The end of the holiday is a chance to look forward
With the sedarim over, many Jews have begun to eye the Passover clock, waiting for the holiday to end so they can indulge their craving for pizza and other doughy foods. But by counting down until the ban on leaven is over, chances are they’ll miss the holiday at the end of the holiday.
It’s true. There’s more holiday ahead.
The seventh and eighth days of Passover are a return to full holiday mode, although they are not a separate holiday. Reform Jews celebrate just the seventh day as the last day, as do Jews in Israel. The seventh day begins at sundown Sunday.
“They are two of the most under-billed days on the Jewish calendar,” says Rabbi Sender Geisinsky of Chabad of Bethesda-Chevy Chase.
As with other holidays, the seventh day is ushered in with candlelighting, the Kiddush blessing over wine and the motzi over bread. But the Shehecheyanu prayer, giving thanks for reaching this season is not said; the one on the eve of Passover covers the whole holiday. A festive meal is traditional, too.
The last day of Pesach is also when the Yizkor memorial service is said in synagogue by Ashkenazi Jews.
“For individuals it’s a chance to remember people and the hole that exists in the world without them,” says Rabbi Jessica Oleon, of Temple Sinai in Washington, D.C. “It’s a moment of sadness and connection between the generations.”
The tradition of saying Yizkor on Passover is a “peculiar paradox,” says Rabbi Jack Moline, of Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria. “People come to shul on a happy holiday to be sad.”
The end of Pesach is often overlooked “because they’re plain yomim tovim [holidays], if there is such a thing,” he says.
But while the Torah doesn’t ascribe any special meaning to the last days, later tradition filled in the blanks.
“Passover is a celebration of a series of miracles,” Oleon says. They culminate with the Israelites’ escape across the Sea of Reeds and the drowning of their Egyptian pursuers. Tradition has placed that decisive event on the last day of Passover.
Despite its importance to Jewish survival, there is nothing to celebrate it on the final day. “We don’t typically celebrate the downfall of our enemies,” she explains, despite the popular notion that Jewish holidays can all be summed up by: “They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.”
“We don’t dance on the grave of our enemies – or we shouldn’t,” Oleon says. The Jewish response to Egyptian suffering comes during the seder, when celebrants spill a drop of wine for each plague, showing that the Egyptians’ pain reduces the Jews’ joy.
But that night before the seas parted was a night of worry and waiting, like the eve of Passover itself. So a tradition arose to hold a tikkun – a night-long study session – to parallel the experience of wakefulness.
“They didn’t really leave Egypt until they crossed the sea,” says Geisinsky. “On the first two days of Pesach we’re looking backward. On the last two days we focus on where we’re headed to.”
Passover is not an end in itself, he says. It leads somewhere.
It’s a chasidic tradition to have one last meal before the holiday ends, he says. “Everybody sits together, has four cups of wine, some matzah, and talks about redemption.”
This looking toward the coming of the messiah – the focus on the future – is the real response to the wicked son of the Haggadah, who asks, “What does this mean to you?”
Hitting the child and chastising and lecturing him about Jewish history, as the Haggadah suggests, is not an effective response to someone who already feels alienated, Geisinsky says. “It’s difficult to engage a child by talking about the past.”
The future is something else entirely.
Chabad of Bethesda-Chevy Chase will hold a Seudat Mashiach meal for the end of Passover at 6:30 p.m. on April 2. For information, go to shalomchabad.com