The Call of the Jackal
I shouldn’t be up at 3:30 am erev Pesach. I should be sleeping and resting before the big Seder event whose menu sits on my desk, awaiting execution. Instead, I’m awake to check “whatsapp” messages from my peripatetic husband who is stranded in Frankfurt, pending an engine repair which should get his flight back in the air sometime before the chag. My best efforts to return to sleep have been frustratingly futile so I follow the advice of an excellent article I recently read about the “hour of the wolf” – that time in the middle of the night, long before dawn, when the sages used to awaken to study and meditate. Those quiet, forlorn hours held the greatest potential for revelation, clarity, and communion with God. Some sages went outside, to the fields, to sit under the stars to connect best.
Tonight, while I’m tossing in bed, the wolf theme comes to life as I listen to the howls of jackals outside my window. They sound impressively near although I know they are likely in the nature reserve not far from here. Their clipped yelps and long cries, lyrical in a primeval way, pull me in and say “Wake up!”. In their interspersed barks and growls, I hear them communicating between themselves, gathering themselves together for safety and protection. The notes penetrate to a deep place within me and remind me of what I need to do.
These days before Pesach are a stressful time for most Jews, an ironically hectic preparation for our celebrated freedom. This year is unique for our family: we have one married son in the U.S., another two grown and nearly married children with their spouses-to-be, in Toronto, and our two youngest, here with us in Israel. My husband is en route, and my in-laws and other family members who in years past joined us for Pesach in Toronto, have remained at their homes in Montreal and San Diego. Like the Diaspora Jews that we are, I feel the scattering of my family and the need to gather them in. It won’t happen this year and, regardless of the miracle of modern technology which brings us email, Skype, and whatsapp, I won’t have most of them physically next to me at the Seder table. I feel like I should howl and cry out to them.
This is, in fact, the one time of the year when we are encouraged to reach out; to welcome not only the prophet Eliyahu into our midst, but any and all Jews who are without their own Seder table or family. In the midst of our virtual flight from slavery, in the middle of maneuvering the crowds while shopping and in our long hours of cooking and cleaning, we are still supposed to remember the “other”. We are supposed to take a long, deep breath – not just to relax and compose ourselves, but to emit the primitive howl that rounds up the dispersed and lost – that brings the pack together as one whole, “shalem”. I am glad that this year I’ve decided to invite a crowd of people I don’t even know and to celebrate our people’s freedom with them. Shalom and chag sameach.