Yom L’Yabasha

Last year I spoke about Berach Dodi which is chanted in some synagogues on the First and Second Days of Passover. This year I want to speak about Yom L’Yabasha, which means “the day the depths turned to dry land” and which is the piyut, or liturgical poem, chanted on the Seventh Day of Passover before the Shacharit Festival Amidah. I have only heard this piyut done once, by Cantor Mitchell Martin when I was growing up in Milwaukee.

          Yom L’Yabasha was written by Yehuda HaLevi, an 12th century Spanish poet whose most famous work was The Kuzari, a dialogue between a rabbi and the king of the Khazars which ultimately led to the Khazars’ conversion to Judaism. In Yom L’Yabashah, HaLevi writes that the redemption from Egypt should bring about future redemption for our people. Like Berach Dodi, which we discussed last year, the prayer ends בגלל אבות תושיע במים ותביא גאולה לבני בניהם: “for the sake of our forefathers may you save the offspring and bring redemption to their children’s children.” HaLevi recognizes that while we were redeemed from Egypt we are still in exile, unable to live freely in our Promised Land. This was especially poignant for him, as we wrote a poem  יפה נוף, which begins יְפֵה נוֹף מְשׂוֹשׂ תֵּבֵל קִרְיָה לְמֶלֶךְ רָב / לָךְ נִכְסְפָה נַפְשִׁי מִפַּאֲתֵי מַעְרָב

“Landscape of beauty, joy to the world headquarters of a sovereign multitude. For you my soul yearns From the far, far West.” HaLevi lived during the Golden Age of Spain, a time of immense wealth and plenitude, yet he writes that he would have given it all up for one glimpse of the Land of Israel.

Does this still apply to us today? After all we are blessed to just hop on a plane from JFK and travel to the Promised Land. I would argue that of course it does as we still do not have an age of the Messiah, of peace. We are often so comfortable here in the United States that we forget what it means to yearn for something, to have our heart ache at which is unattainable for us. Our heartstrings don’t necessarily pull the same way HaLevi’s does in the poem. He recognizes that sometimes you can have the world and yet you’d give it all up for something that money can’t buy.

As we continue to celebrate Passover,  I hope we don’t lose sight of our mission and goals in life, just being comfortable in the present and sitting on our laurels. In Yom L’Yabasha, HaLevi takes us back to what it was like to just be redeemed. In his chorus, שירה חדשה שבחו גאולים, he continually takes us back to the moment when “the redeemed ones sang a new song.” What does a song of true redemption truly sound like, when we are no longer enslaved to our desires or to the comfort of our everyday lives, when we break out of our shells and become who we are truly meant to be?

There’s a story about Reuven and Shimon crossing the Sea of Reeds. When Moses lifted his hand and the sea opened Reuven stepped in and noticed there was mud on his shoe. He said to Shimon “What is this mud?” and Shimon replied “Ech! There’s mud all over the place.” After a few more steps, Reuven complained, “This is just like the slime puts of Egypt! When we were making bricks, we had mud up to our knees.” Shimon retorted, “What difference does it make? Mud here, mud there back in Egypt; it’s all the same.” Revuen and Shimon grumbled the entire way across the sea, never seeing the miracle and never understanding why when they reached the other shore everyone was singing songs of praise. For them, the miracle never happened.[1]

Let us use the last day and a half of Passover to be mindful and ensure that we sing songs of praise and have gratitude and appreciation for the daily miracles that we encounter, recognizing how fortunate we are. When we reach challenge moments, may we have the faith and fortitude to be able to figuratively cross our own Sea of Reeds, staying away from dangers and enriching our lives each and every day.

[1] Adapted from Siddur Shema Yisrael by Shoshana Silberman

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