The holiday of Passover captures the history, heritage, hopes and indomitable spirit of the Jewish people through our 4,000-year odyssey. The story and lessons of the Exodus from Egypt act as a reminder that while the servitude of the Israelites occurred overnight as a King of Egypt arose as the Bible states who did not know Joseph, our liberation took some time to come about.
While the coronavirus seemed to come upon us in an instant, it will take some time before we are freed from this modern-day plague. We need to be strong, keep faith and follow the best medical advice at hand. Not surprising, this prescription for avoiding disease and cutting down on its spread is found within the ancient wisdom of the Torah and the symbols of Passover.
To begin to cut down on the spread, the Torah tells us that our ancestors practiced quarantine. Today we are called upon to practice distancing, which has led to spending Shabbat and holiday services differently, as well as communal family gatherings and will impact upon many of our Seders.
While we must maintain a physical distance between one another spiritually and emotionally, there is a strong and sacred bond between us as members of our individual families, our very special family we call the United States of America and the Jewish people. Remember God is never distant from us. The holy one hears and accepts our prayers, whether offered in the sanctuary of our houses of worship or the sanctuary of our homes.
This Passover when we recite the four questions and ask why this night is different from all other nights, the answer takes on new meaning, reflected in the creative measures we have taken to connect with family and friends who but a few weeks ago, we had anticipated literally sharing our Seders.
To tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt in light of our own age and time, I offer this contemporary meaning to the Passover symbols.
The matzah, the basic elements of food which is nothing more than water and flour should remind us that there are people who have little more than a piece of matzah to eat every day. This concern for those who are without, amplified by the terrible economic toll of a loss of employment because of this modern plague, should make us more sensitive and more willing to help fellow Americans.
The afikomen, the broken middle matzah. This year it represents our need for unity as a community and nation. We are all in this together and will emerge together to realize our deliverance as one people. The sense of shared destiny and sacrifice is visible every day in the hospitals where are our health care workers minister to the sick risking their own lives, doing God’s work to save strangers. Because that is what they do and what it means to be American.
Maror, the bitter herb, represents the bitterness of lost lives every day. And tells us that it’s our job to comfort the mourners, give hope to the sick and acknowledge the sanctity and immortality found in each life.
Charoset represents the sweetness we find in life, enriching memories that takes away some of the sharpness of the maror and gives us hope for better days to come. Karpas, parsley, which represents when we pray in the springtime to come which will help turn things right again.
The egg is a reminder that Passover is a holiday for and about our children. We go forward with courage and resolve focusing on the Passover to come as we conclude our Seders with the words “next year in Jerusalem” — next year together each with their own family and friends in America, Jerusalem, a world liberated from this dreaded disease.
Wishing you and your family a sweet Passover, a safe Passover, a healthy Passover.
Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum leads Temple Israel of Lawrence.