A Night Different from All Other Nights

Carol Racklin-Siegel, “Pesach” (dyes on silk)

Spiritual Sunday

In celebration of the Jewish Passover, which begins Tuesday, I post this beloved poem by Primo Levi, written in 1982.  Many people now incorporate the poem into their seder rituals.  Knowing that Levi was an Auschwitz survivor gives the poem a special poignancy:


Tell me: how is this night different
From all other nights?
How, tell me, is this Passover
Different from other Passovers?
Light the lamp, open the door wide
So the pilgrim can come in,
Gentile or Jew;
Under the rags perhaps the prophet is concealed.
Let him enter and sit down with us;
Let him listen, drink, sing and celebrate Passover;
Let him consume the bread of affliction,
The Paschal Lamb, sweet mortar and bitter herbs.
This is the night of differences
In which you lean your elbow on the table,
Since the forbidden becomes prescribed,
Evil is translated into good.
We will spend the night recounting
Far-off events full of wonder,
And because of all the wine
The mountains will skip like rams.
Tonight they exchange questions:
The wise, the godless, the simple-minded and the child.
And time reverses its course,
Today flowing back into yesterday,
Like a river enclosed at its mouth.
Each of us has been a slave in Egypt,
Soaked straw and clay with sweat,
And crossed the sea dry-footed.
You too, stranger.
This year in fear and shame,
Next year in virtue and in justice.


The work of the artist Carol Racklin-Siegel can be found at pomegranatestudios.com.

This entry was posted in Levi (Primo) and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments are closed, but you can leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  1. johncamanz
    Posted April 17, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    Dear Robin,
    You might find the following slideshow interesting. The link is at the end of the comment.
    It can also be found on the web page for NPR’s radio program: Being with Krista Tippett

    SoundSeen (our multimedia stories)» “A Survivors’ Haggadah” [slideshow, 2:06]
    In 1946, the U.S. Army printed a haggadah for the first Passover after liberation from Nazi control. A stirring series of woodcut images by Miklós Adler interweaves the Exodus story with the liberation of Jews in Germany after World War II.


  2. Robin Bates
    Posted April 18, 2011 at 4:57 am | Permalink

    I’ll check it out, John. Thanks for sending it. I love Krista Tippett’s show “Speaking of Being,” and, now that I think of it, she may have tipped me off to this poem in the first place.


  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

  • Sign up for weekly newsletter

    Your email will not be shared or sold.
    * = required field

    powered by MailChimp!
  • Twitter Authentication data is incomplete