These past two years when we celebrated Pesach, I don’t think we realized that we were actually ENTERING Egypt, Mitzrayim, the narrow place, the place of confinement. Now, for some of us, we read the Haggadah through an entirely new lens. The brilliance of our tradition and rituals is that the depth of meaning never ends. As Rav Kook famously noted, “The old becomes new and the new becomes holy.”
So, why is THIS Passover different from all other Passovers? Some of us may still be celebrating virtually, or socially distanced, and some, if we are blessed, are able to be with family and friends. I bet we each have a renewed appreciation of something that we might otherwise take for granted – being together in person.
Rabbi Ben Bag Bag said of the Torah, “Turn it and turn it for everything is in it.” (Pirke Avot 5:21) He was speaking of the Torah, yet, I think that his teaching applies much more broadly. This year, the seder begs to be interpreted as a commentary on the pandemic.
We are to wash our hands – twice. Once, with no blessing. I don’t know about you, but I definitely cleaned my hands more these past two years than perhaps in my entire previous life. And it was not necessarily a blessed event, as our hands became chapped from the constant washing!
Yachatz- the broken matzah. For some, it has felt like our lives were shattered these last two years. Broken plans, broken dreams, broken visions. Live-streamed Bnai Mitzvah and Zoom funerals. Weddings postponed. I’d like to take a piece of matzah and crumble it to bits to symbolize this past two years.
Four questions? So MANY questions? How did COVID-19 get started? Why did it take so long for us to understand the magnitude of the threat? Why did so many resist the mitigation strategies recommended by scientists? And when will it be safe to return to some sense of normalcy? Will anything be the same again?
The seder continues. We tell the story. One of the things that fascinates me in the Torah is the specificity of the details regarding the journey through the wilderness – we went here, we stopped there, over there was water and food, in that other place we had no resources. It is a deep human need to tell and retell the story of our travails, the story of our journeys. What story will we tell about the challenges of this experience? Will there be lessons learned? Who will recall the great toilet paper shortage?!
What were the 10 plagues of the pandemic? No in-person school or religious services. Businesses closed and jobs lost. Illness and the long-term consequences of illness. Separation from family and loved ones. No hugs. No smiles. And death. So much death.
It was bitter. The bitter herbs are ever-present. The Haggadah teaches us that suffering is part of life. We hope that our pain, that our maror, will be sweetened by a bit of charoset. We all sing Dayenu and contemplate – what would be enough in this crazy situation? If we could only be assured of an adequate supply of (fill in the blank) – Dayenu! If we could only figure out how to function on Zoom – Dayenu! If we could only hug our loved ones – Dayenu! If we could only see them! Dayenu should be a theme of our lives, appreciating the blessings we enjoy even at the most difficult of times.
We raise our glasses four times and toast to sweetness and joy. If we could only have a solution to help everyone heal – Dayenu! If we could only open our doors without fear and find Elijah there to announce our freedom from want and from pain. If we could only dip our parsley in salt water, recognizing the tears and embracing the hope for the coming of spring.
Next year in Jerusalem! Next year- ANYWHERE of our choice! May this Pesach be a season of renewal for all of us!