Let me just say that Matisyahu’s “King Without A Crown” is playing in the background… or is it in my head… I can’t recall…
Two sets of lyrics stand out in particular:
“What’s this feeling?
My love will rip a hole in the ceiling
I give myself to you from the essence of my being
And I sing to my G-d all these songs of love and healing
Want Moshiach now so it’s time we start revealing.”
“If you’re already there then there’s nowhere to go
If you’re cup’s already full then its bound to overflow
If you’re drowning in the water and you can’t stay afloat
Ask Hashem for mercy and he’ll throw you a rope.”Since I fully believe “there are no coincidences, it’s G-d way of remaining anonymous,” (Thank you Rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky for that) it seems that the fact that Passover starts tomorrow and deals with Ten Plagues really has something to it.
Covid-19 is a plague. There is no denying it. It is affecting ALL OF US in one way or another, and some much more brutally, with the actual illness or the passing or sickness of a family member or friend; and many financially, spiritually and emotionally. Even if we have a house full of people, we are feeling lonely and cut off… and if we live alone, even more so.
Zoom classes and meetings and family connections are great and we need to make sure we do those… regularly! We need to connect, now more than ever. And if you know someone who is alone, reach out. It can be brutal. And while most of us will not be having a house full of people for a Seder, it is vital to keep the holiday, tell the story, and continue to transmit Judaism to the world in the amazing and unbroken chain it is.
And, especially given the times we are in, there are many valuable and time-specific lessons to learn and to share.
LESSONS FOR PASSOVER
Why is this year not like any other years? Yeah, okay… Never mind on that one…
The point is this… this is a Passover and a time, and will be a Seder like no other. Some may be completely on their own, and some may be with limited family, forced to have screens at the table to “see” family and friends and share a meal, break some bread… I mean Matzo, and be together.
Some of these ideas are my own, developed over time, but many and probably most are lessons I have learned from Rabbis and teachers who I am now lucky enough to also call friends. Thank you to all of you.
Passover is about freedom… freedom from slavery. And in the modern world there is still slavery, real slavery with human trafficking, slavery to drugs and alcohol, and slavery to emotional and psychological issues…
And here we are, trapped and enslaved by this horrific virus that is taking so many beautiful lives. We are trapped in our own minds, our own homes, and our own fears. So how do we escape? How do we set ourselves free?The fear of the unknown keeps us enslaved, too and it is why we stayed in Egypt for so long. Rabbi Paul Kipnes taught me that it took hundreds of years for the Jews to cry out to G-d because they were used to the pain they knew, and were that much more afraid of the pain they did not.
Rabbi Shlomo Seidenfeld taught me that “we suffer when we believe there is no purpose to our pain.” So what is the purpose to this specific point in time? We must continue to grow and connect. Shlomo says that questions keep a conversation going, and answers, sometimes, end a conversation. That is why the Seder has so many questions. But at this moment in time, people want and need answers. I want and need answers.
Shlomo is someone who gives so many people great comfort, even in the time of unknowns. He does not shy away from the fear, but takes it head on, and he helps me try to give it some purpose ad understanding. He also talks about the power of mitzvahs and faith, which is so helpful at this particular time.
The key is to seek out truth and knowledge, but somehow be okay with the fact that there will be things we cannot know… and cannot understand. This is a really tough one, for me and for many others. But this is also where faith in Hashem, in a higher power, comes into being. It can be a challenge at times. But look at what we as a people have come through and survived.
So put faith in G-d, put trust in G-d, but at the same time look at facts and science and data. Listen to the experts and be smart, be wise and do not ever put yourself in danger. Rabbi Ron Li-Paz added that last part onto his morning prayers. He concludes by saying “I will not put myself in danger today.”This means literally, but also emotionally… in other words, if you can say I love you, reach out to others, offer to help, to be there, etc. means you will not be in danger of being at the end of your life and wishing you had done more.
My friend Howard Witkin says: “This is your life, this is not an interruption to your life, this is your life.”Rabbi Avi Rabin taught me that the one plague the Egyptian magicians could not “replicate” was the lice… proof that something so small… the smallest thing can change everything. But, he goes on to say, WE change everything when we study Torah and do a mitzvah, no matter how small. And he said something else so profound… For the very first Pesach, Hashem put all the Jews in their homes and told them not to come out. And in order for the Angel Of Death to not kill their first born, too, they had to put blood on their doorposts… so they were passed OVER. So the last commandment involved us partnering with Hashem. This is why it is so important that we do what is commanded of us… so that we can tap into that G-dly energy.
Avi also says we break matzo to remember that we are broken… and right now, many of us are broken. I say that we must be strong, yes, and we must be sensitive to those who feel lost, afraid and broken. Avi says that Jews were stuck in their homes, with their own families, but then they went out as a nation…
So everything you do… all of us… is important.
Rabbi Doniel Katz says “everything good, everything incredible, everything holy is born in darkness. Egypt was called the womb and the Jewish people came out of Egypt.”
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks talks about the Torah portion Vayikra, which literally means He (G-d) called… He gives us advice for this time of isolation and to ponder for Passover…
“Is there something I have been neglecting until now because I felt just too busy and now that I am in this isolation, in this silence, able to hear, able to think of? That is what vayikra means. It means an almost silent call, but one which we hear at moments of loneliness. Sometimes the really difficult times are the times of growth. They don’t seem so at the time. But when we look back we see they were. The help we give others at difficult times is a good dead that is never forgotten ever.”
Do not pass over love and kindness. Do not pass over good deeds, mitzvah and study. And do not pass over the sad and angry emotions you feel either. Acknowledge them, sit with them, recline with them on this most different Passover… and let them out… share them and deal with them head on… but have faith, have trust and know that this is happening for a reason.
I am humble and grateful to my family and friends, to my teachers and mentors, and to the doctors, first responders and all those who are doing so much and truly putting themselves on the front line. May they all be in our thoughts and prayers on this Passover and at this time… and may Nissan truly be the month of miracles. Moshiach now.