Why on this night do we lean to the left? The most common answer is that it is to show that we are free and that leaning left mimics the tradition of the Greeks and the Romans in their symposia. Perhaps it is because we eat with our right hand; however, even left-handed people lean to the left, unlike with t’fillin (phylacteries) which a southpaw wears on their right arm, tradition dictates that lefties should still lean left. Why is leaning to the left so important?
“With a strong hand and an outstretched arm, for his mercy endures forever.” This phrase from Psalm 136:12, is included in the Hagaddah and it is commonly understood that Hashem’s strong hand and arm are on the right, and that the left is weak.
In Kabbalah the left side is traditionally associated with things the Kabbalists thought were dangerous: judgment, femininity and the earthly. It is the side of death and evil, and it is alluring and seductive. Many of these associations are offensive today to the modern reader, especially the associations of the feminine with danger.
Reconstructing our understanding of what the left side can represent in our tradition is an important task. Today many of us are disconnected from the earthly and the feminine in our daily lives. We spend too much time in the mundane, day-to-day, task-oriented and male-dominated world. Leaning to left is an invitation to embrace the earthly, to embrace the feminine, to embrace creativity and to embrace Hashem’s female divine presence in the world, the Shekhinah.
According to our tradition the angel Gabriel is the one who stands to our left. Gabriel is associated with fire (Yoma 21b) and also with the ripening of fruits (Sanh. 95b). Gabriel is Hashem’s messenger who enacts God’s will on earth. Gabriel is also associated with Hashem’s might.
I invite us this Pesach to understand leaning to the left, not just as a sign of our freedom from oppression, but as our leaning in towards Hashem’s earthly presence. Leaning in towards the Shekhinah, the feminine, and the earthly; not as a sign of flirting with danger, but as a moment of embracing what the world sorely needs: reconnection with the earth, with femininity and with compassion. May we also draw strength from the presence of Gabriel the mighty and may we inherit his fiery passion to help us bring forth a fruitful healthy planet and society.