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Monday, April 7, 2014

Passover Seder's Fifteen Steps.

The Hebrew calendar is unusual because Nisan is the first month, associated with Passover or Pesach the holiday of redemption. But, its opposite end, the sixth and seventh month, Tishrei is the Jewish new year including at Passovers opposite, the holiday of Sukkot. Kabbalah teaches equal in opposites, so I look to Sukkot to see what we can learn about Pesach.

There is  teaching that the lower feminine waters (of the Gihon Spring) complained to God, “We, too, want to be close to You!” God consoled them, saying, “There will come a time when you, too, will be close, when your waters will be poured upon the altar during Sukkot, to celebrate.” At Sukkot the Levite priests sang spiritual songs that kept Jerusalem wide-eyed till dawn as they stood upon the “fifteen steps of descent from the Israelite courtyard to the women’s courtyard, that correspond to the fifteen ‘Songs of Ascents’ composed by King David.  But, the priests descended those fifteen steps?

Rav Chisda asked “a certain rabbi” why King David composed these fifteen Songs of Ascents to begin with. The rabbi replied that when King David began excavating the foundation of the Temple’s altar, the waters of the subterranean deep rushed upwards and threatened to engulf the world. Then, King David composed fifteen Songs of Ascents, and the depths safely subsided. If so, Rav Chisda protested, why are they not called Songs of Descent, to reflect the subsiding waters.

Replied the anonymous rabbi, this is what occurred: When the deep surged upwards, King David thought to inscribe God's Name on a piece of earthenware and cast it into the waters. His teacher, Achitofel, ruled it permissible reasoning; if according to Torah, for the sake of matrimonial harmony, God commands us to write His Name on parchment and to erase it by placing it into a container of water for an alleged unfaithful wife to drink and redeem herself, then it is certainly permissible for King David to cast the divine Name into the surging waters to bring peace to the entire world!

King David immediately wrote and cast The Name into the waters, which then subsided sixteen levels. Surprised, the King realized the earth’s irrigation would be reduced, so he voiced fifteen Songs of Ascents that brought the waters back up to a safe and desirable level.

In his commentary on the Talmud, Maharsha adds that the divine Name King David wrote was with the letters Yud-Hei, which equates the numerical value fifteen. The Name is associated with the final redemption of the Jewish people. The two priests who descended these steps on the way to draw the water on Sukkot would pause on the tenth step, to divide the steps in two parts, ten and five, corresponding to the Yud (ten) and Hei (five) respectively.

Maharal quotes the verse from Isaiah 26:4, “For in God (Yud-Hei) is the strength of the worlds.” Our sages stated that all creation comes into being via these two divine “letters,” Yud and Hei. These letters comprise “form” that comes from the Yud, and “matter” that comes from the Hei. These reflect the spiritual worlds united with the material.

This, then, is the Kabbalistic secret behind the fifteen Songs of Ascents corresponding to the Temple steps that directed people to the higher world, from the more material, “feminine” women’s courtyard, toward the more spiritual, “masculine” aspect, the Israelite courtyard and ultimately the exclusive domains of the high priests. When a redeemed Israel left the clutches of Egypt (Mitzrayim ) they first journeyed through the lowest waters, the bottom of Yam Suf meaning Reed/Red or some say Sea at the End where they cast their souls, comprising God's name, into the waters and from where they ascended as a nation.

Each year Jews the world over renew the months that will follow by ascending through 15 steps of the Pesach seder (the Passover meal). They pause after the tenth step during which they remember eating the pascal lamb sacrifice in the holy Temple in Jerusalem. Then, they begin the last of five steps with the festive meal of the seder. From the digestion of the holy Pesach meal, their bodies are infused and elevated. Six months later they descend 15 steps at Sukkot when they unite the Lulav (Palm) and the Willow branches with the lower waters. Then their meal is eaten in the surrounding of the Sukkah, the natural hut Jews live in during that week each year.

Christians tied Easter to Pesach and Jews dedicate the water festival of Sukkot for all the nations. We are living in the years considered to be the millennial hour, the time of transition, at the doorstep of Moshiach (Mesiah) and Israel's final redemption. The 15 steps of the Pesach seder compliment Sukkot’s 15 holy steps of the Temple. With the realization of this inner beauty, perhaps we will live a peace that is the Jewish dream. Then those who live and celebrate in Jerusalem will no longer need to utter the Seder's concluding words "next year in Jerusalem"!