Why is this Passover different from all other Passovers? In the age of coronavirus, social distancing and “flattening the curve,” the celebration of Pesach 5780/Passover 2020 is shaping up to be MUCH different than many of us have ever experienced previously. While families and friends navigate whether and how to host “virtual” seders, now is also a time to reflect on one of the core questions facing modern Judaism: how do we maintain and embody age-old traditions while merging them with modernity and staying relevant in contemporary times?
There are several key messages that come from the Passover story. One is questioning.
The four questions ask everything from the general (e.g., why is this night different from all other nights?) to the specifics (e.g., why do we dip our vegetables in salt water?). This year, we seem to be presented with a whole new set of questions. How can we celebrate with our family and friends when we cannot physically be with them? How can we focus on the meaning of Passover when so many things are uncertain, and the daily news is so foreboding?
I encourage you to lean into these questions in the spirit of Passover. Host a seder over Zoom. In addition to eliminating chametz, (leavened bread), maybe also take a temporary break from the news cycle? Continue to question, and be creative in how you adapt your responses in the age of coronavirus.
Another message emphasized on Passover is recognizing adversity. During the Passover seder, we dip vegetables in salt water, which symbolizes the tears of the Jewish people. We also eat bitter herbs to symbolize the suffering of the Israelites as slaves in Egypt. From adversity comes growth, and in remembering our peoples’ challenges, we can rejoice in overcoming it. Likewise, we are going through a time of adversity now—at the global level, the national level and personal level. Things may get worse before they get better, but as we know from the Passover story, through challenges come opportunities: opportunities for growth, learning and, above all, compassion.
Finally, through the Passover story, we are encouraged to express gratitude and recognize our freedom. In singing “Dayenu,” we are reminded of all the things that “would have been enough” had they been the only things the Israelites had received. If we had been brought out of Egypt, it would have been enough! If we had been given the Torah, it would have been enough! Yet we were blessed with so much more, and for that, we express our gratitude year after year through the Passover seder. And yet, as we are grateful for all the ways in which we have been granted freedom, we continue to recognize that freedom is not shared universally. In this age of coronavirus, we are especially reminded of the ways in which we are unequally affected by this pandemic.
This year, although far from the norm, I urge you to focus on the positives—more time with family, time to unwind, a chance to expand your horizons—and let that be enough.
Wishing you and your families a zissen Pesach taking good care to be healthy and safe.