The Biblical narrative of the Passover saga informs us: "And it came to pass at midnight, that the Lord smote all the firstborn of Egypt" (Exodus XII: 29). Midnight gives an immediate impression of dark times and obscure deeds, of wild beasts foraging, robbers plying their trade, men stumbling with injury, ghosts haunting.
Yet, the same misfortunes which struck down the Egyptian firstborn in the middle of the night proved to be good fortune to the Israelites, who as a consequence were finally freed by the obdurate Pharaoh. We have long associated the day of Passover with freedom and light; likewise, we might be apt to look upon its night as something fearful. But darkness too can be given for human blessing.
The Greeks spoke of "Evening, that brings all things home." Then the child at play returns to his parents, the bird to its nest, the laborer to the warmth and comfort of his household. It is at night that the plants grow; and man is revived and strengthened. Physicians tell us that it is during night sleep that the body releases melatonin which is the key ingredient in the fortification of our immunological defenses against illness. We often read about people who get the blues because of the long nights of winter; however, I personally find the darkness extraordinarily relaxing and calming. I also prefer jogging in the darkness rather than the light.
In the Bible the night plays many important roles. It was a time for vision – for then Jacob saw the angels ascending to Heaven and was given the lasting name of Israel. Then did David weep for his misdeeds and feel the supreme agony of penitence. As a rule the day is for action, the night is for contemplation. What a marvelous time to straighten out the tangled web of one’s daily striving and strife, as well as to plan long-term objectives.
The Passover ritual found in the Haggadah states: "Most of Thy wonders didst Thou work by night. Lot escaped from Sodom and Gomorrah, the cities of sin, at night. Israel wrestled with God and won, by night. Sennacherib’s army melted away in the night. …Riddles were solved by Daniel in the night…Proclaim, All-High, that Thine are day and night!...Make bright as day the darkness of the night!"
These are some of the lines chanted at the seder. They are well-suited to a ritual banquet that takes up so large a part of the evening, and they are designed to remind Jews that they may use every part of the day for such noble purposes as those for which the festival was ordained.
The chant seems to ask all mankind: what do we do with our evenings? Do we too have visions of a more heavenly world? Do we then contemplate the acts of the day, and feel penitence for deeds of error? Do we add to our store of culture after the day’s work is done? Do we use the night for healing and completing our record of the day?
The observance of Passover can train all of us in the proper use of the years and the months and the days and the nights allotted to us. Even the darkness of midnight can serve the glorification of human existence through remembrance of the ancient redemption. It is good for us to recall in triumphant song that the darkness must pass; that the midnight of slavery will yield to the dawn of freedom; and that in the hour of greatest obscurity we can and must prepare ourselves to march toward the light.
Miryom, Sarah, Lewis and Sarah, Debbie and Danny, Judah and Bennett, join me in wishing you and yours a hag sameah, a Happy and Healthy Passover.