Passover: Back to Egypt

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Bioluminescent Dinoflagellates and Casino Lights

Ritz Carlton, San Juan, Puerto Rico — Passover 2005

Ok, so what would you like to hear about: Old San Juan? The beautiful pool surrounded by the warm Caribbean? Or perhaps about the Passover Seder? Did I forget to mention the casino…

Man, how the real things get obscured in the layers upon layers of “havlei olam hazeh” (aka empty worldly pleasures).

But as the royal optimist, entering a manure filled barn, reminds us: There must be a pony in here somewhere!

Within all this sumptuous opulence there must be a G-d!

Well, when you look deep enough you’re bound to discover Divine riches, especially among the wonderful people who have joined together to celebrate Passover in Puerto Rico (port of the rich).

Sure enough, Puerto Rico is host to one of the most spectacular Bioluminescent Bays in the world. Every object that enters the water in this unusual bay begins to glow in the night. The mysterious blue-green light is created by microorganisms, which thrive in this unique bay, also known as Phosphorescent Bay. The bay contains up to 720,000 single-celled bioluminescent dinoflagellates per gallon of water. These half-plant, half-animal organisms emit a flash of bluish-green light when agitated at night, lighting up submerged objects with an aqua-green aura.

The high concentration of these creatures – called Pyrodimium bahamense, in case you were wondering – can create enough light to read a book from.

The flashes of light are believed to be a defense mechanism used by the plankton to scare off or confuse predators — giving the plankton enough time to escape. The glow is created from the combination of a protein and enzyme that occurs within the organism.

A trip into the Phosphorescent Bay on a moonless night is a magical experience. Fish flash by in dark water, boats take on a silver rim of light and a swim is like floating through stardust. Lie on your back and make luminescent snow angels. Raise your hand from the water and watch pellets of light drop back into the sea. A halo surrounds every piece of matter that enters the water.

Above all, these illuminating waters show us the true nature of existence. Every creature gives off light; every organism a glow. We are all bodies of energy, waiting to be ignited, waiting to shine forth.

I meet many wonderful people here over Passover. Each person radiates with his or her own particular glow – if you look with the right eyes.

But then there are other lights: The flashing neon of the casino world. What a contrast?! The Phosphorescent Bay brings out the light inside each of us; our movements generate an aura. The man-made artificial casino lights drain us of our inner light, transforming us into mechanical addicts, feeding into our lowest common denominator, as our wallets are depleted.

It’s one thing to see the sublime in the sea of light. But how do you find G-d at smoking blackjack tables, mindless slot machines, obsessive roulette and crap shots? Is there anything spiritual about all this escapist manipulation, camouflaged in the fantasy world of oxygen pumped, timeless oasis of the casino floor?

There must be a G-d in here somewhere…

Yes, I meet many people exuding energy. Sometimes our luminescence is obscured by our own vanity and pursuit of instant thrills. But if you want to see the glow in another you have to allow your glow to do the looking. Body sees body; heart feels heart; soul sees soul.

There is something dead – and deadening – about the material world. It dulls the sparkle in our eyes, the enchantment in our spirits. We need to exert ourselves to dig through the crusted layers of dust and discover the warm glow within.

We once left Egypt – all the constraints and limitations (mitzrayim) of life – and now we return to it in a new form. Same old enslavement, just now it’s in the shape of “comfort zones.”

I look around the spa and all the lotions it offers – before showering, during showering, after showering, after-after showering. The saunas, steam bathes and Jacuzzis, followed by dressing in a new set of dinner clothes to eat a Mexican barbecue on an outdoor veranda under the Puerto Rican sky.

Is this freedom or another form of bondage?

I guess that it’s up to us.

Our freedom today allows us unprecedented opportunities to discover deeper light. It offers us new ways to burst forth with new forms of emanation.

With no enemies from without (Egyptians or otherwise) we must fight the enemy of complacency, and use our free time and energy to illuminate our environment with an aura that our persecuted ancestors could no more than dream of (even if that).

I wonder if there are any dinoflagellates in the casinos. Or is there light obfuscated by the brilliant wattage of manipulative artificiality?

And what about the natural light of our souls? Where does that it go and how does it feel when we allow the light of mediocrity to dominantly shine?

Passover is a good time to find out what your soul has to say.

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