Walking into the breakfast-room of a vegan health retreat a decade ago I was greeted by a morning challenge - "Yah, you can ask Mimi, she believes!!!" My cover was about to be blown. When asked to my profession in such places I would never say "Rabbi" or articulate the words "Mysticism" or "Kabbalah," for such words would kill my private time while flying or being on retreat. I would always say: "I'm a philosophy professor" and if pushed for details I would respond: "I teach late medieval / early modern Eastern European philosophy." This usually brought this line of interrogation to a halt long enough for me to pose a counter question and the conversation would move on from there. Only once in the last fifteen years did someone get close to interpreting this as "Chassidic thought". Close, but thank God, not close enough to reveal my secret.
So here I am, a Wednesday morning in the heat of Floridian summer morning when I'm greeted with, Stan calling out to Doris: "Yah, you can ask Mimi, she believes!!!" Doris and I had taken a liking to each other since the beginning of the week - she was an African-American woman in her forties, and I could hear by her language and way of conducting herself that she was a woman of faith. A faith that held God close to one's heart and soul. A faith that I respected, as it offered a quality of intimacy with the Divine. Smiling, she turns to me and says: "You believe in the Bible?" "I do," I responded quietly. "You believe in Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden?" "I do," responding slowly. Then came: "And the splitting of the Red Sea???" It was at this point that I couldn't hold back and loudly blurted out in a southern-Baptist accent: "Sistah, I believe! I believe that God created heaven and earth! I believe that He planted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden! And the Lord then split the Red Sea and we walked through it! Sistah, I believe, I believe, Glory Halleluiah, I believe, I believe, I believe!!!" shaking my hands towards the heavens. Stan turns white as a sheet, thinking that I have insulted Doris and all that is holy in her eyes. But I knew that we were women of faith having an "inside conversation" while in public. Her eyes lit up and she retorted: "Sistah, not only do you believe, you have a sense of humor!" and the two of us, holding each other, burst into a loud laugh.
I was reminded of this moment when rereading the last few verses of our haftorah for Shabbat Hagadol - a special reading for the shabbat before Pessach- singling out Mal'achi 3, 23-24: "Behold I will send you Eliyah the prophet, before the coming of the great (HaGadol) and dreadful / awe-filled (HaNorah) day of God; And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers..."
I find myself tearing as reading and now writing these words. I ask myself if I believe this is possible. Is it possible to turn life around? Is it possible to rectify pains of the past in a way that will enable me to move forward?
Seder night, there will be a moment that all those sitting at the table with me will be given a candle and together we will go outside to look for Eliyahu HaNavi, Elijah the Prophet. We will leave the security of the table and honor that last part of us that has been hiding all night - listening to all we were saying, and perhaps more than anything wanting to believe, but none-the-less, not believing. Not believing that the reason that we start the seder with Kaddesh (holy) is because we are all HOLY. Indeed that is the secret of Matzah - eighteen minutes from the moment water touches the flour and it is continuously kneaded is matzah, but eighteen minutes and one second already constitutes chametz - the leavening has begun! Matzah is the Master of the One Second! It is all it takes to transform one's life - one second.
I always remind myself that on Yom Kippur (this shabbat's Torah reading is the reading of Yom Kippur as well) it is only the High-Priest that goes into the Holy of Holies to face the One-and-only. But seder night we are all Holy, we are all on the level of "Kaddesh" from the first moment we approach the table. We are all deserving to sit at God's table.
And so, a moment before Hallel and Nirtzah, a moment before concluding the seder with praise of God and trusting that all that we have done throughout the night has been accepted in God's arms and heart, we will go out to look for Eliyahu HaNavi. I do trust that along with him we will also find Miriam HaNevi'ah, Miriam the Prophetess, for she is the Master of waiting. She is the one who waits to see what will be of Moshe: "And his sister stood afar (me'rachock - a word used time and again in our scripture to describe the place from where God reveals Gods-self to us) to know what will become of him" (Shmot/Exodus 2,4).
It is Eliyahu HaNavi, the Master of Transformation in One Second, that brings us to the seder table. Eliyahu HaNavi partners with Miriam HaNeviah.She is the Master of waiting. She waits to make sure that we are alright, that someone has found us, and our refuge is present; that we made it through the night and have found all that we need to be able to sing words of praise to God. To trust that our actions were desirable in the eyes and heart of our Creator, and the seder is complete. We have made it through the night, we have made it out of Egypt!
This shabbat evokes our Eliyahu HaNavi consciousness, asking of us to believe in the possibility of transformation; to trust in the opportunity of liberation from all that enslaves us.
For myself, I will add a shabbat candle this week honoring and evoking the presence of Eliyahu and Miriam, as my preparation for exiting Mitzrayim / Egypt. This is what I need to believe in to make my way out and begin my journey to freedom.
What is it that you need to believe in to make your way out of Mitzrayim / Egypt?
As one who has been gifted with the name Miriam, I will be waiting for you, on the other side of Yam Soof, the Reed Sea, to dance together into the next chapters of our lives!
Shabbat shalom and chag sameach!