Last day of Pesach: A time to pause, imagine, renew

Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17

Numbers 28:19-25

Isaiah 10:32-12:6

The Torah describes this day in an intriguing way. This seventh day of Passover, observed as the seventh and eighth days of Pesach by Conservative and Orthodox Jews outside of the Land of Israel, is described as follows: "Eat matzot for six days; and on the seventh day– have an atseret for the Lord your God; you shall do no work" (Deuteronomy 16:8).

What is an atseret? Scholars are uncertain about the meaning of the word. One possibility is that atseret comes from the verb atsor, to stop. This, then, is a time out from work and routine activity, holy time dedicated to God. Another possibility is that atseret means a sacred gathering. If we put these two meanings together, we see this day as a time for collective creative pause — for retreat and renewal and connection — with our community and with God.

What, then, are we to do with ourselves during this quiet, sacred gathering time? What content is to fill our thoughts and our hearts at this time? The answer lies in two of the high points of this day's ritual in the synagogue. On this eighth day of Passover — the seventh day for Reform Jews — we recite Yizkor. We come together — even many, many Jews who don't normally find the synagogue a compelling place in their lives — and remember our loved ones who have died. We cry, we savor memories, we pray for the souls of our loved ones and we pray for our own ability to live in such a way that we give honor to the lives of those who have gone before. On this holy day, we dedicate time to memory and to grief, looking back at those who have given us life.

And on the haftarah for the eighth day, we look forward — not just a generation or two ahead, but we look ahead into a vision of a world yet to be. On this day, we read the most magnificent of messianic visions. Isaiah invites us to imagine a world in which "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the viper's nest. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of God, as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:6-9).

Bracket for a moment the inner voice of the skeptic who cries out, "How unrealistic! This can never be!" The prophet asks us to imagine — and the rabbis, giving us this haftarah, ask us to remind ourselves of the possibility of a world in which there is no danger, no conflict, no harm. This is a world in which children are absolutely safe, the creatures of the earth are completely at one with one another and there is nothing at all to fear.

This vision belongs to Pesach, for the rabbis understood that liberation and redemption and the evolution of freedom did not stop when the Israelites left bondage in Egypt. Someday, we are to imagine that Pesach will reach its ultimate conclusion, that liberation will be universal, that all the world will be redeemed from bondage, hate and fear. On that day, we will all be free.

There is much work to do to get us there. There are times to roll up our sleeves and do our part to bring the world one step closer to redemption. But on this holy day, we are to stop, to pause, to remember those who have given us strength to do our work in the world, and just imagine what someday the world can be.

May this pause of collective holy time renew us for the work that is ours to do.

Rabbi Amy Eilberg
Rabbi Amy Eilberg

Rabbi Amy Eilberg serves as a spiritual director, peace educator and justice activist, and teacher of Mussar. More information on her work can be found at