaks to humanity in the rumble of earthquakes, the roaring of wind and the thunder of storms, God spoke to Elijah, instead, in a still small voice. And, it was the nurturing power of the still small voice that slowly gave Elijah the courage and strength to be able to peek out of his deep abyss. On this night when we welcome Elijah to join our celebration, we acknowledge those who are so pained that they cannot fully celebrate, for joy eludes them. Although we may witness their physical wound with our eyes, we must also find ways to become attuned to their spiritual hurt and their emotional despair. The blood from the wound in their heart may not be visible and the cry in the depth of their throat may not be audible unless we train ourselves to attend to them. But, they are there. Our challenge is see and hear the pain of those whose depression affects their lives. Our response does not have to be bold in order to make a difference. A still small voice can transform a frown into a smile. A caring whisper that says, “I care” can raise a stooped head. A tender embrace can provide salve to a soul racked with pain. . . .

סדר לפסח: חד גדיא | Ḥad Gadya (Prague Haggadah, ca. 1526 CE)

Making sense of Ḥad Gadya beyond its explicit meaning has long inspired commentary. For me, Ḥad Gadya expresses in its own beautiful and macabre way a particularly important idea in Judaism that has become obscure if not esoteric. While an animal’s life may today be purchased, ultimately, the forces of exploitation, predation, and destruction that dominate our world will be overturned. Singing Ḥad Gadya is thus particularly apropos for the night of Passover since, in the Jewish calendar, this one night, different from all other nights, is considered the most dangerous night of the year — it is the time in which the forces of darkness in the world are strongest. Why? It is on this night that the divine aspect of Mashḥit, the executioner, is explicitly invoked (albeit, only in the context of the divine acting as midwife and guardian/protector of her people), as explained in the midrash for Exodus 12:12 . . .

תחנה אמהות | Tkhine of the Matriarchs for Yizkor on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Yamim Tovim by Seril Rappaport (ca. 18th century)

“Tkhine of the Matriarchs for Yizkor on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Yamim Tovim” by Rebbetsin Seril Rappaport is a faithful transcription of her tkhine included in “תחנה אמהות מן ראש חודש אלול” (Tkhine of the Matriarchs for the New Moon of Elul) published in Vilna, 1874, as re-published in The Merit of Our Mothers בזכות אמהות A Bilingual Anthology of Jewish Women’s Prayers, compiled by Rabbi Tracy Guren Klirs, Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1992. shgiyot mi yavin, ministarot nakeni. . . .

שיר של מרים הנביאה | The Song of Miriam, a petiḥah by Rabbi Ruth H. Sohn (1981)

“The Song of Miriam” by Rabbi Ruth Sohn was first published as “I Shall Sing to the Lord a New Song,” in Kol Haneshamah: Shabbat Vehagim, Reconstructionist Prayerbook, 1989, 1995 Second Edition. Reconstructionist Press, pp. 768-769. (This poem was also published in several haggadot and other books and set to music by several composers in the U.S. and Israel.) Rabbi Sohn wrote the poem in 1981 as a rabbinical student after immersing herself in the Torah verses and the traditional midrashim about Miriam, and after writing a longer modern midrash about Miriam. Part of this modern midrash was published as “Journeys,” in All the Women Followed Her, ed. Rebecca Schwartz (Rikudei Miriam Press, 2001). . . .

יום זה לכל דורות | Yom Zeh l’Khol Dorot – A Piyyut for Pesaḥ Sheni, by Isaac Gantwerk Mayer

A piyyut for an under-recognized holiday, Pesaḥ Sheni, the festival of second chances (as described in Numbers 9:6-13 and Mishnah Pesaḥim 9:1-3. I attempted to write this in the manner of a traditional piyyut. The meter is equivalent to the Shabbat zamir “Ot Hi l’Olmei Ad.” The Hebrew spells out Yod – Tzadi – Ḥet – Kuf, because that’s my name. The translation is original, along with the notes. . . .

סדר לפסח: הארבה כוסות ואת הארבה חופשות | The Four Cups of Wine and the Four Freedoms, by Aurora Mendelsohn

Traditionally each cup in the Passover Seder is liked to a promise made by God in these verses, Exodus 6:6-7. The four cups can also be associated with the Four Freedoms first articulated by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt on January 6, 1941, which were an inspiration for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and were explicitly incorporated into its preamble. . . .

סדר לפסח: חרוסת | The Seder’s Innermost Secret — Ḥaroset: Earth & Eros in the Pesaḥ Celebration by Rabbi Arthur Waskow

There it sits on the Seder plate: ḥaroset, a delicious paste of chopped nuts, chopped fruits, spices, and wine. So the question would seem obvious: “Why is there ḥaroset on the Seder plate?” That’s the most secret Question at the Seder – so secret nobody even asks it. And it’s got the most secret answer: none. . . .

