In Southern California, over the course of a few days in March, anyone walking — or standing, or driving, or looking out the window — at almost any time of day was treated to a remarkable sight. Flying through the air were thousands upon thousands of butterflies. The creatures — orange and black Painted Lady butterflies — had left their winter homes in the desert and begun their annual flight northward, winging their way to the Pacific Northwest.
In my first surprise moments of seeing the swarms overhead in every direction, I was overwhelmed: it was breathtaking and beautiful and strange. It was also mysterious and powerful. What was going on? I slowed my pace and looked much more closely.
My butterfly-sky moment: slowing down, witnessing, and allowing myself to focus on the near-impossible.
Soon it will be Pesach, the holiday built on butterfly-sky moments.
Moshe is beckoned toward the divine with a fire that does not destroy; he responds by slowing down, witnessing, wondering. It is this moment that opens his soul to God — and to the idea of (impossibly) bringing light to a darkened world.
Later, the Israelite people — newly freed — experience a shock:
וּבְנֵ֧י יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל הָלְכ֥וּ בַיַּבָּשָׁ֖ה בְּת֣וֹךְ הַיָּ֑ם וְהַמַּ֤יִם לָהֶם֙ חֹמָ֔ה מִֽימִינָ֖ם וּמִשְּׂמֹאלָֽם׃
The people walked on dry land in the midst of the sea. And the water was — for them — a wall on the right and on the left. (Exodus 14:29)
A dry sea? A corridor of water walls? Inconceivable. Unexpected, powerful, confusing — and strangely inspiring. (Some believe that the walls were solid; others say they were opaque, or that the waters formed into nets — enormous glistening filigree on either side of the people, or that the water sprouted fruit that they picked and ate.) The wet transformed into dry, the water stood as walls beside them, and dread gave way to song. The impossible becoming possible. Their butterfly-sky moment.
Here comes Pesach. It says to us: join the Seder and slow down, look up, and wonder. Moshe’s moment and the walk through the sea beckon us: Look around the table and hear soul-stories. Read about the darkness and share your own revelations of light. Don’t just dip and lean and recite and eat; instead, dip slowly into your own oppression and your long march to freedom. Lean into family memories. Recite the Exodus story as it’s lived right now, and right here. And become filled with the gifts of this moment.
Slow down, witness and immerse in the near-impossible. In the words of the Hagaddah: בְּכָל דּוֹר וָדוֹר חַיָּב אָדָם לִרְאוֹת אֶת עַצְמוֹ כְּאִלוּ הוּא יָצָא מִמִּצְרַיִם In every generation — including right now — see ourselves as part of this impossible and breathtaking story. Pesach invites your gaze and your soul stories. In the words of the great late poet Mary Oliver: Pay attention. Be amazed. Tell about it.