The holiday of Passover – Pesach – is called zman cheruteinu– time of our freedom. As we have discussed many times on this blog (see Interpreting Dreams; It’s the time, stupid! Carpe Diem; Mezuzah and Time; Riddle — the answer; Splitting the Sea), freedom can only be obtained by mastering time.

Everything about celebrating Passover is related to time. It all starts on the Rosh Chodesh Nissan (the New Moon, the beginning of the month of Nissan – marked by the renewal of the monthly lunar cycle – during which we celebrate Passover).  On that day, the very first commandment was given to the Jewish people – the commandment to set the calendar by the lunar cycle, i.e., the commandment of keeping time.

Classical commentators ask: Why the Torah (which means “Instruction”) does not have as its first command something practical, like the commandments of keeping Shabbat or Kashrut? Why does it start with the commandment of keeping time?  The answer is that all other commandments can only be performed in time.  The holiness extant in this world, which Jewish people are called upon to reveal, is hidden in moments of time.  That is why the main blessing that we say in the Amida prayer of every holiday is, “Blessed are You, G‑d, Who sanctifies Israel and times”.  It is the cosmic mission of the nation of Israel to reveal the hidden holiness of time.

As we begin the month of Nissan, every day we say the Nasi – Biblical verses recounting sacrifices brought by the princes of the twelve tribes of Israel upon the dedication of the Mishkan (Tebernackle – portable Sanctuary).  The Mishkan was dedicated on the first day of Nissan and on that day, the prince of Judah brought his sacrifices. Over the succeeding days, each prince brought similar sacrifices. Today, we mention the sacrifices brought by each prince all those years ago on the day.

These twelve princes – and twelve days – correspond to twelve permutations of the Tetragrammaton – the four-letter Name of G‑d – Y‑H‑W‑H (or Y‑H‑V‑H).  Because the Tetragrammaton consists of only three unique letters –Yud, Heh and Vav – the letter Heh being repeated twice – as the second and the fourth letter – there are only 12 distinct permutations. As we discussed in an earlier post (see Second Adar – The Month of Quantum Physics), this is why we have twelve months in a year – each month receiving its “energy” and the “life-force” from one of the twelve permutations of the Tetragrammaton.  This is also why, according to Kabbalah, each day is made of two sets of twelve hours.  Twelve permutations – give the “life-force” to each twelve-hour set.  Two letters Heh produce two sets of twelve hours. Since these two lettersHeh are not entirely identical (the first Heh corresponds to the Sefirah (Divine emanation) of Binah-Knowledge, and the latterHeh corresponds to the Sefirah of Malchut-Kingship), the two sets of twelve hours that they influence are also not identical – the first twelve hours are daytime and the second twelve hours are night.

The seven days (the eighth day being, of course, of rabbinic origin) of the Passover Holiday represent another time period – seven days of the week.  According to the Kabbalah, a week has seven days because each day corresponds to one midah, i.e., one of the seven lower Sefirot Chesed (kindness), Gevurah (judgment), Tiferet (beauty), Netzach (endurance), Hod (empathy), Yesod (foundation) and Malchut (kingship).  As we approach Passover, we recall that Erev Pesach – the Eve of Passover – is marked by two precise points in time – chatzot ha’laylah – the exact midnight when all firstborn Egyptians were struck down by the last of the Ten Plagues, and chatzot ha’yom – the exact midday when, twelve hours later, the Jews left Egypt in a hurry.  The precise timing of these events is not coincidental. G‑d demonstrates to us, as it were, His absolute mastery of time – something we are commanded to emulate and strive for.  Punctuality is said to be the courtesy of kings. Jewish people are called bnei melachim – children of kings. Punctuality is a trait that befits us since it demonstrates control over time and our temporal duties.

And, finally, the Seder night. The word “Seder” means “order.”  It is, first and foremost, the order in time. The Seder is comprised of three major parts – first, part is Magid – the recitation from the Hagada of the brief history of Jewish people through the Egyptian exile and the Exodus; second, the festive meal; and last, Nirtzo – a prayer for the Messianic redemption. It is easy to see how this structure mimics the structure of time – past, present, future.  Indeed, the first part, the Magid, literally speaks about our past.  The second part is the meal –one can only eat in the present.  The last part speaks about future redemption. We conclude the Seder by pronouncing – LeShanah Haba’ah B’Yerushalayim – Next year, in Jerusalem!  We speak of the future… Thus, the Passover Seder unifies Past, Present and Future.  The Seder establishes the Arrow of Time – from Egypt (the lowest point in holiness) to Jerusalem (the holiest place on Earth) – the arrow points upward, ascending in holiness.

In the beginning of November of 2011, someone sent a mass email – The eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of November 2011 is a unique moment in time – 11:11 11/11/11 – that will never repeat itself – Let’s do something special! I replied, Guess what, this very moment in time called “now” is absolutely unique – it will never repeat itself.  Why wait till November 11?  Let’s do something special now!  The Four Questions that every child asks the father begin with, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”  This teaches us about uniqueness of every moment of time.

Every detail of Passover Seder is specified in time to a minute detail – how long we may take to eat kazait (the minimum volume) of matzah and moror (bitter herbs), how long may we take to gulp down each of the four glasses of wine.  And we must finish the aficoman (the last piece of matzah eaten after the meal) before hatzot (astronomical midnight). These seemingly limiting and burdensome details teach mastery of time.  We live in time, we serve our Creator in time and every moment counts!

Every participant in a Seder becomes the Master of Time – and that is how we enter Time of our Freedom. Next year – in Jerusalem!


Passover Seder

A Ukrainian 19th-century lubok representing the Seder table.