Home Digital Content Library Shabbat Awakenings, April 2, 2021: The Night of Watching
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Shabbat Awakenings, April 2, 2021: The Night of Watching

You can listen to this as a podcast HERE.


It is the perfect summary, placed between

the time the Israelites rush out of Egypt, set free by an anguished Pharaoh

because of the last plague of the death of the first born and the description

of the holiday God instructed us to observe and to remember when we did indeed

go free from Egypt. 


Exodus 12:40: The length of time that the

Israelites lived in Egypt was 430 years; at the end of the 430th year,

to the very day, all the ranks of the Eternal departed from the land of Egypt.

That was for the Eternal–a night of vigil לֵ֣יל שִׁמֻּרִ֥ים to bring them out

of the land of Egypt; that same night is the Eternal’s one of vigil for all the

children of Israel through the ages.


We sit on the precipice of that

moment–right now.


Let us not underestimate the power of the

night. As Avivah Zornberg notes: “It is on the night before the Exodus when God

instructed the Israelites to consume the Passover offering in ready position,

belted and booted, prepared to depart.” (The Particulars of Rapture, pg. 165)

This moment caps the plagues before it: of the locusts darkening the earth

so that it could not be seen and the palpable darkness in Egypt, save for the

homes of the Israelites. The Jewish People have known darkness, degradation,

and the disgrace of servitude. 


And yet,

the commentators tried to understand exactly what a night of vigil, Leil Sheemorim לֵ֣יל שִׁמֻּרִ֥ים really meant. They provide 4 ideas.

  1.   While

Nachmanides 13th century Spain, viewed it as the night to ensure that the

Israelites did indeed exit,

  1.   Rashbam,

12th century France, emphasized that God had been anticipating

this moment from the time of the patriarchs, defining Sheemorim as



paying attention-true vigilance.

  1.   Gersonides,

14th century Provence, saw it as observing ritual behaviors

expected on that night as they consumed the Passover offering.

  1.   But

is it Ibn Ezra, 12th century Spain, who saw the grave danger the Jewish people

were in while the Angel of death moved about the land. He believed God was

protecting these soon to be free people.


Guaranteeing, vigilantly awaiting,

observing ritual, and protecting are all contained in this night of vigil.


Throughout Jewish history, the night of

watching developed an ironic tragic twist. Passover became an experience of

potential anguish from bloody pogroms. They watched to protect their lives

caused by the conspiracy theory known as the blood libel- one of the original

examples of totally made up fake news. I want to share how Encyclopedia Judaica

describes it: Blood libel is the allegation that Jews murder non-Jews

especially Christian [children], in order to obtain blood for the Passover

ritual. It is a complex of deliberate lies, trumped up accusations, and

popular beliefs about the murder lust of the Jews and their blood

thirstiness. (EJ Vol 4, pg. 1120)


We know how these expressions of hatred

became manifest and led to murderous attacks and massacres of Jews from before

the Middle Ages and continuing as fodder for heinous crimes. In Europe,

Passover brought out the worst in our neighbors. Blatant lies permeated

throughout the community to inspire fear, dread and horror into the hearts and

minds of those already suspicious of the Jewish community. It may seem like

those nefarious accusations occurred in a faraway moment, but in the hands of

time of human history, they were just moments ago. And still are.


Let’s pause to assess the characteristics

of the blood libel: Intentional prevarication, a conspiracy that involves

violence to children, consumption of blood as some magical potion, and a

specific group of people (Jews) targeted who they think has an undeserved power

or control.


I see a strong correlation to QAnon whose

core falsehood, as described by the (NYTimes 3.4.21)

is that a group of Satan-worshiping elites run by pedophiles

and are trying to control our politics and media—in addition to molesting

children. Members of this group kill and eat their victims to extract a

life-extending chemical called adrenochrome.


Once again:

Intentional prevarication, a conspiracy

that involves violence to children, consumption of blood or here adrenochrome

as some magical potion, a specific group of people targeted who they think has

undeserved power or control.


We know Jews do not have a monopoly on

hatred used against us. Deceitful defamation leads to violence across race,

age, ability, gender, and sex. What starts as repugnant falsehoods transforms

into viciousness of actions often uncontrolled and uncontained. The Anti-Asian

violence can trace its source to many instances of perversion of the truth.

Think Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, WWII Japanese internment camps, biased

names for Covid-19, the Atlanta murders.


Our vigilance must

remain strong. 


The vigils across our

country, particularly in Atlanta and Boulder speak to the importance of paying

attention. They are not only gatherings of mourning,

but a statement of awareness of the ever

present potential and impact of violence and hate. 


We were witnesses to the January 6th insurrection

fueled by trumped up lies and conspiracy theories coursing through social

media. How easily it was received with open arms by groups such as the

proud boys, the oath keepers, those carrying the confederate flag and others

attired in camp Auschwitz T-shirts.


Lest we think QAnon is static, to the

contrary, on Tuesday of last week the LA Times posted an article entitled:

“QAnon shifts, spreading Chinese and Jewish conspiracy myths.”


The most recent Pew Study on the profile

of the Jewish community offers a troubling trend: antisemitism may be the new

normal and it is profoundly felt amidst the Jewish community. As was reported

last year: “There is such a level of palpable fear, anger, and vulnerability

among American Jews, with attacks—verbal and physical…coming from the far right

and far left and from attackers whose only common denominator is hatred of



From where will our deliverance come on

this night in our calendar called לֵ֣יל שִׁמֻּרִ֥ים , a night of Vigil? 


The commentators have provided a

framework. Guarantee, Vigilance, Ritual Observance, and Protection are all

contained in this night of vigil and how we approach the prevalence of hatred,

bias, and racism for Jews and for so many others.


Their ideas inform us.


Let’s guarantee that

we interrupt hate, an instruction that appears in a recent ADL Haggadah sent

out to remind us to speak up, share facts, and show strength. 

We just witnessed this in Duxbury with its

football coach and team.


This leads us to vigilance. Ahad

Ha’Am, the early Zionist recognized that a lie is a lie especially as a

conspiracy theory, regardless of how people view it. He wrote: “The

accusation [of the blood libel] is the solitary case in which the general

acceptance of an idea—[ideas that rest on popular logic, and have no real

scientific basis]…does not make us doubt whether all the world can be wrong,

and we right,

because [blood libel] is based on an

absolute lie…” (Selected Essays, pgs 203-4)


Conspiracy theories are not new especially

when they seek to demean or to fuel hatred and bigotry. Our former governor,

Mitt Romney, summed up this idea when he said. “Just tell the truth.”


From guaranteeing we interrupt hate, to vigilance against

lies, we arrive at protection of the moral and ethical imperative. When

Winston Churchill spoke these words, he understood the perils of deceit and

dishonesty: He said Never give in. Never give

  1. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never

give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense…”


The truth must prevail over those

complicit and those who hate and seek to harm others.


The last of what our commentators

described is the celebration of our beautiful tradition. That night of vigil

for the Israelites was filled with pain and excitement. They heard the

cries of loss. They feared for their own lives. And yet, they

continued with the observance of the ritual. In our own day, we say, “let all

who are hungry come and eat.” We are not alone. We invite others into the

Seder, those part of the Jewish orbit and those with whom we foster

friendship. Our circles grow stronger by our connections to one another. 



tomorrow night and many nights ahead are of watching out for one

another לֵ֣יל שִׁמֻּרִ֥ים. For as our liturgy teaches us, we march forward

into the daylight of freedom with the resolve that together we can get to the

promised land of dignity, respect, and truth.