Torah Thoughts Pesach 5780
By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
The Passover Seder, the greatest gathering of the Jewish year, is nearly upon us, and this year it will be celebrated like no other. One of the most well-known texts we read (and sing!) during the Seder is Mah nishtanah ha-leila ha-zeh, “How different is this night from all other nights.” Indeed, in this year of the Coronavirus crisis, there is no question our Seder, and Passover in general, will be different.
Thousands of Jews will celebrate Passover alone for the first time in their lives, while many others will struggle to find some Passover foods or even general foods they usually eat during the holiday. Many will find it hard to get ready for Passover, to clean their houses and get rid of all leavened foods and do their pre-Passover shopping.
Passover, and especially the Seder during the first two nights of Passover, is a festival in which you gather with friends and family. We usually say that in Passover nobody can be alone, and also that there is always room for another person at the Seder table. How can you celebrate Passover alone, or without your children or friends? No question, this will be a challenge this year.
It is clear that this year will be different, that Passover will be celebrated in a different way. How should we react? What should we do? I anticipate two opposite possible reactions. Some people will be so overwhelmed that they will choose not to celebrate Pesach at all. After all, they may say, how can you rejoice during this time of social distancing, disease, and death?
Some other people will prefer to completely avoid any reference to the Coronavirus crisis. They will celebrate the Sedarim at home and try to isolate themselves from the news and the outside world.
I believe we need to take the shvil hazahav, the middle way, in the words of Maimonides. We cannot cut off ourselves from the world, from the suffering around us. But, at the same time, we should find a way to still be able to find joy and happiness in our lives. And to celebrate Pesach!
The Jewish tradition is adaptative by nature. Indeed, this is one of the strengths of Judaism, and one of the main reasons the Jewish tradition in people is still alive after so many years of distress and difficulties. A good example of this is found in the story of Pesach itself, more precisely in the custom of eating matzah.
As you know, when the Children of Israel left Egypt they had no time for leavening their bread. Therefore, they baked unleavened bread, matzah. And that is why we still eat matzah every Passover, to remember the exodus of Egypt and what our ancestors experienced.
But, think about it… We not only still eat matzah during Pesach, but we actually have built a whole festival around it.
No doubt bread is better than matzah, right? Our sages could have developed a festival when you have to eat only one little piece of matzah, or even only mention that matzah was the food our ancestors ate when they left Egypt. However, they preferred to design a festival that, in fact, features the matzah. This way, they built a beautiful festival around something other people may have preferred to avoid or hide. This is the Jewish power of adaptation!
We will have a different Pesach this year, no question about it. There are many reasons to be worried. However, we cannot control what is happening around us. We will have to adapt Pesach to our current situation. So, let us learn from the wisdom of our tradition and try to have a beautiful Pesach, the best way we can. Our ancestors did not have bread, but they were wise enough to be happy with their matzah. Let us be wise and enjoy the many blessings we have in life, and let us celebrate this different Pesach to the fullest, taking advantage of every drop of joy we can find.
Chag Pesach Kasher Vesameach!