ביעור חמץ | Kavanah for Returning Our Ḥametz to the Earth by Rabbi David Seidenberg (neohasid.org)

May it be Your will Hashem that we remember that just as we do not own this ḥametz, we do not own this earth. May we once again recall that Adam, the human, is made of afar, soil, dirt, and that God’s promise Abraham that his progeny will become “like the dirt of the earth,” in Aramaic, afra d’ar’a, means that we must live to nourish all Life. . . .

כוונה להדליק נרות | A Prayer for Candle-lighting, by Chaya Kaplan-Lester

Please God Let me light More than flame tonight. More than wax and wick and sliver stick of wood. More than shallow stream of words recited from a pocket book. . . .

סדר לפסח: שתי כוסות, לאליהו ומרים | Two Cups: Elijah and Miriam, by Trisha Arlin

We lift Miriam’s cup, Dancing prophet celebrating the world that is now. And we tell God we are grateful For the water from the earth that was Miriam’s gift, Welcome necessity, On God’s behalf. Miriam announces joy! And teaches us to save ourselves. Miriam, the bringer of mercy, There’s no prayer for her in the haggadah— So make one up! . . .

סדר לפסח: כוונה לסדר | A Kavvanah for Human Rights for the Passover Seder, from T’ruah

We are hereby ready to fulfill our obligation of K’vod Habriot, respect for the dignity of every human being. We pray that our fellow citizens shall not be the source of suffering in others. We commit ourselves to raise our voices in support of universal human rights, to know the heart of the stranger, and to feel compassion for those whose humanity is denied. May our compassion lead us to fight for justice. Blessed is the Source of Life, who redeemed our ancestors from Egypt and brought us together this night of Passover to tell the story of freedom. May God bring us security and peace, enabling us to celebrate together year after year. Praised are you, Source of Righteousness, who redeems the world and loves justice and freedom. . . .

מִי שֶׁבֵּרַךְ | Mi Sheberakh for Victims of Slavery, by Rabbi Joshua Boettiger (2009)

We are grateful to Rabbi Joshua Boettinger and Rabbis for Human Rights–North America (RHR-NA) for sharing the following petitionary prayer, A Misheberakh for Victims of Slavery. Originally published by RHR-NA on their website in 2009, the prayer attends to the desperate need to eradicate all forms of slavery that persist today, especially in advance of the holiday celebrating our Z’man Cheruteinu, the season of our freedom, every Spring, every Pesaḥ. . . .

תפילת טל | A Prayer for Dew, by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

Geshem and tal: rain and dew. We pray for each in its season, geshem all winter and tal as summer approaches…not everywhere, necessarily, but in the land of Israel where our prayers have their roots. In a desert climate, water is clearly a gift from God. It’s easy for us to forget that, here with all of this rain and snow. But our liturgy reminds us. Through the winter months, during our daily amidah we’ve prayed “mashiv ha-ruach u-morid ha-gashem” — You cause the winds to blow and the rains to fall! We only pray for rain during the rainy season, because it is frustrating both to us and to God when we pray for impossibilities. . . .

ברכת האילנות | The Blessing of Flowering Fruit Trees in the Spring Season

When the spring (Aviv) season arrives, a blessing is traditionally said when one is in view of at least two flowering fruit trees. In the northern hemisphere, it can be said anytime through the end of the month of Nissan (though it can still be said in Iyar). For those who live in the southern hemisphere, the blessing can be said during the month of Tishrei. . . .

שירת הים | The Song of the Sea, sung with a Moroccan Nusaḥ performed by R’ Hillel Ḥayim Yisraeli-Lavery

According to Rabbinic tradition, the 21st of Nissan is the day in the Jewish calendar on which Pharaoh’s army was drowned in the Sea of Reeds, and the redeemed children of Yisrael sang the Song of the Sea, the (Shirat Hayam, Exodus 15:1-19). The song, as included in the the morning prayers, comprises one of the most ancient text in Jewish liturgy. The 21st of Nissan corresponds to the 7th day of Passover, and the recitation of the Shirat HaYam is part of the daily Torah Reading. Rabbi Hillel Ḥayim Yisraeli-Lavery shares a performance of a melody he learned for the Shirat Hayam from צוף דבש Tzuf Devash, a Moroccan synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem. If there is something about this tune that strikes one as particularly celebratory, it might be because the relationship between G!d and the Jewish people is traditionally described as a marriage consummated with the Covenant at Mt. Sinai. The passage of Bnei Yisrael through the Sea of Reeds towards Mt. Sinai thus begins a bridal march commencing in the theophany at Mt. Sinai, 42 days later. . . .

סדר ספירת העומר | the Order of Counting the Omer in the Spring

Each day between the beginning of Passover and Shavuot gets counted, 49 days in all, 7 weeks of seven days. That makes the omer period a miniature version of the Shmitta and Yovel (Jubilee) cycle of 7 cycles of seven years. Just as that cycle is one of resetting society’s clock to align ourselves with freedom and with the needs of the land, this cycle too is a chance to align ourselves with the rhythms of spring and the spiritual freedom represented by the Torah. . . .


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