The Night of Conscious Watching
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Shabbes, is the Shabbes just before Pesach. One Shabbes HaGadol, twelve years after the death of my father who died during Passover, I felt that I was playing the music that night for him, as if I were saying: this is my sound, I found it, I want you to hear it. It was the resolution of something left undone. Here, I am sharing something with you, received from you but it was not fully cooked during your time. It was as if I were unpacking my music and playing for him, discussing it with him, turning it over for him and him alone; an intimate share with Harry over something he loved the most, music. Something of him came back to me that night, and something I had received from him I was able to return to him. Something that had been undone — done.
I was playing for him that night, of that much I am sure. The more I played, the more intimate we became. There were times I could hardly sing — my voice my breath overwhelmed by emotion and some quiet tears — but beneath it all was his gentle, decent, attentive presence. I felt him listening. He was always a good listener.
At the first seder that year, I was telling two friends across the table about this experience. I wondered what your father was like, my friend asked me. A little sad, beautiful, delicate, lofty, a bit distracted, sweet, mysterious, I said. I was never certain I knew the inside person, though when he opened to me, he opened in depth and in beauty.
As I described my experience of Shabbat HaGadol to my friends at the seder, it became a story. I did not sense Harry’s presence at the seder as I had in the synagogue on Shabbat HaGadol. Later that night, much later, almost morning, I wrote the story.
There is a night described in the Torah, the night before we left Egypt, when we paused. We knew we were leaving by morning, but the night before we paused in our preparations. It is called leil shimurim, hard to translate, “the night of conscious watching” I prefer. The word shimurim is used only in this verse, twice, but only here in the entire Hebrew Bible:
It was at the end of four hundred and thirty years, and it was on that very day that all the legions of God left the land of Egypt. It is a night of conscious watching of God to take them out of the land of Egypt, this was the night for God; a conscious watching for all the children of Israel for their generations (Exodus 12: 41 – 42).
What did we do the night before we escaped Egypt? Knowing we were leaving in the morning, what did we do the night before — when we paused — this night of conscious watching, what is it? A conscious watching, reciprocal, God for us, we for God — a spiritual intimacy, something that was left undone, done. Who are we waiting for, for what? Every year at Passover, I ask myself these questions.
It is used twice in that verse. That is what happened on Shabbat HaGadol that year for me, it was my night of conscious watching for Harry, it was Harry’s night of conscious watching for me.