April 2021 – Pesach

This week we celebrate Shabbat on the seventh day of Passover. This Shabbat is therefore imbued with the additional privilege of being the most integral and important day in the entire Passover celebration. For while most people consider the Seder the highlight of the festival, the 7th day is when all the miracles happened for the Jewish people leaving Egypt. In fact, the people crossed the Sea of Reeds on the 7th day.

What is the reason that the Torah does not record the fact that the crossing of the sea took place on the seventh day?

While the seventh day was an incredible miracle for the Jewish people, it also marked the fact that the Egyptians drowned in the sea and G-d meted out their final punishment. Our faith does not like to celebrate death and punishment, no matter if the recipients were deserving of G-d’s wrath.

In the Seder, this attitude to punishment is represented when we pour out a little bit of wine from our cups when recalling each of the punishments the Egyptians experienced during the 10 plagues.

So while our Jewish tradition recognizes the great miracles that G-d wrought for us, we also recognize that G-d’s creations, in this case the Egyptian’s, were punished and this is not a cause for unfettered celebration. Our oral tradition always recorded the seventh day as being the day on which we crossed the sea and when in time we record our oral tradition by writing it down, this fact was preserved in our Talmud.

The seventh day of Passover also represents an especially poignant and important milestone for my family. My Zaida, the late Mr Joseph Benjamin Kaltmann, was born on the seventh day of Passover in pre-war Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. An incredible man full of vigour, happiness and optimism- despite the hardships he endured as a Holocaust survivor. I always remember him fondly on his birthday.

This year he would have been 92 years of age. He loomed large in my childhood as a figure of incredible knowledge, thoughtfulness and creativity. Although his formal education ceased due to the Holocaust when he was 14 years of age, his incredible memory served him well. All that he had learned he remembered until he passed away, including his Bar Mitzvah parsha and all of the Torah study he had studied at the pre-war Talmud Torah in Bratislava. His birthday was always a cause for celebration in our family and reminds me fondly of all the good memories of him.

There was a funny story in our family about when my grandfather was unwell later in his life and he was in hospital. As part of checking his cognitive abilities, the nurse came to ask him some simple questions like: What’s your full name? When is your birthday? He knew his name, but had no idea what his English birthday was, repeatedly telling a bemused nurse: ‘my birthday is 7th day Passover.’

When a person passes away the way that they are remembered is through the actions that are maintained even after their passing.

My Zaida was always optimistic and he had great hopes for all his children and grandchildren alike. So, on his birthday, as we enter into the sanctity of the dual celebration of Shabbat and the seventh day of Passover, a time in which miracles are extra significant and in the merit of my special Zaida, I wish you all a restful and peaceful Shabbat.