The Last Night in Egypt

Hi. It’s Tuesday afternoon right now and hopefully you’ll get this later today. First of all, I hope that you’re doing everything you can to keep yourselves and your families safe and healthy. This is an unprecedented and scary time. There’s so much uncertainty right now about what lies ahead. So, besides taking precautions, it’s also important that we all remember to be as patient as we can — with ourselves and with this situation.

Even with all of the real reason for fear and alarm, I hope that we remember to be as kind and compassionate with ourselves as possible. However long this goes on, and whatever the process looks like, I know that we’ll be able to get it, individually and as a community, if we are able to stay connected to each other, support each other, and keep finding ways to lift each other up.

Services are Adath are cancelled right now throughout the week and Shabbat, but were that not the case we would be announcing the new month of Nisan this coming Shabbat. And the month of Nisan is the month of Pesa h , Passover. On Passover, when we sit down at the seder, in large part we’re reenacting our ancestors’ last night in Egypt.

Over the past week, I’ve been thinking about that last night in Egypt again and again. The people of Israel have been warned that there’s a plague outside and they’re instructed to prepare a sacrificial, sacred meal, to gather as families and neighbors, mark their doors, and then stay indoors all night. Regardless of the uncertainty and anxiety that they feel, they must stay indoors, at home.

In many ways, our people’s story begins that night, with the Israelites separated from each other and each family huddled in its own home. But that night gives us one of the most powerful and widespread practices in Judaism — the seder. And in a way that’s relevant to us right now, our ancestors had the experience of retreating into their home and being limited to themselves, their close family, and their immediate surroundings, before any of the other collective Jewish experiences: before the parting of the Red Sea, and before the revelation at Mt. Sinai, before communal worship in the Tabernacle and later the Temple, before life in the Land of Israel, and before communal prayer in the synagogue. We start with that turn inwards at a time of uncertainty. In a similar way, the moment we’re in now gives us occasion to focus internally, to be home, to be quiet with ourselves and our immediate families.

 In our religious lives, we can’t gather in community as we’re used to doing, but we can dwell in the sanctuary of the home and practice personal devotion. That’s not to say that we won’t try to find every way we can to connect together more broadly as a Jewish community, but I invite us to embrace the kind of spiritual growth that’s possible when we focus on ourselves, on our personal prayers and our personal practices. Over the coming days and weeks, in addition to out broader teachings and messages, I plan to send resources for personal prayer, practice, and contemplation that we can each perform at home.

It’s my belief that, when the time comes for us to gather again communally, as it surely will, the investment we make in our individual spiritual lives will transform our community in beautiful and exciting ways. You’ll be hearing again from me soon. In the meantime, may you and all of your loved ones stay healthy and safe and may God send blessings and goodness to all of you.
Rabbi Yehoshua Zehavi
315.445.0002 x121