April 8, 2020

How is this Passover Different from All Other Passovers?

As Passover begins this evening, we will not have trouble answering the question, “How is this night different from all other nights?” Fewer people sit at our seder table, our meal is less elaborate, and a computer screen brings people together. We might celebrate alone or let the holiday pass without celebration. Passover during a pandemic is a new experience for us all The increasing numbers of people who are ill or dead will rest heavily on our shoulders. As we feel the weight of this virus we worry about our loved ones who are particularly vulnerable at this time. We yearn for the company of family and friends and even new acquaintances as we begin our celebrations. However, the holiday will still go on.

During the first week of sheltering at home, I had been preparing to write a piece about the tradition of Pesach Sheni, the second Passover. This minor observance is rooted in the Torah. God declares that any Israelite who was not able to bring the Passover sacrifice on the appointed day can do so one month later. Jewish tradition’s provision for a delayed Passover observance felt like the perfect solution to the Covid 19’s foiling of this year’s Passover plans. I told my mother, who always hosts all her children and grandchildren for Passover and who had already been cooking and freezing food, about Pesach Sheni. She was delighted that a delayed seder was part of Jewish tradition. We happily planned to enjoy a belated seder when it would be safe to be together again.

But as these weeks have continued, I began to live in the present reality. Passover is coming, and we need to celebrate now and not just at some future time. We can celebrate in quarantine. The Talmud teaches that the story of the Exodus must be told as an answer to a question. If we do not have anyone to ask the question, we can ask the question to ourselves.  Many Jewish traditions cannot be performed without a communal gathering, but telling the Passover story is not one them.

Passover provides us with an annual opportunity to contemplate the sacred gift of freedom and the perils of servitude. We are certainly not slaves, but this time of imposed limitations on our daily lives provides a new perspective on freedom. We are being given an opportunity to appreciate the privileges we so easily take for granted in our normal daily lives.

As Passover begins this evening, our celebrations will be different. They may elicit sadness and longing, but I pray that the seder also generates new questions, a fresh insight, or a sweet blessing. May each of us experience some joy in what will be an unforgettable holiday.

Hag Pesach Sameach – A happy Passover to all.

Rabbi Renee Bauer