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After Darkness, There is Light. A Lesson When The Pandemic “Passes Over”

“Why is this night different from all other nights,” will begin my 25-year-old son Jack sporting a thick, shaggy red beard, looking more like Rabbi Yankel. The last time he recited the Mah Nishtanah, the Four Questions, at our seder he was probably around bar mitzvah age. This Passover is different, in so many ways.

Tonight, there are only three of us at the table.  My 21-year-old daughter Sari is away, living in her college town in Kansas while taking online classes and working in a local pharmacy in the thick of a pandemic. Even though I wrote an article on virtual seders HERE,  and have learned some clever ways to social distance during a real life Passover plague, we chose to do our own service this year, just the three of us. I have a collection of Haggadahs, poems, and passages that we can use, and of course I prepared a full course meal, from matzo ball soup to chocolate macaroons. Hoping Sari will join us for the afikomen, at least.

Passover is the most widely celebrated holiday in America, even for those who don’t practice their religion any other time of year. Passover 5780 will be one to always remember. This year will go down in history as the only time we were forced to stay home, except for the first Passover, more than 2,000 years ago. That’s when God told the Jewish people to smear the blood of a sacrificial lamb on the doorposts of their home, while showing their dedication to their faith and trust in the Almighty, so that the angel of death would “pass over” those who dwelled inside. We are told to stay home once again.

The world is in chaos right now, just as Egypt was turned upside down during the plagues. We read about the story of our exodus at the Passover seder so we will never forget the darkness we had to overcome before there was light again, slavery before freedom. The word seder means “order,” and the word Haggadah means “retelling,” and this ritual brings us comfort and certainty during the unpredictable days/weeks/months ahead. From the beginning of the seder, when we raise our first cup of wine and say Kiddush, to the last prayer Nirtzah, when we say,  L’shana haba-a bi-Y’rushalayim, meaning “Next year in Jerusalem,” we are led down a path of enlightenment (that is, if we can stay awake).

With the many symbols in Judaism–from the menorah and the shofar, to the sukkah and the  and gragger–the Jewish holidays give us an opportunity to reconnect to our history and most importantly teach us valuable lessons that apply to our modern lives.  On Passover, the most important symbol is matzo, maybe because we have to eat it for entire week.

The Bible refers to matzo as the bread of affliction. It reminds us of the time we were slaves in Egypt and had to leave in a hurry, without having time for the dough to rise. And yet this flat unleavened cracker sustained us during our tumultuous journey to the Promised Land. This is  why matzo is also a symbol of freedom, reminding us of the actual exodus and how we survived the brutality of slavery and hatred for so many years.

So matzo has a dual symbol of affliction and freedom, which is paradoxical in this time when people all over the globe are succumbing to an enemy, COVID-19.  In this time when we are forced to separate, we feel the need to be connected to each other more than ever. The story of Passover understands this pain and gives us hope. No other time in history is the entire globe working towards a common goal, which is to stay safe, healthy and alive, while we wait for more readily available testing, treatment, and eventually a miracle vaccine to develop. As always, the best medicine is to help others when we can, to unite as one people. Together, we are stronger, and the Jewish people know this better than anyone else. Passover is a time of rebirth, and when this pandemic passes over, we will be anew again, hopefully.

The Hebrew word for Egypt is Mitzrayi, meaning “narrow straits” (mi, “from,” tzar, “narrow” or “tight”). And on Passover, we think of our own chains of oppression that are holding us back from achieving our most challenging goals, whether it’s to make amends with someone, take better care of our health, deepen relationships that are most important to us, practice gratitude for what we already have, and taking time to be there for each other.

Just as the Jews had to leave Egypt in haste, matzo reminds us that there is no time like now to to do what we can to enrich our lives and others. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Be grateful for what we have, for our every breath, our family, the people we care about, the shelter of our home, the peace of being in solitude, and the everyday heroes on the frontlines risking their lives to save others.

If we can celebrate the holiday with joy, at best we can, and emerge from this global pandemic as a healthier, stronger, more united, caring people, then we have found the silver lining in this otherwise very dark time.

Wishing you all the blessing of the matzo and Passover, and may we go from affliction and pain to restored health and happiness once again. Chag Sameach!

Enjoy this video from the one and only Charlie Harary, a powerful motivational speaker for Aish.com among many other roles, who tells us how matzo, yes matzo, is a call to action.