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The Pandemic and the Seder- 2021

Updated: Dec 8, 2023

A year ago when we celebrated Pesach, I don’t think we realized that we were actually ENTERING Egypt, Mitzrayim, the narrow place, the place of confinement.   A year later, 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?  Many of us were still celebrating virtually, or socially distanced, and, if we WERE blessed to be able to be with family, I bet we had a renewed appreciation of something that we might otherwise take for granted- being together in person.   I saw my mom for the first time in a year!

A guy named 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 washed our hands- twice.   Once, with no blessing.  I don’t know about you, but I definitely cleaned my hands more this past year 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.  It felt like our lives were shattered this year.  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 year.

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?

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, there 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?

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 sang Dayenu and contemplated- what would be enough in this crazy situation?  If we could only be assured of an adequate supply of toilet paper- Dayenu!  If we could only figure out how to function on Zoom- Dayenu!  If we could only hug our grandchildren- 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 4 times and toast to sweetness and joy.  If we could only have a vaccine- 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!  Dayenu pandemic!

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